WVU Gameday Blog

Holgorsen Press Conference News & Notes

Moving on from its comeback win against Texas Tech Saturday, No. 23 West Virginia (4-2) looks ahead to its road matchup against Baylor (0-6) this weekend.

Despite its winless record, the Bears appeared to be moving in the right direction, playing some tighter games as of late, including going down to the wire against Oklahoma at the end of September.

That game against a ranked team was in Waco, as is this weekend’s matchup for Matt Rhule and company. It was the other head coach, Dana Holgorsen, that talked at WVU’s media availability Tuesday.

Mystery of the Unknown

Holgorsen commented that there are a number of relative unknowns heading into this week’s contest, mostly revolving around new coaches and their schemes.

Due to the circumstances at Baylor, it’s a different coaching regime in Waco than in years’ past.

“There’s nothing from the past that I can pull from,” Holgorsen said. “This is different. We have to do a good job as a coaching staff.”

Familiar Faces

It’s not all a mystery, though.

Zach Smith returns at quarterback to make another start against the Mountaineers. Smith took over late in the season a year ago and has started each of the last four games this year for the Bears.

Offensive Skill Positions

The head coach of the Mountaineers said that Baylor is deep at running back and wide receiver.

John Lovett is the lead back for the Bears, while Denzel Mimms is the top receiver.

Holgorsen admitted that he expects Baylor to try to establish the run against his defense.

“Like I said after the game (Saturday), we’ve got to do a better job at stopping the run,” said Holgorsen.

Carrying Momentum

Asked about whether or not momentum can be carried over from game to game, the head coach said he believes it’s a confidence factor more than anything that can be transferred by a team after a comeback like his pulled off.

“I would hope that would carry over,” he said.

Carrying the Ball

A lot of attention has been paid over the last few days to the Mountaineer running game, which had its worst output of the season on Saturday.

Although he admitted he’s getting tired of talking about it, Holgorsen said that he chalks some of the poor performance up to mentality, both of his team and of Texas Tech, who’s game plan was clearly to stop the run.

He also stated that he still has a good running team, which is accurate.

Midseason All-Americans

On Monday the NCAA’s Midseason All-Americans were announced, of which there were a number of representatives from the Big 12, especially on the offensive side of the ball.

Included in that list was WVU wide receiver, David Sills.

“David’s doing a great job,” Holgorsen said. “I’m proud of him.”

Both All-American quarterbacks were Big 12 representatives, to which Holgorsen noted that it, “Says a lot of good things about the Big 12,” continuing to say that it says a lot when WVU quarterback Will Grier is having the season he is and was left off the list.

 

Scouting the Opponent: Texas Tech

West Virginia (3-2) looks to defend home turf Saturday when it hosts No. 24 Texas Tech (4-1). It’ll be the second-straight ranked opponent, and third overall this year, for the Mountaineers.

As WVU attempts to halt its losing streak against ranked teams, to whom it’s dropped each of the last nine games, we take a look at the squad it’ll try to stop it against.

Air-Raiders

Moving the ball through the air still remains as Options 1, 2, and 3 for Kliff Kingsbury and Texas Tech.

First-year-starting quarterback Nic Shimonek has led one of top offenses in the nation to an impressive start to the year.

Behind Shimonek, the Red Raiders have the highest scoring offense and the second-best passing attack in the Big 12.

They also like to spread the ball around. Five TTU receivers have caught at least 10 passes this year. For comparison, WVU has just five wideouts with at least five catches.

Keke Coutee is Texas Tech’s leading receiver. He’s hauled in 39 catches for nearly 600 yards. Cameron Batson, Dylan Cantrell have each caught at least 22 passes. Derrick Willies has been a big-play threat, averaging a team-best 17.8 yards per catch.

Improving the Ground Game

Fourth-year offensive coordinator Eric Morris has possibly followed Dana Holgorsen’s lead in recognizing how important a good running game can be.

Justin Stockton paces the TTU rushing attack with nearly 400 yards total this year, good enough for 77 yards per game.

Desmond Nisby leads Texas Tech with six rushing touchdowns.

Defense still not a strong suit

The mark against Texas Tech for years has been a lack of defense in Lubbock.

Despite improvements on the defensive side of the ball, it’s still not a group Red Raider fans should be hanging their hat on.

TTU is surrendering the eighth-most points per game in the conference, and ranks among the bottom three teams in both rush and pass defense.

A large number of one-on-one matchups on the outside, with undersized DBs no less, could be responsible for some of the underperformance by TTU.

Defensive players to watch out for

Jordyn Brooks (42) and Jah’Shawn Johnson (40) are the leading tacklers.

Kollin Hill and Eli Howard pace the Red Raiders in tackles for loss, and are two of the six players with at least two stops behind the line of scrimmage. Howard also leads the way in sacks with 2.5.

Oi, mate!

Holgorsen mentioned at his Tuesday press conference that Texas Tech punter Dominic Panazzolo punts with an Australian rugby style, which can be difficult for return men.

Panazzolo is averaging 40 yards per punt and has pinned opponents inside the 20-yard line five times.

Holgorsen press conference news and notes

The Mountaineers must bounce back from their second loss of the season when they host Texas Tech on Saturday.

Head coach Dana Holgorsen said that his team was obviously disappointed with the seven-point loss to TCU, but they appeared to respond with good energy when they met Sunday.

Here are some other takeaways from the team’s weekly media availability:

WR depth still a question

Depth at the wide receiver position has been an issue all season but was once again shown to be an issue on Saturday when only four wideouts caught passes.

Asked about the depth, Holgorsen, talking somewhat intensely, said they’d hoped this issues would’ve been taken care of a long time ago.

“Two months ago,” he said. Then followed that by saying it needs to improve, “Now!”

Offensive coordinator Jake Spavital said inexperience of the second group of receivers does play a part into the depth issues.

Reggie Roberson appears to be the next man up.

Finishing possessions

When asked about being unable to finish drives with points in the first half Saturday, the head coach agreed that was an area they needed to improve on in that game.

He did defend his offense, and rightly so, in that they’ve been more consistent at finishing lengthy drives this year than in recent seasons.

Fifteen times this season WVU has covered at least 75 yards in on possession and scored, with only one of those drives ending with a field goal.

Holgorsen pointed out that part of the problem Saturday was four times being pinned inside the 10-yard line in the first half against a well-coached TCU defense.

TTU playing better

Any questions about what the Texas Tech offense would look like in the post-Patrick-Mahomes era have been answered. It’s just as explosive.

“Texas Tech is playing good,” Holgorsen said. “They’re playing probably as good, or better, than we’ve seen since that first year we played them.”

Texas Tech has the highest-scoring offense in the Big 12, and quarterback Nic Shimonek is averaging over 386 passing yards per game.

Even though the stats may suggest that the Red Raider defense is still doing its best to maintain the Big 12’s “lack of defense” stature, Holgorsen said they can’t be taken lightly.

“We’ve got our work cut out for us when it comes to them,” Holgorsen said. “They’re sound in what they’re doing. They’re executing very well.”

Asked about the improvement of the TTU defense, Spavital said that he’s completely stopped looking at film of last year’s defense because this year’s Red Raider defensive unit is playing so much better.

Possibility for big days

Despite the improvements on defense in Lubbock, WVU wideouts may have the chance to have their best games yet.

Spavital said that Texas Tech’s defense creates a lot of one-on-one matchups with wide receivers.

“They’ve got some confidence in their guys,” Spavital said. “It’s a scheme that, they’re going to put us (in) one-on-one battles, and we’ve got to win them all.”

According to the depth chart, the Red Raiders are only planning on playing just two defensive backs taller than exactly 6 feet tall. That could bode well for West Virginia, that has David Sills V (6-4), Ka’Raun White (6-1), Gary Jennings (6-1), and Marcus Simms (6-0) that likely have the ability to get up higher than their defenders.

WVU Report Card: TCU game

Tough way to have Saturday’s game decided, isn’t it?

A game between two ranked conference foes coming down to the wire that the outcome is, in part, dictated by a questionable call on a completed pass that would’ve flipped the field and potentially led to a score.

Games between West Virginia and TCU have had a glaring tendency of coming down to the very end.

The way the game ended gets a big frowny face, and the principal has been called in to speak with the parents of the official in question, but as for the Mountaineers themselves, here’s how they graded out:

Offense – B

It wasn’t a great start to the game for the offense for sure. The second half brings this grade up some.

However, as unproductive WVU was, offensively, on the scoreboard, what the Mountaineers did was something I said before the game was important for them to do – possess the football.

The longer TCU had the ball, the more damage it was going to do and the more tired the defense was going to get. With West Virginia holding onto the football and winning the time of possession battle in the first half, it saved the defense for the end of the game.

In the passing game, Will Grier proved once again that he shows command and good presence in the pocket, despite being constantly pressured.

Running-wise, Justin Crawford eclipsed 100 yards for the fifth straight game and doing so against the conference’s top run defense, once again proving he’s the top back in the Big 12. Outside of Crawford, though, running the football wasn’t a viable option in this game.

Part of that was because of constantly running the ball up the middle instead of to the outside, but that’s been the “MO” of the Mountaineers for most of the season so the other backs should be used to it at this point.

Defense – B-

On the plus side, WVU held the best rushing team in the Big 12 to 50 yards under its season average. On the other hand, it still gave up 170 yards on the ground.

Individually, Mike Daniels had a good game in coverage, and David Long quickly made his presence known in his return to action from injury.

The trick plays hurt. Allowing the score on the WR pass back to Kenny Hill, and giving up the first down on the WR reverse on third down both came back to bite the Mountaineers.

To the defense’s credit, it held TCU to its second-lowest scoring output of the year. Lack of pressure and some key missed tackles knock the grade down a tad.

Linemen – C-

Both sides of the ball, just plain bad. It’s been a theme all season.

The defensive line gets no push, and the offensive line has a good first few drives before being overwhelmed.

Simply, both line groups need to improve.

Grier was under constant pressure, though, he did a good job of escaping it most of the game, and only one of the four tackles for loss by the WVU defense came from one of the linemen.

Special teams – C

Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but West Virginia was issued a penalty for a kickoff going out of bounds.

The special teams unit also was at fault for a missed 29-yard field goal, and a turnover when trying to receive a punt in the first half that led to a TCU touchdown.

They also got outclassed by the Horned Frogs groups, which downed four punts inside the 10-yard line.

It’s often said that special teams can win or lose you ballgames on their own, and you can’t overlook that in this game.

Overall grade – C

Scouting the Opponent: TCU

Game day is here. It’s the No. 8 TCU Horned Frogs (4-0) hosting the No. 23 West Virginia Mountaineers (3-1).

It’s an early-season game that could go a long way in determining if either of these teams play in the Big 12 Championship game on December 2.

Both teams are well-rested and getting healthier coming off bye weeks, and that’s a good place to start when scouting TCU.

Running game gets better

The Horned Frogs are the top running team in the Big 12, averaging over 230 yards on the ground per game.

Darius Anderson paces TCU with 105.5 rushing yards per contest and has a knack for finding the end zone with a team-high six touchdowns.

As good as they’ve been this season, the Frogs do get a key piece back this week.

Kyle Hicks, who last year was one of four running backs in the nation to lead his team in rushing yards and receptions, is expected to return for this game, which adds another element to the TCU offense.

He’s only played in two games due to injuries and is looking to get on track against a shaky WVU rush defense.

Rush defense is impressive

As good as TCU is at running the football, Gary Patterson’s defense is equally as good as stopping the run.

Patterson’s unit is holding opponents to under 100 rushing yards per game, and limited Jackson State just 24 yards on 42 rushing attempts in the season opener last month.

Helping to stop the run, among others, have been Travin Howard and Ben Banogu. Banogu is among the five best in the Big 12 in terms of tackles for loss (6), and Howard leads TCU in total tackles (26) and is among the team leaders in plays stopped in the backfield (3).

As a team, the Horned Frogs have stopped 30 plays behind the line of scrimmage.

Defense as a whole is good

It’s not just the rush defense that’s been good for TCU.

Patterson’s defense ranks second in the conference in total defense. Opposing passers are completing less than half their throws, and the Horned Frogs are second in the conference in interceptions.

They’re also tops in the Big 12 in sacks and have allowed the fewest first downs to opponents.

Will Grier and the Mountaineer offense will have their work cut out for them.

Kenny Hill and T.O.P

Along with the running game, two other elements of the TCU offense have been working well – quarterback Kenny Hill, and time of possession.

Hill is sixth in the nation in completion percentage, and he’s holding his own in a conference with a number of talented quarterbacks with a high quarterback rating.

He’s also been spreading the ball around. Hill has completed at least one pass to 17 different receivers.

With Hill being efficient through the air, and the ground game operating as good as any team in the nation, TCU has excelled in hanging on to the football.

The Horned Frogs are only being outdone by Texas in the Big 12 in time of possession, and are possessing the football for more than 33 minutes per game.

 

Holgorsen Press Conference News and Notes

A few weeks ago Dana Holgorsen talked about the extreme familiarity between his program and his opponent’s, but Tuesday it was the common ground between TCU and WVU that he noted prior to the Top-25 showdown that will take place Saturday afternoon in Fort Worth.

“TCU is always a fun one,” he said. “I just think if you look (at) the similarities between the two programs it builds a lot of interest in this game.”

For clarity, the Mountaineer head coach was talking about how the two programs have gotten to where they are today – dominating conferences not as prominent as the current Power-5 and then more than holding their own in the Big 12.

Here are other notes from his time at the podium.

It’s a Gary Patterson Defense

TCU head coach Gary Patterson is known for defense; it’s what he’s built TCU on.

Holgorsen is obviously very aware of not only Patterson’s reputation but also the defense that he’s got this year.

“They’ve been doing the same thing defensively for 20 years,” Holgorsen said. “That’s (Patterson’s) stamp on college football.”

He continued to say that this year’s Horned Frogs defensive unit is, “as good as they’ve always been defensively, and their stats show that.”

TCU is second best in the conference in terms of total defense.

Run it good, defend it better

The Horned Frogs are best in the Big 12 at defending against the run, one of just two teams in the conference that are allowing fewer than 100 yards per game on the ground.

Two players to watch out for on Gary Patterson’s defense are Travin Howard and Ben Banogu. Howard is top 20 in the Big 12 in tackles, and Banogu is among the five best in the conference in both sacks (3) and tackles for loss (6).

Offensively, TCU is also best in the conference in the ground game, averaging well one yard more (232.2) than the Mountaineers per game.

Both teams have scored 12 times on the ground, but the Horned Frogs do run the ball slightly more than WVU does on a week-to-week basis.

Asked about combating the run game, Holgorsen said it starts up front.

“We got to do a better job up front holding gaps,” he said. “We need guys to step up and be real dudes.”

Lamont McDougle may be the one to do it, as he’s been garnering a lot of attention from the coaching staff over the past few weeks.

 

 

 

Scouting the opponent: Bye week blues

As you probably know by now, West Virginia is off this Saturday.

The Mountaineers get an extra week to prepare for next weekend’s ranked-vs-ranked matchup against No. 9 TCU.

In the meantime, Mountaineer nation has Saturday off, too, without Will Grier, Justin Crawford and the rest of the Old Gold and Blue to watch.

Of course, thanks to 21st century technology, fans can watch past WVU games if they want. Here’s a list of some options of previous Mountaineer games to watch:

WVU v Baylor, 2012 – 70-63 W

WVU v Clemson, 2011 Orange Bowl – 70-33 W (Note: 100-yard fumble return at 59:10)

WVU v Oklahoma, 2008 Fiesta Bowl – 48-28 W (Note: Runaway beer truck at 1:00:35)

WVU v Miami 1993 – 17-14 W

If you’re interested in watching games from Week 5 of this season, below are some of the games that should peak your interest. And luckily for some fans, the good games really don’t start until 3:30.

So stay out late Friday night and sleep in Saturday morning.

No. 7 Georgia at Tennessee (3:30, CBS)

Baylor at Kansas State (3:30, ESPN 2)

No. 24 Mississippi St. at No. 13 Auburn (6 p.m., ESPN)

No. 2 Clemson at No. 12 Virginia Tech (8 p.m., ABC)

No. 15 Oklahoma St. at Texas Tech (8 p.m., FOX Sports)

There’s not a lot in terms of Big 12 implications this weekend. Just over half of the conference’s teams are in action, and none of the top three teams.

The last of the aforementioned games is the biggest in the Big 12.

Oklahoma St. surely needs to bounce back from last week’s loss to TCU if the Cowboys want to stay in the hunt for the Big 12 Championship. But what a huge win it would be for Kliff Kingsbury and company if they, too, were able to knock off Mike Gundy’s squad.

A positive look at the Esa Ahmad suspension

Earlier this week it was announced by West Virginia that forward Esa Ahmad will miss the first half of the upcoming season after failing to meet NCAA eligibility requirements.

Ahmad, a former four-star recruit out of Cleveland, was the second-leading scorer for the Mountaineers last year, averaging 11.3 points per game and finished third in rebound at 4.3 per contest.

Despite being one of the most important players on a young team that includes just four upperclassmen, maybe Ahmad missing time isn’t the worst thing for the program.

Huggins said himself, when asked about the depth of the team, that the young players were going to have to step up regardless.

“They were going to play anyways,” Huggins said. “D’Angelo (Hunter) has had a good summer, (Wesley Harris) has had a good summer.”

The head coach continued to say, “What it does is it gives Logan Routt an opportunity to play meaningful minutes. But he’s worked hard at it. He’s much improved.”

Without Ahmad, a projected starting lineup could look something like: Jevon Carter, Daxter Miles Jr., Lamont West, Maceij Bender and Sagaba Konate. After that, James “Beetle” Bolden and Routt would be first off the bench.

That’s a very long and tall starting lineup, a perfect match for Huggins’ patented “Press Virginia” style of play.

In Ahmad’s absence, though, Huggins will find out right away what players he will be able to use once the forward returns in January just after the start of Big 12 play.

Ahmad will miss key games against Texas A&M, Virginia and Pittsburgh, but West Virginia should be able to get through non-conference play relatively unscathed, even with Ahmad not on the court. He will be back with the club by the time WVU hosts Kentucky in late January.

Much like there’s not an exact date as to when Ahmad will be reinstated, there’s not an exact date when we’ll know if there was a positive payoff to the situation. Dec. 5 against UVA is a good place to look, though.

But with Ahmad out we’ll get to learn the depth of this team quickly. And if Huggins finds he has a deep team without Ahmad, think of what getting him back in the lineup will do.

The regular season begins November 10 against Texas A&M at 6 p.m. ET, with the game being played at the Ramstein Air Force Base in Ramstein, Germany as part of the Armed Forces Classic.

Big 12 play begins on the road in Stillwater against Oklahoma St. on Dec. 29.

You can find the full schedule here.

Holgorsen Press Conference News and Notes, Kansas Week

West Virginia head coach Dana Holgorsen displayed a lot of respect for his team’s upcoming opponent – Kansas – during his weekly media session Tuesday.

He mentioned the familiarity between the two programs, having been conference foes for the last five years, as well as a number of coaches on both sides that have crossed paths more than once during their tenures.

“Can’t face an opponent that we know more about,” Holgorsen said.

Here are some additional notes:

WVU Getting Healthy

When asked to update the status on a few injured players, Holgorsen perked up all ears in attendance when he said players like Brandon Lingafelter, Toyous Avery and, most notably, linebacker David Long, are all progressing well in their returns from injury.

All three will make the trip to Kansas this weekend, though it remains to see if any will be active.

Grier Garners “QB Gene”

Asked about WVU’s starting quarterback, and the relationship his has with the players, Holgorsen said that Will Grier has that “starting quarterback gene” that allows him to not only be a good quarterback but also has guys gravitate towards him.

Wellman Doing Well. CFB Shift?

One player in particular that Holgorsen seems to be pleased with thus far is halfback Elijah Wellman.

The head coach stated he’s done a good job blocking and acting as a “sixth O-lineman out there.”

Along those lines, he mentioned that he has seen a shift in college football of coaches using players like Wellman more often. This is because of their athleticism and versatility of being able to get out and block, as well as pass catch, out in space.

Wellman certainly fits that mold.

Jayhawks to Watch

With a slight smile on his face, Holgorsen said he didn’t want to leave anyone out when asked to highlight a few of the key players on Kansas, saying he didn’t want to motivate any Jayhawk player he didn’t name outright.

However, he did highlight a few.

Both No. 11’s – safety Mike Lee and wide receiver Steven Sims Jr. – were highlighted.

Sims racked up a conference-best 207 all-purpose yards against SE Missouri St. Lee averages seven tackles a game.

Junior linebacker Joe Dineen Jr. paces the Big 12 in tackles with 38, nine more than any other player.

Holgorsen Press Conference News and Notes

West Virginia head coach Dana Holgorsen during the first half/second half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Sept. 9, 2017, in Morgantown, W.Va. (AP Photo/Raymond Thompson)

Technology is all the rage these days, and teams are taking advantage of it. West Virginia is no different, using GPS technology to track its players.

WVU meets GPS

Wide receiver Gary Jennings ran over 10 miles two weekends ago against Virginia Tech. How does the Mountaineer coaching staff know that? GPS tracking.

The Mountaineers have begun using technologies such as that in order to gauge performance from their players.

“We measure how far, how long and how hard they’re going,” WVU head coach Dana Holgorsen said.

Not only are the players being gauged, but they are engaging the numbers.

Holgorsen said that players are comparing their numbers, which are posted for the team, against one another and that it’s even fueling some friendly competition within the program.

Prepping for Delaware St.

Tuesday was the first mandatory day for the Mountaineers following their 56-20 thumping of ECU on Saturday. Holgorsen said the players were given Sunday and Monday off to rest due to NCAA regulations based on the scheduling of the first two games.

Starting today, though, all focus is on the Hornets of Delaware State.

“I thought we did a good job of preparing like we always do,” Holgorsen said. “I don’t think this week will be any different (than any other).”

The head coach made it a point to address that WVU is focusing on this weekend’s game like they would any other, despite the opponent.

Areas of Improvement

Overall, Holgorsen seemed pleased with his team’s performance on Saturday, especially the first team unit on offense. That doesn’t mean there aren’t any needed improvements.

Players staying on their feet is one area. Holgorsen noted that players have to stay up right, especially those players that are supposed to be blocking.

He also felt that the second team unit missed out on some opportunities, excluding second-string QB Chris Chugunov.

“I thought he’s looked as good as he’s looked since I’ve been here,” Holgorsen said.

The need for speed

Most media members in attendance Saturday noticed the impact of wide receiver Marcus Simms, who caught one pass for a 52-yard touchdown.

Holgorsen also noticed the jolt he brings to the offense.

“What he brings to the table is… he brings speed, which we need,” Holgorsen said. “We need guys out there that can stretch things.”

However, the head coach emphasized that the wideout still needs to work on consistency.