MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - Dana Holgorsen would like to breathe some more life into West Virginia’s red zone production in 2017.
Last year, the red zone was more like the dead zone as far as touchdowns were concerned for the Mountaineers.
West Virginia had an 80.7-percent success rate for red zone scoring, but 13 of those successful red zone trips ended with field goals. Take away Mike Molina
’s footwork, and the score rate dipped to 57.8 percent.
That was seventh in the Big 12 last year, ahead of just Texas, Kansas and TCU.
Texas Tech had the highest touchdown rate in the red zone at 73 percent, followed by Oklahoma’s 69.5 percent.
Five teams had red zone touchdown rates higher than 60 percent, which makes West Virginia's 10-win season all the more impressive considering it's red zone difficulties.
“We settled for too many field goals the last two years,” Holgorsen admitted.
Two years ago, West Virginia had one of the better field goal kickers in the country in Josh Lambert, whose 116 points scored ranked 18th nationally among specialists. Having someone as consistent and reliable as Lambert made it easy to take the three points.
This year, however, Holgorsen wants his offense thinking pay dirt all the time. To become more successful scoring touchdowns, Holgorsen believes it’s a matter of throwing the ball more accurately in tight areas.
“Our run game down there, I thought, has been good,” Holgorsen said. “Our pass game down there has not been good. (Former quarterback) Skyler (Howard), his strength was not sitting in the pocket and throwing balls into very, very tight spaces, which the red zone, the closer you get, the tighter the space and the tighter the coverage.”
West Virginia’s passing struggles in the red zone were not just on Howard, either.
Some of it was on the receivers to get separation and make catches in tight coverage. The Mountaineers haven’t really had a pass catcher like that in the red zone since Kevin White in 2014. That’s why Holgorsen has put a lot of attention into recruiting bigger, more physical wide receivers capable of making catches with defenders on them.
“Kevin was; Stedman (Bailey) was that type of receiver,” Holgorsen noted. “We haven’t had that guy.”
Does West Virginia have him now?
“I like what I see out of Ka’Raun White and Gary (Jennings Jr.),” Holgorsen said. “And David (Sills V) because they’re bigger guys and they can make catches when they have people all over them.”
It’s on those guys to get off of tough coverage, create separation and make contested catches in confined areas. It’s up to starting quarterback Will Grier
to deliver the ball on time and on the money.
Having those two things happen will make it far easier to score touchdowns than simply relying on the offensive line to get the necessary push in the run game to get the football across the goal line.
“Will is pretty good in tight spaces as well,” Holgorsen said. “A lot of practice and then personnel has something to do with that as well.
“I expect our run game to continue to be like it was, but we have to get a little better in the pass game down there.”
Overall, Holgorsen said he likes what he’s seeing from his receivers’ pass catching technique in camp so far.
“I still don’t think we are where we need to be from a timing perspective when it comes to the top four guys, which I have mentioned, plus (running back) Kennedy McKoy
,” he said. “I would put Kennedy in that equation because he is a very multi-purpose back. He does a fine job of that, so we are trying to get him in the mix.”
Holgorsen returned to the timing aspect of WVU’spassing game, “We still need backups to emerge. We haven’t seen that yet. The likes of (freshman) Dru Bowen and Will Crest and Dom Maiden and Reggie (Roberson Jr.) and Ricky Rodgers - I haven’t seen those guys push the starters yet like I was hoping they would,” he said.
* Practice No. 10 took place this evening up on the practice field. Holgorsen said tonight’s script included a lot of situational stuff, including red zone work. The first major scrimmage of fall camp will take place Friday afternoon and will be closed to the media and the general public.
More camp notes …
* Lackawanna Junior College offensive lineman Isaiah Hardy is expected to be in Morgantown on the first day of classes on Wednesday, Aug. 16. Hardy is a 6-foot-7-inch, 340-pounder from Laurel Springs, New Jersey.
“He has a redshirt and two years,” Holgorsen said. “We are anticipating him showing up when school starts and spending a year and learning how things go and getting in shape. He has a lot of work to do moving forward.”
One thing he doesn’t have to work on is his size.
“He’s huge,” Holgorsen said.
* Now 11 days into camp, Holgorsen said he continues to be pleased with the team’s focus and attention. This is about the time when things become lethargic and monotonous for the players.
“It’s been that way in spurts when we are not going live,” he said. “We have had two uppers practices when it is all controlled and I have seen some lethargic play then. But they have always come back from that and played juiced-up when it counts.”
* Holgorsen, when asked about the metrics craze that has overtaken professional baseball and is now beginning to work its way into college football, delivered the line of preseason camp so far, “As opposed to paying $50,000 to get a service, we bought a human - three of them!”
* Holgorsen said there is no update on absent junior wide receiver Jovon Durante
, who continues to work through what Holgorsen has termed “personal issues.”
As for Virginia Tech, Holgorsen said the coaching staff is beginning to introduce little nuggets to the team about the long-time football series.
“Our players don’t know anything; it’s been since 2005 (the last time the two teams played),” he said. “It’s our job each and every week to educate our players on who their opponent is. We’ll start doing that once it’s closer. You have to be careful about overplaying an opponent for too long.
“We’re careful about that in bowl games and I thought we’ve done a good job in the last six seasons,” he continued. “We’re 5-1 in openers and we played well in the one we lost, so don’t overkill it, make sure you worry about you and get you to when you can start gradually introducing your opponent. They will know exactly what to expect and I think we have a good handle on that.”