Dana Holgorsen: Iowa State week

November 23, 2015 by Mike Casazza

Somewhat brief, somewhat informative.

Texts From Kansas Game Day

November 23, 2015 by Mike Casazza

So, Saturday’s going to be weird. West Virginia has its senior day, which will be emotional as usual and because of Karl Joseph and a class full of players who’ve endured a lot in four or five years. The Mountaineers will also play a team with a lame duck coach.

As expected, Paul Rhoads was fired Sunday, but he’s going to coach at Mountaineer Field. That’s weird as hell, man. Coaches announce their retirement and “announce their retirement” and finish the season, but I can’t remember something like this. But I’m beat, too, because I traveled all day Sunday, so maybe I’m missing something. Am I missing something?

Anyhow, I’m not sure the crowd will know what to do about that. He’s a villain, to be sure, because of his role in 13-9, but he’s done and still coaching the team like something out of a Disney movie, and that’s hard to hate, no? Great guy, too. Popular among his players, fans and media. Never in trouble. Never embarrassing Always one of my favorites to talk to, someone even common fans rooted for.

Remember this?

That’s the sort of thing that made it so hard for Iowa State to make this move and why Rhoads is being allowed to do what he’ll do Saturday. He’ll have a job somewhere soon, because he’s a very good defensive coach, but you better believe the Cyclones will have something up their sleeve for the finale. They had nothing to play for … until the coach got fired? Weird, but why shouldn’t that be the case in this odd season?

WVU could use the win to keep the arrow pointing up and to further solidify its season. It would make sense, too, in a season that hasn’t made a ton of sense across the country. But when you see the Big 12’s top teams knocking one another off the shelf, and you see the Mountaineers feature better players, coaching and execution than their recent opposition, you probably develop a different perspective for the season.

And that brings me to today’s texts. Subdued! Needed brackets once, which was normal in September and the furthest from normal last month. Kansas was just terrible, but not in the fun terrible sort of way. The Jayhawks weren’t feisty for a half or a quarter and didn’t submit a bunch of follies. It was like competently bad — not insulting, not laughable, but not threatening in the least, either.

Maybe Iowa State storms into town and changes all that. Maybe not. When the pain cuts you deep, when the night keeps you from sleeping, just look and you will see that I will text your remedy.

Worst thing about away gamedays is I always find myself listening to Dale Wolfley on the radio.

Injured right hand for Howard? That’s like Stevie Wonder with cataracts

3 and out, Smallwood never touching the ball, Baldinger mocking us

Who in THE hell was that????? Uh…Smallwood please! That’s why we had a quick 3 and out! Why can’t Dana EVER just stick to what works??????? #AlreadyFrustrated!

Dana’s hair is full McCracken after that first series

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Sunday Buffet: WVU 49, Kansas 0

November 22, 2015 by Mike Casazza

Remember October? Neither does West Virginia, which is making the most of the football season’s 11th hour by winning in the 11th month. A simple — that’s the right word, right? — 49-0 win against Kansas moved the Mountaineers to 3-0 this month.

WVU was 3-9 in its first three Novembers in the Big 12.

To hear the players and the coaches talk about it, they never wavered when the season was at its wobbliest moments. I wrote about this before, but it’s topical again because it’s being referenced again. The seniors and their head coach had a meaningful meeting before the first November game, and that chat didn’t reset or refocus as much as it did remind everyone about what they were trying to achieve.

You have to think it’s worked, because Saturday’s game was over before it started … and then the Mountaineers hit for 28 points in the first quarter.

But before they boarded their buses at 8:15 a.m. and then rained rushing yards on the Jayhawks, they met in a conference room at their hotel.

“I told them to be down there at 6:45, that the meeting would start at 6:45,” coach Dana Holgorsen said. “They were all bright-eyed at 6:30, so we started 15 minutes early. That told me that they were ready to go.”

Cornerback Terrell Chestnut forced a fumble recovered by safety Jarrod Harper on Kansas’ second play, and WVU’s Rushel Shell followed with the first of his team’s five rushing touchdowns. On the second play of the next Kansas drive, Chestnut guessed right on the receiver’s route, intercepted the throw and returned it 32 yards for a score.

The Mountaineers led 28-0 at the end of the first quarter, their most productive quarter since scoring 35 points in the second quarter of the 2012 Orange Bowl against Clemson. Not that WVU needed any help, but that quieted much of the crowd of 21,415 at Memorial Stadium that weathered the 11 a.m. kickoff and 20 mph winds that made the 36-degree day feel 13 degrees cooler at the start.

“If ever there were a situation they shouldn’t have been ready to play, this is it,” Holgorsen said. “All due respect to Kansas, but it was cold and windy and there’s nobody here and all that stuff. But our guys didn’t care about that. It was all about us.”

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WVU v. Kansas: Celebration time!

November 21, 2015 by Mike Casazza


You are looking live at Kivisto Field inside Memorial Stadium, where West Virginia can clinch bowl eligibility with a win. Also, it’s windy! But unlike past seasons when WVU has traveled to road venues and had its offense bitten by the wind, I find it hard to believe these breezes are stiff enough to move a handoff 5 or 6 inches to the left or right and disrupt things. 

The Mountaineers will have to and try to pass it a little bit, and it appears Skyler Howard will again be the starting quarterback. We didn’t give enough attention to this throughout the week, but his right hand is not all right. He dinged it late last week against Texas and had it wrapped in an ice pack after the game, which isn’t particularly newsworthy.

But on Tuesday, the day the players and coaches talk to reporters, nobody saw his right hand. It was sheathed inside a sweatshirt, but he spoke promisingly about his ability to grip and throw.

We also talk to players before they practice Tuesday, which is the first day of the for days of practice that matter as it relates to the weekend’s game. Chatter’s found its way to me this week that there was at elast concern about the hand.

Well, a WVU envoy tells me the plan is for Howard to start. He has to get through warmups, but that’s the expectation. I he cannot start or finish, the Mountaineers have William Crest and not David Solls o Chris Chuganov, ready to go.

That’s something to eyeball, for sure, and that’s kind of fun because we think we know what’s going to happen in this game. The Mountaineers are 26 1/2-point favorites (with an over/under of 57?) and they’re going to run the ball 50-some times. Wendell Smallwood’s going to be aimed at the Big 12’s second-worst rush defense and he’s going to get tackles inside the 3-yard line at least once.

The talking point/punchline this week is Smallwood can’t score, and there is some truth to that. He has 167 carries and six scores, and you can see for yourself that he hasn’t crossed the goal line a lot lately. We’re talking one score in 88 carries. In the past four games, he’s been tackles inside the 3 five times and he’s carried wice from the 1 and not scored.

Smallwood ranks No. 19 nationally with 1,119 rushing yards and No. 14 with 124.33 yards per game. An above-average 132 yards today moves him into the top 10 of WVU’s single-season totals and leaves him fewer than 500 yards from Steve Slaton’s school-record 1,744 yards in 2006.

But of the 26 FBS players with at least 1,000 yards this season, only three have scored fewer touchdowns than Smallwood. One has more yards than Smallwood and all three have more carries. Those same three players are the only ones among the 33 averaging 100 yards a game who have scored less often than Smallwood. (The ironic part of this is Smallwood has been chastised in the past for pushing too hard toward the end zone and reaching the ball across the goal line, both of which contributed to fumble problems before.)

This is all very frustrating and funny to Dana Holgorsen, who likes touchdowns and who knows how to get through to players like Smallwood, who’s a good sport. A couple days ago, Holgorsen pulled Smallwood aside at practice, walked him toward the end zone and explained that the goal line was. The coach has made at least four other jokes at the running back’s expense the past two weeks, and Smallwood doesn’t seem to mind.

But he’s keeping score, and when he does score again and silences his coaches, watch out.

“I think I’m going to get one soon and break out something crazy, just for them,” he said. “I might take the ball to them, like, ‘How do you like that? I can do it.’ ”

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A terrible reminder

November 20, 2015 by Mike Casazza

I’m off to Lawrence, Kan., today, where two years ago I saw one of the strangest things ever. WVU lost to Kansas, which had lost 27-straight Big 12 games, and then the fans rushed the field. It’s still hard to believe, but that was the deepest part of the lowest time of Dana Holgorsen’s five seasons with the Mountaineers. Bad!

The Jayhawks are very different, except for the few players who remain and the fact they’re still  paying Charlie Weis, and WVU is trying hard not to focus too much on that season’s game. Linking Saturday to Nov. 16, 2013, links this team to that team and this team believes it’s come a long, long way since then. Kansas really has not with but one Big 12 win since then.

So the Mountaineers are taking the high road, one would think, out of respect for their own gains as well as for the opponent that’s young and trying hard and nothing at all like the one that won two years ago. But the high road is also a place where WVU feels like it belongs, if only because it believes its in a better place then the Jayhawks.

But don’t believe the Mountaineers are totally over that loss and that memory and they’re immune to channeling experiences for motivation. Because they are not.

“It was terrible,” senior cornerback Terrell Chestnut said. “That’s what it was. Terrible. The whole thing. Everything was terrible. Anytime an opposing team storms the field against you, it’s never a good feeling. It humbled us.”

That feeling is more familiar than the Mountaineers would like. A season ago, the Mountaineers lost to TCU on a field goal as time expired and then played uninspired a week later in a loss to Texas.

“That’s the game that really derailed our season,” Chestnut said. “We were sure they wanted to come in and do the same thing to us.”

So the motivated Mountaineers and their healthy memories beat the Longhorns last week, and Chestnut said it was his idea to pick up Holgorsen and crowd-surf him around the locker room — because that’s what happened to Texas coach Charlie Strong the year before.

“No disrespect to him, but I got tired of seeing Charlie Strong get crowd-surfed by his team in the locker room after playing us,” Chestnut said. “I think it was only fitting we did that when we beat them.”

I’ll leave you with today’s road game challenge: Final score and critical statistic, in honor of Kansas grad and noted sabermetrician Bill James.

You’ll Never Talk Alone: S4E10

November 19, 2015 by Mike Casazza

Come one, come all for the weekly WVU football (and other sports) chat at 11 a.m. The queue is open now or you can submit questions live. If you can’t make it, catch the replay at your convenience.

Live Blog You’ll Never Talk Alone: S4E10

The Good and the Bad of WVU v. Texas

November 18, 2015 by Mike Casazza

I said this in the game post: That play was breathtaking. It wasn’t aesthetically pleasing, and Skyler Howard’s airborne shoe doesn’t look pretty, but that’s all beside my point. It was very exciting to watch, and if we’re being honest, West Virginia’s offense hasn’t been invigorating lately.

But this was happening before the snap. Texas lines up and Howard goes to work on what he sees, which is what he ultimately gets. The Longhorns are in a 3-3-5 — Charlie Strong helped pioneer that, too — and they’re going to spin the safety at bottom of the screen close to the line and drop the safety at the top to the deep middle. It’s basically a two-man route. There are three receivers, but Daikiel Shorts, in the slot, widens out to bring a defender with him. The playaction brings the bottom safety closer to the line. The wide receivers are 1-on-1 with cornerbacks, and WVU will continue to like its changes when No. 1 and No. 5 are asked to outrun cornerbacks.

Pause it at :12. Howard is out of the playaction, and that safety hits the breaks, but he’s a non-factor. Shorts has hooked his defender. There are eight Texas players accounted for. Gibson and Durante are running at the cornerbacks and you see the shadow of the deep safety, who is just out of the picture. He has to cover way too much ground to make a play on either receiver. It seems like Howard reads him and knows he has the throw.

This is September WVU and September Howard. It’s Good.

But really, why was it so good? It was dramatic, and the television does the drama no justice. From where I was sitting, I could see Howard lock on Durante and I could see Durante was going to get by the cornerback. And then the throw went out and I could see the thousands of fans with at least a similar vantage point behind the play or in front of it rise to their feet. They didn’t see exactly what I saw, because we all have different seats and angles, but they all saw the potential outcome, and they got ready for it.

That was a really, really cool visual.

The ball was up in the air for a long time and at least some of that excitement transitioned into anxiety because, you have to think, recent memories filled the heads of the onlookers. That was Durante on the other end of the throw, a throw from a quarterback who hasn’t always hammered the nail of these plays. But it worked, even as the safety tried to recover and stop it. The crowd erupted and the WVU sideline went wild.

It was like a whole lot of angst left the stadium. If only we had a better look at this and a way to fully appreciate the sight and sounds.


I thought it was fun to see Durante’s teammates, head coach and then receivers coach find Durante as he found his way to the sideline. That kid’s had a rough go of it, and all of those people wanted to see him get out of it because they knew him to be better than what had happened. He had some nationally televised mistakes, and there’s no hiding from those things, especially when they come during a time when so many people are looking for things to point at. The only way to get over those errors is to make the play you hadn’t made, and Durante wasn’t doing it.

I still think he’s going to be a major player for the Mountaineers. Again, I’ve never experienced people volunteering the promise they have for a player quite as convincingly as they did for Durante in the preseason. His productivity slipped, but the confidence the Mountaineers had in him never waned. Honestly, we see players come and go, pop and fizzle, and there’s too much soup-of-the-day reporting around here to entirely trust who’s real and who’s just here, but I always felt like Durante had staying power if only because the people around him were so consistently sincere in their belief he’d be all right.

This is not to say one play validates anything, although it’s just as proper to say two bad games shouldn’t debunk everything, but I sensed relief that Durante did what he did, not because people wondered if he had it in him, but because they wondered if Durante remembered.

Confidence is so fickle, especially with freshmen who are encountering so many things for the first time and are prone to panic about stuff they’ll later learn to handle. It’s a long season, which is bad and good. Too many people produce reactions and treat them like regulations, but things change and should be allowed to change, and, lo, the Mountaineers have a winning streak that’s brought them to 5-4 overall and 2-4 in the Big 12. How did we get here? Let’s find out by taking a look at the Good and the Bad of WVU v. Texas.

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Dana Holgorsen: Kansas week

November 17, 2015 by Mike Casazza

What, Dana worry? Actually, he sounds a little worried. Positively louholtzian.

Tuesday Taboo and the long overdue

November 17, 2015 by Mike Casazza

As you consider that West Virginia basketball is 2-for-2 (is that two wins in two games to two games and two grantstands about the crowd) and the football team is 2-for-2 after October and can finally entertain thoughts about a bowl game, try to believe in the best part of the team.

The Civic Center ought to be fun

November 16, 2015 by Mike Casazza

WVU plays James Madison tonight at the Civic Center, and I won’t be there to lead you through it. It’s the first of two times the Mountaineers will play there this year, and I won’t be there the second time, either, when WVU and Marshall play in the Capital Classic.

Yes, they’re still playing that, because the Mountaineers aren’t scared. Man, remember that?

Well, let’s not forget what happened Sunday — and I don’t mean Marshall’s exhibition loss to a Division II team that, I guess, plays fast and hard. I mean Dan D’Antoni’s comment afterward.

“We’re going to play West Virginia and teams that do this,” he said. “This was a nice warmup for it. And I’m not sure West Virginia plays this hard. This team comes at you, and they come at you with 11, 12 players.”

I wish I was covering that game tonight, because this would not go unacknowledged.