In Saturday’s double-overtime loss to TCU, which saw the WVU offense again sputter for much of the contest, the Horned Frogs typically only rushed their four down linemen. They dropped seven men into pass coverage, daring QB Geno Smith to work against unfavorable numbers.
That was no different than what Texas Tech and Kansas State had done in the previous two losses for the Mountaineers, who thus far have proven unable to make defenses pay for that decision by running the ball effectively.
“If you’re getting pressure with three or four guys, it makes it harder to go through your reads,” Holgorsen said on Monday’s Big 12 coaches teleconference. “When they’re dropping seven, dropping eight, basically it’s about the same thing. You’ve got to win some one-on-one matchups up front. If you don’t, they’re getting pressure quite a bit and you don’t have a chance to go through your reads.”
But lest anyone think West Virginia’s second-year head coach believes the blame falls entirely on his offensive line, he also pointed to uneven play from Smith, his senior quarterback, as a problem against TCU.
“I don’t think Geno had a very good night, for whatever reason,” Holgorsen said. “He got stuck on his reads a little bit and didn’t go through the reads and missed some guys that he normally didn’t. That’s going to be a challenge for us ... Oklahoma State poses some problems, because they’re really good up front. They’re coached well up front.”
This week’s opponent, Oklahoma State, is one that Holgorsen and much of his staff is very familiar with. The head coach spent the 2010 season as offensive coordinator in Stillwater, installing his brand of spread offense, which the Cowboys have continued to use since his departure.
Running backs coach Robert Gillespie also held the same position at Oklahoma State. Co-defensive coordinator Joe DeForest was the safeties coach at OSU for a decade before coming to Morgantown this past offseason. Quarterbacks coach Jake Spavital was a graduate assistant at the school in 2010.
“When I first got there, I was pretty familiar with it, just based on going back and starting to play against them in 2000 when I was at Texas Tech,” Holgorsen recalled. “I had competed against them for eight years at Texas Tech. Then my two years at Houston, we played Oklahoma State as well.
“So I knew a whole lot about it prior to going there, from a facilities standpoint, a coaching staff standpoint, the culture and from a recruiting standpoint. I knew a lot about it, so there wasn’t any surprises. Obviously, I was there for one year. Last year was the first year I didn’t have any association with Oklahoma State in 12 years.”
What stands out about the Cowboys, at least to Holgorsen, is the way they have blended the spread offense with the physical brand of football OSU coach Mike Gundy was familiar with as a player at the school.
“Coach Gundy does such a great job from a mentality standpoint of old-school football,” Holgorsen said. “It’s toughness, giving great effort. He’s done a tremendous job with it. The way he handles the offseason, keeping people accountable for what they’re supposed to be doing from a toughness standpoint and an effort standpoint, that’s something that’s pretty impressive.
“He was with ol’ Pat Jones there for a long time. He played for Pat Jones, which is old-school football -- hard-nosed, tough, physical football, and he incorporated our style of the spread offense while keeping it as physical as they possibly can be. They play with tremendous effort.”
After a break caused by a technical glitch on the conference call, Holgorsen was asked his philosophy on recruiting in regard to high school seniors. He said a cultural difference between recruits from the east and southwest accounts for some different tactics in recruiting.
“The best way to figure out what you’re getting is by watching the product of the kids their senior year,” Holgorsen said. “That’s the way it used to be. There’s a lot of maturity and a lot of change that happens to kids when they’re 16, 17 and 18 years old, from a junior year to a senior year. A lot of our recruiting decisions are based on their junior year, having to throw offers out there the spring of their junior year and the summer before their senior year to where you don’t even get to watch them as seniors.
“That’s a disadvantage for us as coaches, but it’s a disadvantage for some of the high school seniors out there as well. The east coast is a little different than the southwest and Texas and all that. You’re making a lot of those decisions early. East coast is a little different, a little later -- not incredibly different, but it is a little different to where you can watch some more of their senior tape.”