Everything, um, tastes better when you’re winning, and Dana Holgorsen has been sipping on victories for a while now.
We’re witnessing a run that’s spanned just shy of a calendar year now, and it’s always useful to evaluate coaches on the course of a 12- or 13-game stretch, which in the case of a Big 12 team ought to include three non-conference games and nine conference games and, if you’re willing, a bowl. The Mountaineers are one Saturday away from a 12-game segment, and they enter this weekend’s game against TCU with a 10-1 record — four non-conference wins (one in a bowl, one in a second neutral site) and seven Big 12 games (4-0 at home, 2-1 on the road).
This has been good football, and this has been good Holgorsen. Let’s call it Good: Holgorsen.
I come at it from a different angle and with different interests, but Winning Dana is always the best Dana. The other versions are good — I like Salty Dana and Brutally Honest Dana when things aren’t going this well — and I think a lot of beat writers and columnists would tell you that it’s easier and, I’m sorry, more fun to cover a team that’s not as successful as this one. But this is fun. WVU football and, dare I say, college football are better, more palatable, when Holgorsen is winning and acting like this.
Yeah. Akimbo visor. Messy hair. Touchdowns. Formations. Celebrations. Tantrums. Red Bull. There were some Mad Scientist moments Saturday and moments like the one from Monday.
On the Big 12 teleconference, someone told Holgorsen the television cameras showed him slugging Red Bull on the sideline and then asked whether he’s ever been offered an endorsement deal.
“I’m really happy with Coca-Cola,” he said. “They do a great job.”
Coca-Cola, you probably suspect, has a campus-wide sponsorship deal with West Virginia University.
“They caught me in a weak moment,” Holgorsen said. “I like variety. I slammed one of those and then got back to drinking Coca-Cola and Dasani water, like I normally do.”
Good! (Aside: Another subtle dig at “The Administration” Tuesday, and we’re this close to crafting a post in which Dana’s a WWE face and The Administration is constantly holding him back and keeping him from a title shot.)
Before and after that Red Bull, we saw some throwback WVU, which at the beginning of the season is what we thought we might see during the season. This is as close to 2012 as we’ve seen since then.
The four-wide looks are common now, to the point it’s virtually a base set, but it’s still something the offense didn’t do this often last year or the year before. There were weird formations I’ve never seen in practice, never mind a game. The Mountaineers hadn’t used an empty set since, I think, the bowl game. If it happened this season, it was probably a running back motioning out of the backfield as opposed to starting out empty.
But we saw some resets, too. Skyler Howard is running the ball again after taking and needing time to heal his ribs. Two running backs were on the field at the same time, which is starting to happen more and more as Kennedy McKoy gets familiar, because you need there backs if you’re going to use two.
And WVU has a tight end. This could be a big deal.
WVU tried and failed to incorporate Stone Wolfley and/or Rob Dowdy in the first two games of the season. Every other heavy package the offense used after that featured Eli Wellman and Mike Ferns, who are physical presences but not tight ends. But Trevon Wesco is. He’s a 6-foot-5, 260-pound wild card. He’s a big, strong body to put out there at the end of the line, and though he’s still sort of raw — he was a high school basketball star who was injured short of passing and rushing for 1,000 yards as a senior — and he didn’t play at all last season at Lackawanna College because of a knee injury, there’s still promise here.
He played special teams against Kansas State, and he was on the kickoff team Saturday, but here’s his first snap against the Red Raiders. He’s on the left end of the line.
That’ll work. Holgorsen hasn’t used a tight end as feature of the passing game here. Cody Clay succeeded by surprising teams and by being left uncovered. But he helped the run game so much. That was Wesco’s role Saturday. He only got on the field when WVU got close to the end zone. This was inside-the-30 stuff, and the Mountaineers weren’t afraid to use him.
Third-and-5, run a read play to Wesco’s side. He doesn’t do a lot, but he does enough. He’s been practicing for a few weeks now, and the Mountaineers went to the medicine cabinet against a team that wanted to stop WVU’s running game. That did not work, and the Mountaineers had some healthy gains when Wesco was in the game on the way to 332 yards rushing.
WVU has too many skill players to do a lot of stuff with a tight end, especially between the 20s, but Wesco is not Clay. Wesco will give a quarterback a big area to throw to. He can jump and he has big hands. He’ll go to a height linebackers can’t reach. He’ll box defensive backs out of his catching radius. This is definitely worth tracking because of a play that didn’t happen or work.
This is something WVU runs or at least threatens to run quite often. You have to prepare for it. It also calls back to the Howard touchdown run, because the formation is the same and because Howard will run. So when he’s on the edge with the ball in a similar spot on the field, you have to shift your focus to him. That diversion allows Wellman to slip open in the flat and catch passes. Credit the defender here for stopping it, and I’m not sure Wellman would have scored had he caught it, but watch Wesco. He’s trying, without much success, to sell a block and get to the second level so he can angle toward the back corner of the end zone.
Overall, he’s not where he needs to be or where he will be, but he’s not going to be out there unless he has a chance to help the offense. If nothing else, he returned heavy sets to the repertoire and helped for a day, but given all the additions and alterations Holgorsen is making, you sort of believe there can be more to this. It’s the hallmark of a good team and a fun time.
How did we get here? Let’s find out by taking a look at the Good and the Bad of WVU v. Texas Tech.