Work in Progress

  • By John Antonik
  • |
  • November 15, 2011 08:42 PM
  • |
West Virginia has made dramatic improvement in almost every offensive category this year. The Mountaineers have increased their scoring average from 25.2 points per game in 2010 to 36.8 this year.

Passing yardage has gone from an average of 213 yards per game in 2010 to 362.1 yards per game this season; total offense has been upped from an average of 372.7 yards per game in 2010 to this year's average of 479.4.

The same goes for average yards per pass, average yards per reception, so on and so forth.

However, first-year coach Dana Holgorsen admits the season has not been without its share of growing pains. Many of the guys he inherited are not fully suited to his style and there has also been some inconsistent play at several key spots.

Quarterback Geno Smith has performed well through 10 games (269 of 417 for 3,497 yards and 24 touchdowns with just five interceptions), but based on the way Holgorsen protégés Case Keenum and Brandon Weedon are now playing, there is still plenty of room for growth in Smith's game.

On Monday, Holgorsen was asked to compare the progress of this year's offense to his two previous stops at Houston and Oklahoma State.

"Slower," he admitted. "This is more how it was at Texas Tech in 2000 than it was when I went to Houston or Oklahoma State."

Holgorsen says the primary reason is because the offensive philosophies at Houston and Oklahoma State were much similar to his style than what he has encountered here so far at WVU.

"There were guys that were used to doing things similar to how we run them," Holgorsen said. "The personnel was in place to where we could handle that. We're not there offensively. It goes back to Texas Tech when we were changing a lot of philosophies and changing the way things were done offensively."

Despite the slow transition, West Virginia has still found a way to win football games, and never was that more apparent than last Saturday at Cincinnati. Despite 14 penalties and a big second half turnover on its side of the 50, West Virginia was able to overcome its difficulties and hold on for a 24-21 victory over a pretty good Bearcat team that was ranked 23rd in the country.

The fact that the Mountaineers were able to win a close game when their offense was not clicking on all cylinders was not lost on Holgorsen.

"The biggest thing is finding a way to win," he said. "I don't care where we're at offensively. It's about what we've got to do to win. We're not happy with the three losses, but it's better than four. We'll keep trying to get better and keep trying to figure out how to put our guys in position to win, which is ultimately the only thing that matters.

"Things will get easier and easier the longer we're here."

West Virginia's next opponent, Pitt, has also undergone some growing pains with first-year coach Todd Graham. Like Holgorsen, Graham wants to run an entertaining, past-paced attack.

All summer in television commercials we heard Graham talk in his Texas twang about the high-octane offense he planned to use this year. Now because of injuries, inexperience and mismatched personnel, the first-year coach has slowed things down quite a bit. As of late, however, the Panthers are performing much better.

Pitt (5-5) is coming off a big 21-14 victory at Louisville last Saturday that has put the Panthers back into contention for the Big East title with games remaining at West Virginia on Nov. 25 and at home against Syracuse on Dec. 3.

What a week ago looked like a meaningless Backyard Brawl has now taken on added importance. The path to this year's Big East championship could once again run through Morgantown and that's why ESPN chose to move the game to 7 p.m. instead of the 11 a.m. time slot now occupied by Louisville-South Florida.

Holgorsen and Graham know each other well from their days in Conference USA, their teams having been involved in some offensive shootouts the last couple of years. Both were brought in to energize their respective fan bases with high-scoring attacks.

But like Graham, Holgorsen admits he's had to ease off the accelerator a little bit in order to make sure his players can keep up.

"I've changed a lot about how we call plays and how fast we call them," Holgorsen said. "There are times that we try to change it up and try to catch people off guard. I know that Pitt coach Todd Graham has the same philosophy as far as what he's done for the last three years and what he's trying to put in. He's dealing with the same thing that I am as far as changing up what it used to be."

It should all add up to another interesting West Virginia-Pitt game.