MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - Dana Holgorsen and his coaches are playing a little catch up, using today as its only padded practice in preparation for Saturday’s non-conference game against Norfolk State at Milan Puskar Stadium.
The Mountaineers’ work week was shortened by one day following Sunday’s 34-13 victory over Marshall that ended early in the fourth quarter after two weather delays. Holgorsen said he brought his team back on Labor Day to clean up the Marshall game before giving the players Tuesday off.
“We had a bunch of meetings and got a lot of work done (on Monday),” Holgorsen said. “We watched tape, fed them, and sent them home. Based on the game lasting 12 hours, we felt that we should give them some time off. We’ll practice (today) and Thursday, have a normal Friday, and tee it up on Saturday.”
Holgorsen is seeking improvement in West Virginia’s running game, which managed just 42 yards and 1.6 yards per carry in the opener.
“Probably the biggest disappointment I had offensively was the blocking,” Holgorsen said. “When you think about blocking, all you think about is the offensive line. That’s not necessarily the truth.
“Some of the running game problems were the running backs not blocking for the other backs,” he said. “Some of the running game problems were inside receivers not blocking for running backs. The other guys’ blocking was just as bad as the offensive line’s blocking. The name of the game offensively is blocking and we have to do a better job of that.”
The longest run from scrimmage by a Mountaineer player was a 15-yard scramble from quarterback Geno Smith. Freshman Andrew Buie carried 15 times for 30 yards before exiting the game with what was termed an “upper extremity injury.” Holgorsen said Buie and sophomore Trey Johnson, who missed the Marshall game (leg), should both be OK.
West Virginia’s two other freshman runners, Vernard Roberts and Dustin Garrison, also played against Marshall. Roberts scored the team’s lone rushing touchdown early in the fourth quarter and finished the game with 12 yards on seven carries. Garrison caught two passes for nine yards.
“Garrison had a rough game but he’ll get better,” Holgorsen said. “Vernard played well. The last drive we had he ran hard. He’s very capable. We’ll get Trey back and he’ll be capable of carrying the ball. Buie’s going to be fine as well.”
Holgorsen also said Shawne Alston is getting closer to be ready, although he isn’t sure when that will be.
“Shawne Alston is moving into a green jersey (no contact) this week,” Holgorsen said. “If they’re out there we coach them; if not, we won’t.”
The Mountaineers did score on five of their eight offensive possessions against Marshall and Smith was effective eluding constant pressure, completing 26 of 35 passes for 249 yards and two touchdowns. Smith converted several third-and-long plays by either escaping pressure in the pocket and finding open receivers down field or by scrambling and picking up the first down with his legs.
West Virginia’s return game also fared well with new offensive special teams coach Daron Roberts overseeing the unit. Tavon Austin matched a school record with his third quarter 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown and he finished the abbreviated afternoon with 165 total return yards.
However, the Mountaineer coaches gave the game’s special teams player award to junior defensive back Cecil Level for his great effort on the kickoff team.
“He was about 15 yards ahead of everybody else on our kickoff team,” Holgorsen said. “It takes a situation like that to notice things. He ran down on kickoffs about seven times and was clearly playing at a different level than some of the others. When you see a guy do that, you look for other areas to get him on the field and give that kind of effort.”
As for this week’s opponent Norfolk State, Holgorsen said he sees similarities with the schemes the Spartans run both offensively and defensively with his team.
“Defensively, they run the same scheme that our defense does,” he noted. “Their coach (Mark DeBastiani) and Jeff Casteel are buddies. Jeff coached him (at Shepherd), and so schematically it’s going to be similar.”
Also working with DeBastiani on the defensive side of the ball is former Mountaineer defensive end Mark Thurston, who oversees the Spartan defensive linemen.
Offensively, veteran coach Pete Adrian employs a passing system similar to what Holgorsen uses.
“They spread it, they do some motion; they run the ball with a motion guy like we do, which should help Jeff with it since he’s seen us,” Holgorsen said.
Adrian is also very familiar with West Virginia University having played for Coach Jim Carlen at WVU in the late 1960s. Adrian’s 42-year coaching career has taken him to all levels of football, including a stint as defensive coordinator at Bethune-Cookman before he landed the Norfolk State job in 2005.
Adrian has a 35-33 overall record there that includes a 27-19 mark during his last four years – the most wins during any stretch of Spartan football since 1982-85.
Adrian’s assistant head coach in charge of the offensive linemen, Rod Holder, is also familiar with West Virginia having played at Miami from 1986-89 and also serving as an assistant coach at Rutgers and Miami.
Norfolk State (1-0) has a veteran quarterback in Chris Walley, who threw for 255 yards and two touchdowns in the Spartans’ 37-3 win over Virginia State last Saturday. Walley completed 25 of 29 passes to earn MEAC offensive player of the week honors.
Norfolk State had 438 yards of offense and its defense limited Virginia State to just 161 total yards and a second quarter field goal.
Saturday’s game will kick off at 1 p.m. and will be televised on the Big East Network (Rob King and John Thornton). The game will air locally on ROOT SPORTS in Pittsburgh.
Tickets are still available and can be purchased by contacting the Mountaineer Ticket Office toll-free at 1-800-WVU GAME or by logging on to WVUGAME.com