MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - A transcript of WVU football coach Dana Holgorsen's weekly news conference:
It is a short week this week. Back to work this morning. I hear the players down there working out and lifting weights. We will obviously be one day shorter, which I think is good because we need to get back out there and play again.
We showed some improvement, especially offensively, last week; we got out there and did some things right. Defensively, we played good in spurts, but we couldn’t stop the big play, obviously. Special teams, I thought we had some improvements as well.
Best way to get back on track is to get out there and have the opportunity to play. Iowa State is a good football team. Iowa State is a team that is solid on all three sides of the ball. I don’t think there is really anything flashy about anything they do. If you look at their stats, nothing really jumps out to you. You watch them on film and nothing really jumps out to you. It is just a very solid, well coached, effort-oriented team that is very technically sound and plays with just a bunch of effort. They don’t beat themselves. Whatever they do, they do with great effort, and their schemes are fairly simple to figure out. They are back in the mold defensively. They are going to play off you. They are going to do a lot of the things that we saw against Kansas State and TCU. We will need to put the ball in play and remain patient offensively. The biggest thing is putting the thing in play and making some people miss in the open field. Offensively, they spread you out a lot. They play with three different quarterbacks, three different running backs and a whole bunch of different receivers. They have two or three running plays or two or three passing plays. They just try not to make any mistakes. They are sound on the kicking game as well.
We have a short week, and we have to get back to work. We travel Thursday on Thanksgiving and get there and play a game. It is a tough place to play. I have been there twice. It is real hard to play at night. Luckily, we are not playing at night. It will be rowdy and it means a lot to them, and it means a lot to their kids. It will be a challenge if we think we can relax at all. It is one thing we have been preaching to them for the past 24 hours since the game got over. Oklahoma was a huge challenge, and we gave a tremendous amount of effort and had a chance to win and we didn’t. If we don’t give that kind of effort this Friday, then we won’t win the game because Iowa State is going to be a huge challenge and they are already bowl eligible and they play with great pride. It should be a fun week though, and we are looking forward to it.
On the possibility that some losses being harder to get over than others
I don’t know. Yes. All losses are pretty tough. I don’t know what else we could have done. I felt like we gave it everything that we got. The sideline energy was great, and our kids played hard. The effort was there, the energy was there and the excitement was there. The sidelines were energetic, and our guys put a whole lot into it, but we couldn’t get it done. They made one more play then we did.
It was a tough one, but all losses are fairly tough. That is why I am excited about the short week. There is not time to sit and ponder. Last night was a lot busier than normal for a Sunday night. Normally, we have some time to regroup and then spend all day Monday prepping until late in the night. We would be prepping in the practice facility tomorrow. Last night, we got the game over with as quick as we could and we stayed up here real late last night prepping because we are going to be out in the practice field in a few hours. So there is no time to sit and ponder what ifs. It’s a matter of getting out there and getting back to work, and we are forced to do that this week.
On the difficulty of keeping the players motivated with a losing streak
I don’t see that at this point. Yes, there is a worry to that, but we are still playing for a lot. We have 22 guys that have 12 days left of their college careers unless we win one of the two and extend it to a bowl game. Bowl games are rewards. You get to a level where a bowl game is much more than a reward - we are not at that stage right now. We are at the stage where we are playing for the betterment of the program. If we win a couple of games and get to a good bowl game, we get to practice for another month. That will help us out for the program. I don’t think we are at that point. I think our kids sense the fact that they had a chance to win and didn’t. It is disappointing. Why did it happen? I don’t know. When is it going to end? I don’t know. The only thing we can do about it is get out there and work hard and put ourselves in position to win the next one.
On the last five games
There is a difference in playing well and losing and just flat out being embarrassed. We would have a lot to worry about right now if we weren’t playing with effort, if our kids weren’t excited to play, and I would be able to sense that and it would be a serious problem. I don’t view that with this team and right now I view a team that is in some uncharted territory and not liking it but learning to deal with it a little bit. Everything we asked them to do last week, we got. If we are asking them to do something and they don’t do it, we have a serious problem.
On Tavon Austin
We can probably do some more things with him, but if Tavon was an every down running back and could carry the ball 40 times a game, he would have been doing that for the last four games. He is a guy that you look for matchups and you put him in a position to exploit those matchups. That is not necessarily always going to be the case with him in the backfield. It was a good game to do that with him. How much we do it is going to be week to week and what we see on film. Since day one, it has always been how can we get him the ball and doing whatever we have to do to get him the ball. I think our staff has done a good job of that. Even last week, it is flat out ridiculous the amount of yards that he had and the carries that he had, but it is a performance that may not ever be duplicated in college football in quite some time. With that said, if we would have handed him the ball twice as many times, he may have had the same amount of yards. That is us as coaches trying to figure out a way to get him the ball and sometimes that is him as a wide receiver and sometimes it’s as inside receiver and sometimes it’s motion and sometimes it is backfield sets. Those were just kind of amplified this past week.
On having a player that can score four different ways like Tavon Austin
No. I never have (had a player do that). Not from a return standpoint, a receiving standpoint and the ability to just hand it to him and do a lot of different things. I have never coached a guy with that kind of versatility. I have said from day one, especially this year, that he is the most explosive player with the ball in his hands that I have ever seen. So our job as coaches is to get him the ball as many ways as we can. Sometimes we have done a good job with that, and sometimes we haven’t done a good job with that. Last week, we obviously did a good job with that.
You have to, and I thought we did a good job of mixing it up last week. Everyone asks why wouldn’t you give it to him twice as much. His body is just not shaped like that. We are running into some problems with (Andrew) Buie the same way because Buie has the same body type. He is a quick twitched, physical guy that locks up and wears down. You have to be careful about that. I don’t think we would be in game 11 with either one of those two guys if we gave it to them 30 some times a game.
On what Tavon Austin was doing differently than the running backs
That is an unfair question really. He is the most explosive player in college football, and I say this quite candidly, with the ball in his hands. He has a lot of things that he can do better without the ball in his hands that people don’t see, and that is coaching and we have been trying to get him to do a lot of that for a long time. He makes a whole bunch of people miss, and he runs real fast with the ball in his hands. Those other guys don’t have the ability to make people miss like that, and they don’t have the ability to run real fast. Is that because of lack of effort? Absolutely not. Those guys are trying real hard - some people can and some people can’t. Tavon is a guy that can, and those other guys are guys that can’t. Why? Because (Andrew) Buie is kind of worn down a little bit and Dustin (Garrison) just had knee surgery 10 months ago. We have to get more backs in here that we can rely on and that can make some plays. It (inability to run the ball) was clearly part of our frustrations offensively. If you put the ball in Geno’s (Smith) hands 50 times a game and say win the game, there are not that many people that can do it on a consistent basis.
On Iowa State starting a new quarterback last week
He didn’t do anything different. The other guy has played a bunch and we have watched a lot of tape. The tape that we had and studied on our end offensively, the (Jared) Barnett kid was the one we saw most of the time. (Steele) Jantz is the senior that has been around and played a lot of ball. I would expect him to start because he has so many starts under his belt and it is senior day and he is going to be a senior. He started last week and then they brought the young kid in, which we fully anticipated them doing as well, but they didn’t change from a scheme standpoint. They are not overly complicated with what they do offensively. They are going to spread you out, they are going to run the zone, they are going to zone read, which they did with him, and they are going to get the ball out of their hands. They are excellent at not getting caught with the ball in the backfield, and all three quarterbacks do the same thing. From a scheme standpoint, it is not really going to make a difference to us who they play at quarterback.
On what the Heisman Trophy means to him
There is nothing you can do about it. You have to win games. We had some guys that could have been up for the discussion if you win games. That is why I refuse to talk about it and refuse to do anything about it until later in the year. Texas A&M’s approach with (Johnny) Manziel was quite appropriate. There weren’t any talks of that, and then he plays well this time of the year and you get the word out there. Last year with Robert Griffin III, it was the say way. He played well late, and they were on national television and a lot of people were watching him. It is the best player in the country. With that said, a lot has to do with timing and a lot has to do with playing well at the right time. You have to win games, and that is just reality.
On Iowa State defense since losing their linebacker (Jake Knott)
His backup, (Jeremiah) George, is playing pretty well. He was a really good player. I get those two guys mixed up. A.J. Klein is still there, and Jake Knott is the guy that got hurt. Two tremendous football players. They are very active, very smart, sure tacklers and always in the right spot. You can tell that they make everyone else around them better. They are very sound on defense, but those guys kind of spear head that whole thing. George has done a good job of coming in and doing a lot of the same stuff. They are stingy on defense now, especially in the red zone. They give up yards, and then they get real stingy in the red zone. They get you to turn it over and one of the stats that stands out is how they do in the red zone defensively and they change what they do. They start pressuring you and start heating you up a little bit.
On having a standard on 4th and 1 in the red zone
We try to get touchdowns. We have gone for it on fourth down probably more than we ever have inside the red zone because of the scores of the game. Typically, a lot of those fourth downs, we would kick field goals because points are more important than touchdowns, but our play calling is about trying to get touchdowns. I think we have 32 touchdowns out of 37 scoring drives that we have had in the red zone. Our percentage is only at about 80 percent. We shoot for about 96 percent, which is where the tops of the nation are at. We are at about 80, and they are defending at 70 percent right now. We want to get points. There are a lot of yards that exist against a team like Iowa State. People are putting up a lot of yards and not a lot of points. They are only giving up 22 points a game, and a lot of that has to do with the red zone. We need to get points in the red zone. Touchdowns would be appropriate, but points are important.
On practicing differently since Iowa State is good in the red zone
No. We know what they are going to do, we just have to execute.
On calling plays differently in the red zone
Not really. They play defense differently which means we have to call plays a little different, but that’s a preparation standpoint, not a mentality standpoint.
On Darwin Cook
He played okay. I wouldn’t say he played well. He was not playing well early. He got hurt and kind of had something similar to Shawne (Alston), but to a lesser degree, so he was limping around. Never skipped practice or went MIA or anything like that. He just didn’t look very good, and that led to the emergence of Cecil Level. Darwin has been doing better, so we put Darwin in after Cecil missed a couple of tackles. The bodies that he was trying to tackle last week were different than what he has been trying to tackle in the past, so Darwin had experience and had a decent week of work so we put him in there and he played okay.
On the challenge and depth in the Big 12
I don’t know what the fan base thinks, but I think we all understand the challenges that we have encountered. Yes it is pretty difficult and this is the eighth team in a row that has either been ranked or close to ranked. I think it is eight in a row. You lose track. Every Big 12 team that we have played is going to go to a bowl game. That probably tells you something right there.
On having 6 different corners start
We don’t have anyone that has stepped up and taken control of the position. This is a tough league to play corner in - you have some pretty good receivers, so it is a tough league to play corner. None of the guys have stepped up and said ‘this is my position, and I am going to make enough plays to where I am not going to be taken out of the game.’ Whether that gets established here between January 1 or not, I don’t know. A lot of them are young and obviously you have guys like Ricky Rumph, who is a true freshman and has no business playing corner in the Big 12 at this point in his career. (Terrell) Chestnut has played zero snaps at corner the entire year, and we started him. He doesn’t have any business starting in this league at corner at this point in time. We just don’t have enough guys that can control the position and say that this is mine and we are going to make it work. Competition continues to be a challenging focus for that spot right now.
On having young guys
Yes and no. You can say go out and find corners, but how many corners can we have on scholarship? There are scholarship limitations, and we have eight corners on scholarship right now, one of which is a senior. It is hard to have any more than eight a scholarship if you just do the math. It is a matter of coaching these guys up. We have three older guys that have some experience and maybe an injury or two have limited those guys a little bit, especially Brodrick (Jenkins) because of the surgery situation, but those other guys and older guys are the ones you are going to have to count on. They have been okay at times, and they have been poor at times. The young guys have to continue to step up and continue to get better. That is an offseason project. You get Avery (Williams) back, who is young, you get Chestnut back, who is young, and Ricky and Nana (Kyeremeh). You have Brandon Napolean who is a redshirt kid, Vernon Davis who also is a redshirted kid, too. You have six guys that are young, and those freshmen need years to develop before they will be adequate in covering some of these Big 12 receivers. We are not in that situation as a program right now. It is going to take some time.
On former players coming in and saying something to the team
People have asked me about that. If motivational speaking was the way to coach a football team, there would be a whole lot of motivational speaking football coaches. Their presence is appreciated, but if you think a few of their words are going to change the outlook of a football team, you are off your rocker. We appreciated their support, and those guys are important to the program. Motivational speaking is not the answer when it comes to a well prepared football team.