Changing Circumstances Confront WVU
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DALLAS - Last year, Dana Holgorsen walked up to the dais at Big 12 media day prepared to talk about the offensive firepower that he had at his disposal following West Virginia’s 70-33 decimation of Clemson in the 2012 Discover Orange Bowl.
Big-name play makers such as Geno Smith, Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey had many folks from Lubbock to Ames talking about the Big 12’s newest kid on the block.
Well, this year circumstances are much different. Austin and Bailey are now in St. Louis attempting to revive the Fastest Show on Turf while Smith is in the Big Apple beginning his quest to become the ringmaster of the circus that has become the New York Jets.
Meanwhile, back in Morgantown, Holgorsen begins his third season at West Virginia University constructing a new offensive football team that will be unfamiliar to a lot of people outside of the Mountain State, at least for a while.
“Probably the biggest difference going into this year as opposed to last year is everything that we dealt with is pretty much opposite this year,” Holgorsen noted. “We had a lot of good things coming off a big bowl game and had some star power on offense and all of the experience on offense and a very inexperienced defense.
“It’s the exact opposite going into this year.”
Unfamiliar names such as Millard, Childress and Trickett will be vying for Smith’s old job under center, while some expected new names (Charles Sims, junior college receiver Mario Alford and prep standout Shelton Gibson) will be matched with some new old ones (Ivan McCartney) to hopefully give West Virginia’s offense a much-needed jolt of electricity this fall.
“I haven’t lost any sleep over Tavon and Stedman moving to the NFL,” Holgorsen said. “We don’t hold anybody back. That’s not the first time we’ve lost receivers to the NFL and be able to line up next year and execute the offense.”
How efficiently Holgorsen’s offense executes this year will clearly be on the shoulders of his starting quarterback, whoever that ends up being. The coach has said repeatedly the job is wide open heading into fall training camp.
“The quarterback play in the Big 12 last year was phenomenal, and it’s always going to be phenomenal,” Holgorsen admitted. “It’s just going to be with newer people. Who our guy is going to be, I don’t know?
“We’ve got (Florida State transfer) Clint Trickett coming in, who has probably as much experience in the college game as anybody in the Big 12, just because he’s been a starter in some big games and he’s been around it his whole life.
“He’s got to come in and beat an experienced Paul Millard out, who has taken more reps than anybody on our campus. And then you’ve got (freshman) Ford Childress, who’s going to continue to get better and better. He may have more potential than any of the other guys.”
And who the quarterbacks will hand the ball to, or throw it to, also remains somewhat of a mystery. Adding Houston running back Charles Sims to the equation for one year leads to even more questions.
“We’re extremely fortunate to have his services for one year,” Holgorsen pointed out. “He’s a great kid and a tremendous football player. I was fortunate to be able to be involved with recruiting him when I was at Houston, and I had him for the first year there in 2009 and that was probably his best year statistically.”
Having familiarity with each other makes the Sims addition really a no-brainer, even if just for one season.
“He knows what I’m all about,” Holgorsen said. “He knows how I coach. He knows what our offense is about and we need some play makers on offense after losing, I think, 90 percent of our production last year, or whatever that number was.”
However, adding Sims to the backfield doesn’t mean Holgorsen doesn’t like his other running backs - he simply wants to get as many good ones in the fold as he can.
“I do feel good about where we’re at running back-wise,” he said. “When you look at Dreamius Smith, one of the more sought-after running backs in the JUCO ranks last year, (he) was with us in spring practice. Dustin Garrison was a full-time starter as a true freshman, and Andrew Buie was a guy that had 200 yards against Texas last year. So we’ve got capable guys - as deep there as we’ve ever been, that’s for certain.”
Now with some depth at running back, Holgorsen hinted that there could even be times when he moves those guys around a little bit or puts multiple running backs in the game at the same time.
“Yeah, there’s a couple of them that I think we’ll be able to move around like that, and I think there’s a couple of slot receivers that we have that could move around into the backfield as well,” he said. “So that’s a game plan issue.
“It’s about personnel groupings, which a lot of defenses are going to try and personnel-group us as well as they can. Our job offensively is to try and disguise that, to try to put people in positions they don’t think are going to be there and be able to execute our offense, regardless of where they line up.”
Yet in a conference that starts with offense, settles in with offense and then ends with more offense, it was the defense that really let West Virginia down last season. A few stops here or there would have meant at least two more victories for the Mountaineers and a much more favorable postseason destination than last December’s Snow Bowl appearance in New York City. But it took reporters until nearly the end of Holgorsen’s 20-minute morning group session the subject of defense even came up. Specifically, what new defensive coordinator Keith Patterson brings to the table this fall?
“Experience,” Holgorsen answered without blinking. “He’s been a defensive coordinator for a long time. He’s extremely familiar with what we want to do defensively and he’s been doing that for quite some time.”
Holgorsen says he is really happy with the transition, too.
“I think he’s taken it and run with it. One of the advantages he has is he was able to bring in a couple of his own guys that he was comfortable with that have experience in that defense,” said Holgorsen. “I really like our defensive staff right now. The communication has probably been the biggest improvement.”
In a conference that is probably the most competitive in the country, having all facets of play in sync will be important for the Mountaineers this fall.
“Big 12, top to bottom, is as good a conference as there is in college football. Now, some years may not be like it was the last two years. You may have – depending on who starts and all that this year – you may have two or three really good quarterbacks coming back, and half the other schools are not going to have quarterbacks coming back.
“So I think everybody’s pretty much in the same boat. Everybody’s got the ingredients to win - it’s how you develop them, and it’s catching some breaks that win you some games,” Holgorsen concluded.
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