MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – West Virginia Head Football Coach Dana Holgorsen addresses the media for his weekly media conference.
Opening statement I’m excited about game week. It seems like it’s been forever since we played, but looking back on the last seven months we’ve come a long way as a team. We added a lot of bodies and overcame a lot of injuries. We overcame several academic situations and 25 days of practice and camp to get to the point where we can finally focus on game week. It’s been fun to try to get our guys focusing on somebody else other than themselves. We’ve worried ourselves so much over the past seven months that it’s exciting to worry about someone else. We’re excited to play our first game, and we understand the challenges Marshall is going to bring to the table. They’re going to be a very motivated football team that is going to want to come up here and play well. We’re excited about them coming up and bringing their best and seeing if we can match their effort and enthusiasm to a point where we can win the game.
On what Marshall is carrying over from last year They played a lot of young guys (last year), much like we’re playing this year. They return eight guys on offense and five or six guys on defense and a lot of freshmen sprinkled in to their two-deep, much like we do this year. They should come back ready to go. They won some close games last year like we did and they got themselves to a bowl game and won their bowl game, which is always positive in the offseason from a momentum standpoint.
We expect them to be a better football team than they were last year, not just when they played us, but also toward the end of the year when you watch the product they put out there. That (offense) should not only be improved, but also specific people. Everybody wants to talk about (Rakeem) Cato the quarterback and (Aaron) Dobson the receiver, adding some speed with transfers in their secondary, but top to bottom going into (coach John Holliday) Doc’s year three, you should see a better product out there.
On preparing for a possible changes in Marshall’s offense Who knows what we’re going to do offensively, right? Nobody knows for sure. We may throw something else out there that they haven’t seen before. Defensively, it’s widely known that we‘re running the 3-4 defense, but what does that mean? There may be some things we do defensively that they haven’t prepared for. I’m sure that their defensive coaches have been studying football across the country for the last six or seventh months and have come up with some different things that they’re going to do against us.
Nobody knows going into the first game. You can assume all you want to, but the bigger thing for game one is in-game adjustments, which I’m confident our coaches are going to be very aware of and alert to what is going on on the field, to the point where they can see what’s going on and then talk about how we need to attack it either offensively or defensively and get it communicated to our players so they can adjust what they’re doing.
On the biggest surprise he has seen in a first game You can only put 11 guys out there, so there are only so many things you can do. Five of them are going to be linemen, one of them is going to be a quarterback, a couple of them are going to be receivers and a couple of them are going to be running backs. There are only so many different things you can do. I don’ think anybody is reinventing the game. The biggest thing is in-game adjustments after finishing out what the plan is going to be and figuring out what they’re doing on all three sides of the ball.
On his anticipation of how Cato will play I don’t watch them (Marshall) practice, so I couldn’t tell you. He’s a kid that can move around and throw the ball pretty well. I watched him in high school, and he could do that in high school as well. It’s all about being comfortable with the system. I worry about more what our quarterback does, as far as how he’s become comfortable in year two of this offense. He’s become a little bit more accurate and a little bit more mobile. Those guys are coaching him the same way, but I don’t watch them practice.
On matching enthusiasm and intensity and why it should be an issue Regardless of who we played (last year), whether it was Marshall or LSU when they were the No. 1 team in the country, it’s always like that. Highly motivated teams are dangerous, which we know Marshall is going to be a highly motivated team. One of the three things we talk about a lot around here is playing hard, which means giving great effort and being a physical football team. That’s something regardless of whether we’re playing Marshall or the so-called No. 1 team in the country, we’re always going to talk about that. Having lack of effort is something that is not going to be tolerated around here.
On whether Dustin Garrison will take snaps Saturday It depends on how he practices this week. We’ve settled on Shawne (Alston) being the starter for some time, so Shawne will start and Ryan Clarke will be the bigger back that we put in there. (Andrew) Buie’s been practicing really well.
Dustin hasn’t had as many snaps over the last seven months, so we’ll continue to practice him. It’s a long season, and if he’s not ready to go this week, then we’ll reevaluate it next week. That’s just something that we’re continuously doing. I don’t think Shawne Alston took a snap until week five last year. Thirteen games is a long season for running backs where you’re asking them to run block, pass block, run with the ball, catch the ball - there are a whole lot of things that position does, meaning we need a lot of bodies to get in there and do it. We have five or six there now, and we’re going to need all five of them, I can assure you.
On when redshirt decisions are made We’re still evaluating. We’ll do the travel squad and dress list Wednesday night. We may make some decisions on guys that won’t dress, and if they don’t dress we are probably planning on redshirting them. If we do dress them, they are the guys we just know that we’re going to put into games. We might try to redshirt them, but based on availability, if we need them, we’ll play them. After the first couple of games, if guys haven’t gotten in the game, then we’ll probably quit dressing them unless it’s an emergency situation.
On what Jordan Thompson did to become a starter He adjusted to the speed of the game. That was the big thing. If you would have had me rank Jordan with the rest of the receivers that came in and judge them 1-5 what I thought their speed was, I probably would have been wrong. It’s how you adjust to the speed of the game, how fast you play between the whistles and a lot of that has to deal with the cloudiness of the head. If they’re confused or uneasy, then their legs tend to slow down. If they have a clear mind and understand what to do and have a good sense for the game, their legs tend to move a little faster. A lot of it had to do with being here in the spring, learning things, understanding where to go and how to go there. He’s a definite starter and Karl Joseph is a definite starter. He’s not confused, so he moves faster and had a real good camp.
On if there is a concern about how young guys transition to playing in game Any time you get in a game-type situation, there is always some concern. Typically, how you practice is how you’re going to play. You may have wide eyes in the first game, you may not. Who knows what is going on through 18-year old kids’ heads? You have to keep that in the back of your head. You need to be aware of how they are; you got to look at their eyes on the sidelines if they come off. If they’re wide-eyed and looking up in the stands, you have to slap them around a little bit, get their attention and get them focused on what really counts.
Redshirt-freshmen are the same way. You talk about redshirt-freshmen guys who haven’t taken a snap; we need to monitor their progress as well. Guys like Cody Clay and Kyle Rose come to mind. Isaiah Bruce is going to start at linebacker, and he has never taken a snap. I don’t think there is a whole lot of difference from a redshirt-freshman and a true freshman, maybe from a maturity standpoint.
On Donovan Miles’ progression He’s played ball; he’s a fifth-year senior. He’s been in a bunch of games, whether it’s on defense or special teams - he’s taken snaps. I would put him in the category of whatever we see in practice is exactly what we’re going to get in the game.
On how Terence Garvin and Darwin Cook got ready for the first game We handled that a long time ago. We’ve had lots of talks with them and lots of early morning workouts with them to see if they wanted to be here, and they’ve done everything that they’ve been asked to do. They’re guys with a lot of experience that have been stepping up in the front lines and two of the guys that we’re counting on to be leaders of this defense, let alone the football team. I’m proud of how those guys responded, and they’ve done everything we’ve asked them to do.
On how much he watches the guys in the first game I can’t watch all 70 of them, but that’s why we have 15 other coaches out there, whether it is in the box or on the field. The importance of being on the sideline is so when guys come off the field, you look at them to see how they are acting and you communicate with them. That’s part of in-game coaching.
On how to get coaches to coach your style It’s all part of the hiring process. I’ve hired guys that I’ve either coached with, or we have coaches on the staff that have coached with them. These guys are fitting in well. We coached with them for about 40 practices now, so we have a pretty good idea of what their coaching philosophies are and what their schemes are and how they interact with guys.
On whether he would rather not have a second-week bye Yes. That’s just part of switching conferences. It’s not ideal, but we know how to handle an off week - everybody has off weeks. However the game goes, good or bad, we’ll come in Sunday, watch it and get it over with. We’ll practice Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, and we’ll go out recruiting on Friday and Saturday. That’s how pretty much how all off-weeks are, so we’ll be able to get out next week and watch high school football games.
On whether he is ready for game week I would have been ready a week ago. We’ve been focusing on this team, which is our team, for a long time. We have gotten to the point where we know how to line up and what we’re going to do. We could’ve probably done it last week and been just fine. I feel good about where we’re at as a team and who we have plugged in there in the schemes that we have. It’s Tuesday, so we have three –four practices between now and the game to get our kids as familiar with Marshall as we think we need to get them. From a coaching standpoint, we feel like we know enough about them, as much as we’re going to know about them prior to the first game, so it is our job to get the players as prepared as they possibly can. They’re going to be prepared from a knowledge standpoint, and they’re going to be prepared from a ready-to-go standpoint.
On hitting in camps and hitting in games I think we’re fully prepared. We’ve played a lot of football against each other over the last four weeks. We’ve probably played more live situations over the last four weeks than I’ve ever been a part of. We’re as fully prepared as we possibly can be.
On how the defense helps the offense prepare They’re stopping us a good bit. Nobody knows more about our offense than three of our defensive coaches, maybe four of them. Joe (DeForest) has been defending us and wide open offenses for 12 years, so has Keith (Patterson) and Erik Slaughter. Daron Roberts sat in our meetings for a whole year offensively. We’re not going to go against anybody that knows more about our offense than our defensive coaches do. They’ve done a good job of defending us and pointing out things that have made us better.
On having players focus on the team instead of themselves at the NFL draft I can assure you that is not something they’re thinking of. I don’t know how it’s been in the past, but we’re worried about beating Marshall, we’re worried about what our game plans are offensively and defensively and we’re worried about playing well. That’s the only thing we’re worried about right now. We’re not worried about JMU, not the Big 12. We’re sure not worried about the NFL. We’re going to go out there and do what we have to do to win this first one.
On whether it can sometimes be bad that everybody is so ready I think that’s always an issue. Offensively, we have a lot of guys that have been in (tough situations) and are strong leaders, to the point that they can overcome adversity. Nobody overcame more adversity than we did last year. There was a whole bunch of stuff for a 12-month period that we overcame, and I was proud of how well we overcame it.
A lot of those components are still here. We overcame a lot of adversity in that Orange Bowl, and we won by a considerable amount. We were down for a quarter and a half. Adversity hits all of the time, and you need guys to step up.
Defensively, we have seven or eight starters coming back that have all been in pretty big battles and have overcame a lot of adversity. I want to know which one of those guys is going to stand up and get in front of 22 of his peers and say enough is enough, much like Keith Tandy and Najee Goode did. That’s probably the biggest thing I worry about defensively - not having guys that have played or guys that have made a bunch of plays, but having guys who will stand up in the locker room and get in front of somebody and say this isn’t acceptable. Keith and Najee did a tremendous job. We’re still looking for those guys; they’re out there, I just don’t know which ones they are.
On whether guys like Jeff Braun and Joe Madsen and the offensive line act like leaders Those are fun guys. Those guys are two guys that will stand up and say something. Josh Jenkins has had a great camp, and (Quinton) Spain and Pat (Eger) have as well. Those guys, from an experience standpoint, have played a lot of football. They’re having a good time, they’re better than they were a year ago, they understand what we’re doing a lot more and they take pride in making sure No. 12 is doing OK behind them. They take pride in knowing that if it is third and short, we’re going to give it to Shawne and get the first down. That’s part of where we’re at offensively.
On the depth of the offensive line We have about eight bodies, and I think at this point last year we had about five-and-a-half. We have better depth. We’re practicing better and practicing smarter. The first 10 weeks of the season we practiced six guys, so that has been a huge focal point. Obviously, everyone needs to stay healthy to have a good year. The continuity that exists up front will remain intact as long as they are healthy and fresh.
On whether any wide receivers have stepped up Not really. We have four starters, and we’ll roll people in. Ivan (McCartney) has done better, K.J. Myers has done better and Dante Campbell has done better. We still have four or five freshmen that we’re evaluating.