Holgorsen wants guys who are focused
MORGANTOWN - By now, there aren't many things left unknown about West Virginia football Coach Dana Holgorsen. One of the earliest revelations continues to say the most about who he is and how he leads a team.
"I tend to say what's on my mind, if you haven't figured that out," he said. "That makes some people mad and others get a kick out of it."
Twice in his news conference Tuesday, Holgorsen addressed the will of his team by saying he was willing to travel to Saturday's road game against No. 23 Cincinnati with only 50 or 55 players.
"I don't know," he said, "but it would be 55 guys going that we are going to want to play together."
This season, Holgorsen already has targeted fans, singled out players and openly discussed how the shortcomings of his predecessor, Bill Stewart, have affected his first season.
Separate references to a smaller travel squad were not accidents.
"I'm pretty serious about it," he said.
The Mountaineers (6-3, 2-2) play the noon (ABC telecast) game at Paul Brown Stadium knowing they really must win it if they want to be the Big East champion.
Cincinnati (7-1, 3-0) has won six straight games and is the only unbeaten team in conference play. The Bearcats are the only team that controls its destiny in the conference race.
These are pretty serious times.
"You take who wants to win, you take who wants to pull for their teammates, you take who wants to be all in on this thing and not guys who pout and mope because they're not playing," Holgorsen said. "We're going to be a united team and the only way I know how to get that accomplished is to make sure that we take only people focused on heading in the right direction."
It would be a bold - albeit purposeful - move by Holgorsen because the Mountaineers are already working with depth problems. Holgorsen said WVU has 72 players on scholarship.
Football Bowl Subdivision teams are allowed 85. Smaller recruiting classes and departures from each in three seasons preceding Holgorsen's arrival have thinned WVU's group of available players.
WVU has built its walk-on program and its scout teams, but has had to borrow from those parts to fill in holes on special teams caused either by necessity or by promotions on the defensive side of the ball.
Leaving even more players home might not help, but Holgorsen said it won't hurt based on what he's witnessed lately.
The Mountaineers have lost two of three and have gone from being the only ranked team in the conference to one of three tied for fourth place.
"I think there are a lot of guys that just kind of show up and expect to win," the WVU coach said. "A lot of that is based on winning 60 games the past six years. There are a bunch of people that think that way and haven't played a down around here. Part of it is past success and getting guys to understand regardless of the way it's been in the past, this is what the reality is.
"What we're facing right now is what the reality is in college football."
Holgorsen praised the parity in the league and said the talent level isn't dramatically different from one team to the other. The Big East is the only conference where every team has at least three wins. Every one actually has at least four overall.
He said the Mountaineers won't be overwhelmed no matter who they play, but he said he won't be inviting anyone to come along who isn't fully invested in everything required to win.
"Typically the team that plays with the best effort all the time in a league with the same amount of talent is the team that wins," he said. "It's obviously a mentality and it's hard and I've got to find ways to get guys to do it.
"My challenge this week is to get guys to play with effort and energy. Whatever I've got to do, I've got to find ways to cultivate it."
Perhaps he'll take fewer players. Perhaps it's a plot for motivation. Either way, Holgorsen put it out there for a reason.
The Mountaineers were humbled at Syracuse Oct. 21, but Holgorsen was encouraged by the way the team responded before the next game. The practices were good and many players said a few workouts were as good as any they could remember during the season.
Holgorsen thought the team was ready for the road game against Rutgers and had a hunch it could handle any adversity - and there was a bunch that day. The Mountaineers trailed 31-21 at the half on a cold, snowy day, but won 41-31.
It's that recent experience that's useful this week.
"We went up pretty determined as a team and, again, did not play well enough on either side of the ball to dominate that side and to win the game, but we played as a team, especially in the second half," Holgorsen said. "We played as a team to win. We were determined to win.
"Coming off a loss again (at home to Louisville), I hope we get a bunch of guys who pull together, practice well together, travel well together, are pretty motivated in the hotel room together and all root to be successful. When the game kicks off, I hope they cheer each other when good things happen and I hope they pick each other up when bad things happen."
Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/wvu.