We’ll know more after this afternoon’s GameDay Showdown in Motown whether or not Dana Holgorsen is the Next Big Thing.
Yeah, remember when Dana was all the rage? When schools from the SEC were swooning, and Mountaineer fans were fretting another RichRod-like heartbreak? Those were heady days, and the fandom could almost picture Dana’s hotel room with his bags packed, awaiting the next move. Leave us for Tennessee?? Arkansas?? The horror!
But wasn’t it wonderful? … Tavon and Steddy, Geno and Bruce, and visions of top 10 teams every year behind this wild-haired Maestro of Mayhem orchestrating his cutting-edge offense. A Big East co-Championship in the first year, then going out and spilling 70 all over Clemson. We were lucky to have him, and everyone else wanted him.
Seems so long ago, eh? The next year was certainly a buzzkill, with a 7-6 record in the first season of the Big 12. The capper was the seriously boring (!) Pinstripe Bowl loss to an old rival, the equally boring Orange of Syracuse. Not only was West Virginia mediocre, but, alas, almost disinterested in entertaining anybody. Then, heaven help us, the next year was worse. Last season sputtered to 4-8, closing with deflating losses to perennial pansies Kansas and Iowa State. Bill Stewart’s top-heavy recruiting classes had dried up, and WVU was running thin on talent and answers.
So now Dana Holgorsen was out of the loop for “hot names” in coaching vacancies. Truth be told, a lot of Mountaineer fans would’ve offered a one-way ride out of town. You can almost see Dean Wormer pointing a gnarly finger at Holgorsen: “Flustered, befuddled and irrelevant is no way to through college football, young man.”
Well, look where we are now, sitting atop a 6-2 record and top-25 ranking. The swag is back, the magic there for all to behold. Hell, Lee Corso doesn’t come to Morgantown for the pepperoni rolls.
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So what in the name of Ira Rat Rodgers happened? Quite simply, it looks like Dana Holgorsen is figuring it out. Let’s keep in mind, he’s learning on the fly. He never ran a team before West Virginia, not even a high school squad.
The first order of business was the coaching staff. The agonizingly inept Joe DeForest was demoted, and some relentless recruiters were brought in: Tony Gibson, Damon Cogdell, JaJuan Seider are making a difference, and Gibson’s blitz-happy defense is a pain in the glute for any team. Just ask Baylor, whose offensive juggernaut was granny-knotted two weeks ago. Then there was the wow-factor of adding the brilliant Tom Bradley as D-line coach. This is a legit major-college coaching staff.
The recruiting has amped up the roster, big time. Not only from the high school ranks (everybody wanted Dravon Henry), but also from JUCO (Kevin White) and transfers (Clint Trickett and Rushel Shell). But the business end of this team starts on the offensive line, where experience and maturity, coupled with muscle and a mean streak, get it all going. Holgorsen realizes that big names like White and Trickett keep the seats filled, but ultimately it’s about the wins, style-points be damned. The O-line anchors this team.
On defense, Gibson has coached to WVU’s strengths. The line is small but quick, and not particularly deep numbers-wise. So a three-man line, bolstered by chronic blitzing from the outside, is the vanguard for this variation of the 3-3-5 stack. DB depth? WVU beat high-flying Baylor with its two starting corners injured. Could you imagine the track meet they’d withstand before this season?
And the kicking game has been a revelation. Boomstache O’Toole and Josh Lambert are the WVU’s best duo since the glory days of Vanderjagt-Sauerbrun. They’re also fun to follow on Twitter.
Fun … what a concept.
Enjoy your ESPN GameDay, Morgantown.
But whenever you think that Dana has this college football thing figured out, just watch him send the same punt-returner back to butcher another punt, then tell us it’s the best option.
There’s still work to be done. So let’s get after it.