WVU Sports with Mike Casazza

How to do good things? Stay out of trouble.

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West Virginia’s offense has some accolades and some issues. It ranks No. 7 in yards per game. Only five other teams average 500 yards of offense with 300 passing and 200 rushing. (Ohio State deserves a mention for averaging 200 passing and 300 rushing.) But in 2016, the year Dana Holgorsen wanted to see the Mountaineers jump from last season’s 34 points per game to 42, the scoring offense has not matched that success.

Of the top 25 teams in total offense, only East Carolina is lower than WVU in points per game. The Mountaineers average 32.8 points per game, which ranks No. 46. ECU, No. 13 in yards per game, averages 28 points per game, which ranks No. 74.

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The Good and the Bad of WVU v. Texas Tech

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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.

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Texts From Texas Tech Game Day

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None of us, not even Mack, can be sure about what’s yet to come for West Virginia. We’ve seen a 5-0 ranked team fall apart, and we’ve seen a team crawl out of the ashes of a winless October and piece together something that’s now produced 10 wins in 11 games. I think what we do know is that on Saturday we saw the Mountaineers improve before our very eyes, and that’s a good sign for whatever follows.

There are a few things that impress. The defense was great, and it’s markedly improved from what we witnessed earlier in the season. But when you have a bunch of players who either haven’t played this defense or who haven’t played this much, those same players are bound to improve. Tony Gibson’s 3-3-5 is bizarre and a good deal of its success comes from how weird it is and how three days isn’t enough time to get ready for it. That said, he’d tell you he doesn’t do a lot, which means players repeat a lot of the same coverages and blitzes and run fits and the like over and over and over. They catch on and they get better.

It’s sort of the same on offense, and this is where I point out the red zone offense, which had not been great, was 8-for-8 Saturday. Dana Holgorsen’s playbook is famously thin on game day, but we’re witnessing new formations that work and old formations that had been absent. I think it’s worth noting that WVU basically didn’t use tight ends at all the previous two — basically three — games and then did pretty well whenever it had Trevon Wesco on the field Saturday. Texas Tech wanted to stop the run, and those big sets WVU used didn’t let that happen.

To me, that’s part of the hallmark of Saturday. WVU wanted to play a very specific game, and it did. WVU wanted to avoid a very specific game, and it did. The offense and the defense pretty much did what they wanted to do, although we do have to point out that Texas Tech’s defense is horrendous and its offense doesn’t have many layers. But this wasn’t about luck or unexpected events or ideas. It was a Hannibal Smith game. That’s a really good sign.

And again, the Mountaineers never left their comfort zone. I really thought Texas Tech would be the team to do that. I wasn’t sure the Red Raiders could win, but I thought they could get a 14-0 lead or a 13-3 lead and make WVU re-evaluate things. We’re five games in and that panic button is dusty. I know Kansas State had a 13-point lead in the third quarter, but did Holgorsen scrap the plan, act desperate and get lucky? I would not say that.

I would say that through the 5-0 start and with 10 wins in 11 games the Mountaineers and their head coach have figured out how to find and secure success. The challenge now is to sustain it the rest of the way.

I’m Iron Man. No cheap cash metal, I’m steel alloy. True identity hidden inside secret tabloids. Breathe oxygen, both sides of my jaw carry oxes. The texts hit like the bangers in 100-watt boxes.

Driving from Pittsburgh to NC, saw Rte. 19 closed for Bridge Day, let’s hope WVU fans don’t have that “I wanna jump off a bridge” feeling around 330pm…

Like the use of the stacks to get White free for 6. Btw, BYU used the double stack formation last night… copycougars

Away game Skyler is here

Two weeks to script that opening series?! #weregonnarunalloverthem

Please run the football here.


Never mind. Coming back. But still … let’s not abandon the run today.

I will say this … I want a healthy Crawford when WVU plays Oklahoma.

Hell of a run.

If Mahomes is mediocre today, WVU has no excuse.

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Sunday Brunch: No. 20 WVU 48, Texas Tech 17

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Ten wins in 11 games, and in the 10th, there were 650 yards of offense. That’s the seventh-best total in school history. His quarterback, who has grown and who has been developed into a pretty reliable part of this attack, passed Major Harris and is now fifth in school history with 42 touchdown passes. The offense topped 300 yards rushing and passing and averaged more than 7 yards per rush and 15 yards per completion. Four players ran for at least 42 yards while four had at least 47 yards receiving.

Eleven possessions. One punt. Six touchdowns. Three field-goal attempts. One end-of-half drive.

Pretty good work, and we haven’t even mentioned the array of formations and tactics employed.

“We showed what we can do,” Howard said. “It’s nothing we don’t know, but we’re establishing the confidence that we can do it.”

Hard to argue that, and now we leave it to pollsters and pundits to debate the merits of the Mountaineers.

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WVU v. Texas Tech: It takes a crook

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I’d almost forgotten about this, but back in the day, we did some really weird and, if you ask me, wonderful stuff. This space was like the wild west, and the sheriff was wearing argyle and not exactly worried about what was happening in this corner of his territory. The reign was free, the liberties were taken and the result at one point was — Oh man, are you ready? — Sun Stew.

I don’t care what you say, that was brilliant.

Anyhow, I suppose we’ve grown up older and we’ve matured meandered, and all of our subsequent highjinks highjinks masks what happened in the past. But this week, I was working on a pretty simple story: You know what you’re going to get when you prepare for Texas Tech and Kliff Kingsbury. It’s a little more complicated when you’re preparing for West Virginia.

And then offensive line coach Ron Crook — bless him! — said this about the value of WVU’s diversity.

“The game still boils down to blocking and tackling and who can be better at the fundamentals, but if you make them work on a lot of different things, it’s hard for them to focus on one thing they need to do to beat you,” offensive line coach Ron Crook said.

“Sun Tzu said if you make them prepare everywhere, you make them weak everywhere. You can’t say, ‘This is the one thing we’ve got to do to win.’ The more you can show them, the harder it’s going to be for them to prepare.”

Whoa! “You throw a lot of ‘Art of War’ at them?” I wondered.

“Sometimes,” he said. “I’m not big on cliches.”

Cliches? Too simple. Twenty-five-hundred-year-old military treatise? Adequate. Sometimes.

Glorious. Anyhow, the point of the story was to explain the issues the Mountaineers present in preparation as well as on the field, and they are many. It’s been an evolution of sorts — honestly, the strength today is the result of weaknesses in the past, which is very Sun Tzu — because the team has a veteran quarterback and experienced offensive linemen and two running backs and probably the best combination of depth and talent at receiver either since Holgorsen starter or since 70-33 — and either choice is good for the Mountaineers.

The zone runs are complimented by the power runs, and they’re accompanied by some quarterback runs, which I think you may see early today just to get Skyler Howard going. The passing game has all the Air Raid principles and is finding ways to balance the deep throws to the outside receivers with the intermediate passes to the inside receivers. Any and all of that can happen from a bevy of formations and at alternating tempos.

It’s not too much for the Mountaineers to handle. One area where Holgorsen has always been pretty savvy, according to those who have worked or who still work for him, is appropriating practice time. He makes sure assistants have the time the need, whether in drills or live periods, to work on what they need to work on for that day or for that week’s opponent. WVU doesn’t really run a slew of different plays in any one game, and they’ve known what they know for a while.

“You’re not devoting a lot of practice time on what to do, so that allows you to be a little bit more creative with it and change up some things on a week-to-week basis,” Holgorsen said.

That said — and you’ve probably noticed this — the Mountaineers are adding to their repertoire this season, so good luck with all of that.

“We’re getting back into some of our old ways,” Carrier said, declining to list them but insisting they exist. “We’ve got the personnel to spread the ball out a little more. I’m helping out with little wrinkles here and there — formations, plays. There’s been a lot added that you probably wouldn’t even notice.”

The significance of whatever changes or additions the offense has made is that they’re subtle. The Mountaineers can’t add too many more routes or running plays than what they already have. There could be new formations — like the three receivers far away on one side and one receiver alone on the other side that WVU showed against Kansas State — but there are rarely ever new plays within those new formations.

But Carrier said the Mountaineers can run virtually all of their plays out of any formation.

“We throw a lot at [opponents] from the standpoint of a lot of different formations and being able to do a lot of tempo from any formation and any personnel grouping, but what we run — it looks a lot harder than it is,” Crook said. “Certain calls make a play look completely different, and it probably looks like a different play, but within our system, it’s all the same play.”

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Yikes. I still remember watching him warm up last year. This man crow-hopped at the 20-yard line and threw the ball into the other end zone. He’s a former high school pitcher — and college baseball player who decided to focus on football only this year — and you might remember his dad from a journeyman’s career in the big leagues.

Truth is, he’s always had a big arm.

His father, Pat, spent 11 seasons in Major League Baseball, pitching for the Twins, Red Sox, Mets, Rangers, Cubs and Pirates. His son’s choice couldn’t have been a surprise, and neither could the first compliment that came his way when he was 4 or 5 years old and playing T-ball against kids who were 6 or 7.

His coaches him at shortstop, but that didn’t last long. He remembered fielding a ground ball in practice and throwing across the field. He expected the first baseman to make the catch because he was older than Mahomes and because Mahomes knew he would have caught it.

“I threw a bullet and it hit the kid straight in the face,” he said. “I had to play first base after that.”

He’s nimble, too. This was one of the best plays I saw live last season, and he threw two of his three touchdown passes when he was on the go. A year ago, he had his lowest passing total of the season against WVU, but he also had career-high totals of 18 rushes for 73 yards. Combine the feet that keep action going and an arm that makes throws others do not, and WVU naturally has its hands full tomorrow.

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Birds of a feather? I call fowl…

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Those two are pretty good friends, in case you didn’t know that, and it’s difficult to separate their careers.

Hal Mumme was Mike Leach’s boss, and he was Dana Holgorsen’s boss, and he was Kliff Kingsbury’s boss.

Holgorsen played for Mumme and he coached for Leach when Kingsbury played for Leach. When Kingsbury was done chasing the NFL dream, Holgorsen hired him at Houston as a quality control assistant, and they were roommates for a while.

When Kevin Sumlin, who was their boss at Houston, needed someone at Texas A&M to replace Kingsbury after the offensive coordinator was named head coach at Texas Tech, Sumlin plucked Jake Spavital from Holgorsen’s staff.

It’s a fun story about the lineage of the Air Raid offense and all its disciples, but there’s a story we’re not telling: They fell from the same coaching tree, but they’ve branched out in very different directions.