Football: Coach Holgorsen News Conference
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – WVU coach Dana Holgorsen’s weekly news conference.
A couple of things from last week, I’m proud of how the guys responded to a very difficult situation. We went in knowing that it was going to be challenging. We couldn’t have prepared for the weather, but we didn’t use it as an excuse. We went in and wanted to win a little bit more than they wanted to win. It was a challenging situation. It was a good team, on the road. We were down at halftime and had the opportunity to quit. As a team, we had the chance to quit, but we didn’t. There were a lot of things that we overcame and the fact that we won the game says a lot about the character of our football team.
This week, we have another challenge. Like we all know, every week in the BIG EAST is challenging and Louisville is coming to town on a two-game win streak. They’ve done something in the last two weeks that we haven’t done. They beat Syracuse and Rutgers, which are two pretty good teams. They’ll come in here ready to go. They’re big. They’re physical. They’re talented. They’re athletic and they’re going to come right into the thick of things in the BIG EAST and expect to win.
On momentum coming off of victories
To be honest, I think every week is independent. If anyone should have some momentum right now, we should. Based on coming back home, based on overcoming the adversity that we overcame last week. We have everything out there in front of us. We’re 6-2 and have a chance to finish strong. Does that give us an advantage? I doubt it. You have to line up and play every week. A few of the things that we’ve learned over the last two weeks was that you’d better play with effort all four quarters. Regardless of what the score is, you better be playing for four quarters. That can’t ever change, especially when there’s as much parity as there is. In this league, it doesn’t matter who it is, they can get you. You better be ready to go out there every week.
On the challenge of playing a young, talented team in Louisville
We have some young guys ourselves that we expect to keep getting better. They play a lot more freshmen than we do. They start four true freshmen on defense, three true freshmen on offense and five or six others that play. Those are all key guys for a quarterback for who he’s throwing to. There’s more and more timing than they had earlier in the year. They’re a deeper football team than we are. Due to the fact that they’re young and they’re playing, they’re probably going to get better.
On the advantage of having an experienced quarterback in tight games
It should matter. I think Geno (Smith) had some poise last week in the fourth quarter. I got on him in the third quarter pretty good. We went out there and had field position. We wanted to make sure that we were kicking with the wind to gain field position if possible. Defensively, we three-and-outed them three times in a row and turned around and didn’t do anything. I got on him, and I was pretty hard on him in the third quarter. We got into the fourth quarter and he had a big quarter to finish the game strong. You put the guys in that situation. I say our team in general, but a quarterback without having that kind of composure probably would have shut it down and we wouldn’t have been able to get the job done.
On having the 4-1 turnover advantage
I would pay to have that. I would pay a lot of money every week for that. It was the difference in the game. You look at how that game went, the footing was terrible, there were people slipping offensively, slipping defensively, the game slowed down. That didn’t give us an advantage and it didn’t give them an advantage, but it made the handling of the ball extremely hard. For Geno to complete 67 percent of his passes, and only have one turnover compared to them, I’m unsure what their completion percentage was, but the four turnovers were the difference in the game.
When we punted, we were able to execute the snap, which was big. There were a lot of possessions because nobody could do anything. Due to the fact that we didn’t give them good field position, it was the difference in the game.
On filling out the roster, using all available scholarships
I made reference to it last week. Part of it is recruiting, part of it is making sure that you have exactly what you want in the room that you’re coaching. That’s recruiting. Not only that, but it’s making sure that you’re making good decisions, making sure that you keep them academically eligible and accountable for what’s expected of them on field and off the field. In addition to that, you have to ensure that you sign a full class. A lot of our efforts right now are making sure that we have enough kids coming in at mid-term and not losing the amount of scholarships. Once you lose them, they’re gone and you can’t use them. If we have a lot of people at mid-term, we’d better use them because in February you’ve only got 25. You can’t sign 40; you can only sign 25. Last year, we signed 18 or 19 in February. If you’ve got six or seven, you’d better get them by midterm. If you don’t, you lose them. Due to the fact that you only get 25, you better take full advantage of that and fill a full roster.
You can identify 25 people, but that doesn’t mean that you’re going to get them. Part of it is identifying them, and then recruiting them and then sealing the deal on them. It’s a combination of a whole bunch of things. We’re working pretty tirelessly around here to make sure that we get 1) the type of kid that we want, and 2) we get them to where we need them to go.
I’d like to bring in 20 in January if we could. It makes spring practice a lot easier. When you’re less than two-deep, our walk-on program is getting better so we can field a team in the spring, but you can’t be just two-deep. You have to be three- or four-deep. You get people hurt and you have to keep plugging people in, maturing them and whoever is running our scout team right now, you want to move a couple of those guys up to actual players. You don’t want a whole bunch of people coming in just to re-train them. You want some carry-over. It gets to a point where it’s unrealistic to bring in only six. Not saying it couldn’t happen, but it gets hard.
On Louisville’s success on defense
It starts with coaching. They’re well-coached. Charlie Strong has been as well-respected of a defensive coordinator as there’s been in the profession for the last two decades. The guy’s won two national championships and has been a part of some good programs being the defensive coordinator. That tells you something.
They’ve done a nice job of getting guys and recruiting. They play a lot of people. They’re two-deep at each position, and a lot of those guys play. They have a bunch of competition that’s making them better, as well. They play well and they’ve got good players.
On what he sees in Louisville’s offense
They’re getting better. They’ve made some changes. It goes back to their young guys and they’re playing a bunch of people early. They didn’t have as much success as they wanted, so they made some changes. Since they’ve done that, they’ve been a little more efficient. They may not put up big numbers or big points, but they’re more efficient. Up front, they’ve got their center back. We say we’re not very experienced with our offensive line, well, we’ve got more than one guy back. They’ve got one buy back up front, so those guys are learning to play with each other and they’ve got a bunch of skill kids who look talented to me. They’re just not on the same page yet.
On the play of Tavon Austin
We’ve got something for him every week to touch the ball. Going through our reads and throwing it to him, we’ve got something to get it to him. Whether it’s there or not is a whole other story. It’s just coaching. Due to the fact that a lot of teams are doing things that make it hard to prepare for, you can’t pinpoint what they’re going to do in specific situations and it makes in-game adjustments more important and it makes the quarterback making sure the play’s there before pulling the trigger on it. It was there, Geno pulled the trigger on it, and it worked out well last week. We want the ball in his hands, but we aren’t going to force it.
On the play of Shawne Alston
Shawne is getting there. We’ve been getting him touches. He’s been getting healthier to where it makes it easier to have another guy who can play a lot of different positions. He can be the main back or the fullback/lead back guy because he’s a physical guy. Having guys like him who can play more than one position is definitely a good thing. We’ll keep getting him the ball as long as when he runs it, he keeps going forward.
On punter Matt Molinari
He was huge. Huge. It starts with the snap, which one of the most underrated guys on our team. Cody Nutter is a senior and he’s been perfect on his snaps for eight games on PAT/field goals and punts. It starts with him. Molinari has done a wonderful job of identifying when they’re coming and when they’re not coming and gauging how much time he’s got and then pinning it inside the 10 and getting it downfield. It’s been huge. It goes back to the handling of the ball. It was challenging last week. He did a great job.
When your back is to the wall, you tend to respond with a bit more energy. I thought the preparation was better and the effort was better. I thought we were excited to play going into Syracuse and our preparation was fine, but the biggest thing was when we got smacked, we didn’t respond. Last week, there were a lot of opportunities to shut it down. It was too cold, they’re winning by 10, to ‘this is not working out how we wanted it to,’ etc. We responded better within the game. I anticipate our preparation this week will be fine. It’s about continuing to mature as a team and play well together and pick each other up and having more energy and excitement than the other team. When things get bad, you have to have the ability to step up and do something about it.
On the progress of Geno Smith
He’s still got some room to grow. Half of it is mental, half of it’s making a play. He’ll keep getting better from a mental aspect. He still makes mistakes just like I do and everybody does. We’re human – it happens. Being able to overcome those is important. It’s about making a play. On the one touchdown, he made a play. That was not a designed end-around play. If he had it, throw it. If he didn’t have it, don’t force it, but make a play. He did, and he needs to keep doing that.
On having Geno run or stay in the pocket
It’s somewhere in between. We want him to get the ball out of his hands to more talented people that can do something with it. We want to keep his body out of harm’s way as much as we can. It’s impossible to do throughout the course of the game. We need to do our job as coaches to not put him in situations where he’s taking a beating. When he’s in the pocket, get rid of it. If it breaks down, get out of it. Once you get out of it, put the ball in play by throwing it or deciding to run it. You have to make the best decision. We can’t yell at him to run or yell at him to throw, but he needs to make that decision on the go.
On pressuring Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater
When I studied their offense two weeks ago preparing for Rutgers, Louisville is one of the games I studied offensively. It seemed to me that they were doing a pretty good job of it, and he wasn’t caught with the ball as much. Their run game was getting a little bit better. When they threw the ball, he was getting it out pretty well. As anything, when they’re in throwing situations, we need to go get him and attack the ball or attack the guy with the ball.
On the limited play of Stedman Bailey against Rutgers
It wasn’t him – it was the conditions. The wideouts, the guys farther away from the ball, didn’t see the ball very much because they were way out there and it’s hard to get your footing. The two times we got it to him, it looked pretty good. We probably could have made a little more of an effort to force it to him, but we didn’t really want to do that. We didn’t run as many plays and we ran the ball a lot more than we have, so there weren’t as many opportunities.
On Teddy Bridgewater
He’s got the ability to make a play. He’s like Geno was two years ago growing into himself and learning. He’s talented and has a good arm. He has the ability to get out of it and run down the field. He’s developing a pretty good rapport with the guys around him. He’s throwing it to about eight different guys. It’s a familiarity with the offense and sitting in the pocket or being able to make a play with his feet when things break down.
On Louisville’s changeup of offensive coordinator a couple weeks ago
I didn’t study their earlier games. I asked Jeff (Casteel) that, and he didn’t notice a lot of change. If you want any kind of continuity with your offense or defense or your special teams, you don’t want to switch from year-to-year, let alone game-to-game. They’re still doing a lot of the same stuff. It’s just getting guys on the same page would be my guess without being on the inside of it. They’ve settled in some positions by that point.
On the move to the Big 12
It remains the same as it was two weeks ago as far as speculation. We’re not talking about it. Last week it became official and we’re not talking about it. This week, it’s going to happen and we’re not going to talk about it. From what our job is, 1) I’d be naïve to not talk about it, so within the task at hand, with our players, with our coaches, we’ve been instructed that it’s all about Louisville. Last week when it became official, on Friday we brought the guys together for about 30 seconds and told them it was official, but then we told them it doesn’t mean anything. It doesn’t mean anything with this week and it doesn’t mean anything next week.
Our task at hand is the same as what it was in August, which is to win the BIG EAST. That’s what our challenge is, that’s what our goal is. That’s what all our focus, effort and energy is on. With that said, as a program, I’m excited, I can assure you that. I understand the Big 12 and what they’re about from a national perspective, from a facilities perspective and academic perspective. The amount of changes and challenges that are going to take place here at West Virginia is something that will take a long time to get done. It’s a huge task – it’s not an overnight fix. It’s great to be able to solidify our future and what we need to do to put ourselves in a position to be successful.
On being able to tell recruits the future of the program
It’s nice. That was one of the challenges of knowing what to say. Whatever we show on film to get better, move on or go practice from a futures standpoint, from raising money, to facilities, to recruiting and all things that affect the future, it makes things easier. You know where you’re headed, you know where you’re going and you know what you’ve got to do.
On the challenges with a new conference
Everything. It’s a step up now. The BIG EAST is the most competitive conference I’ve been in. Period. From top to bottom, it’s the most competitive conference I’ve been in – within the conference. The Big 12, as far as setting the standard, from a facilities standpoint, from a recruiting standpoint, from a TV exposure standpoint, to an academic standpoint, is something that they set the bar very, very high. I know that West Virginia is capable of adding to that. From a fan base perspective, from how many people go to the games, it’s something we’re going to have to evaluate and try to make it as good as we can to be able to compete.
On if any distractions occurred with the announcement
I don’t think so. If anything, maybe a coaches’ perspective. We were getting a lot of phone calls and conversations of where it’s going and recruiting phone calls, etc. I think our guys did a good job of just focusing on the task at hand. Kids are a little more short-sighted. They see a task and that’s what they focus on. They’re not worried about West Virginia University five years from now, I can assure you that. Right now, they’re worried about class, what they’re doing Wednesday night, who the opponent is Saturday and what they’re doing after the game. I doubt very many of them know who our opponent is past this opponent right now. From a players’ standpoint, I don’t think it was a distraction. We’ll continue to talk about it and make sure that we focus on whatever’s in front of us and that’s what we have to worry about.
On how traveling will be affected
It’s overrated. From an institutional standpoint, it’s overrated. From a fan’s perspective, it’s probably a little more challenging. If you’re a fan that will drive five hours, but not 10 hours, then it may be a problem. They may need to start looking in booking flight tickets a year in advance to get cheap flights. All the places that we’ll be playing will be places that we can get to. It’s air travel, and it’s all gone air travel anyway. There are some fun venues, you know. I can assure you that. There’s a lot of good places and there will be a lot of fun times ahead.
On which school gets the most snow
Iowa State. That’s one of the colder games I’ve ever been in. I believe it was 2005. I’ve been there three times, two of which were really cold. The thing that made the game so challenging on Saturday was the cold mixed in with the wind, mixed in with the rain, mixed in with the sleet, ice, snow, slush, and it being constant for five hours.
On the use of his hat
You have to cover the wind and the rain. It was raining. How many times has it rained this year? Four times? I’ve worn a hat all four times. I know you don’t want me to wear a hat. I don’t know. If it rains, I’ll wear a hat to keep the wind and rain from getting into my eyes and I can’t see.
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