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WVU football: Coach says players excited to play game

MORGANTOWN - West Virginia practiced three times last week beginning on Tuesday and finishing Thursday.

There was no need for a Friday workout.

"I was happy with it," Coach Dana Holgorsen said. "If I wasn't happy with it, we would have practiced Friday."

Instead, the ninth-ranked Mountaineers (1-0) had two days off and returned to work Sunday to prepare for Saturday's 4:30 p.m. game against FCS No. 5 James Madison (2-0), at FedEx Field, in Landover, Md.

The game will be televised on ROOT.

"I think the guys are excited about playing this game," Holgorsen said. "I was worried about that, from the standpoint of having an off week this early in the year and getting away from our routine, which is what concerned me. But I liked the team's mentality as far as wanting to get back out there, wanting to practice and looking forward to playing another game."

The Mountaineers opened the season Sept. 1 with a 69-34 victory against Marshall and the second-most yards of offense in school history. Then came an open week in the second week of the season. That hadn't happened since 2000 and only two other times (1993, 1998) since joining the Big East in 1991.

To foster familiarity, Holgorsen had WVU come into the Puskar Center for the regular Sunday routine with medical treatments and team meetings. Monday was open so the players could be students before an ordinary three days of practice.

"I thought we got a lot done," Holgorsen said. "Tuesday and Wednesday was a lot of football. We put them in four or five situations and put the ball down and played. The competition was high. We told them to compete within the position. We told them to compete within the offense and defense."

Holgorsen toned it down Thursday and allowed his coaches to focus more on individual drills. The younger players scrimmaged for about 30 plays.

The Mountaineers didn't add anything to their repertoire. They weren't preparing for JMU. They were instead trying to be themselves.

"The thing we wanted to work on offensively was keeping our timing," Holgorsen said.

So much of what WVU does on offense is based on pace and precision. The players hurry from one play to the next and have to communicate things quickly. The routes receivers run that are typically in response to what the defense does. Running backs handle a lot of zone plays, when they have to read the offensive line's blocking and then slice through a gap.

Everything is wrapped with a rhythm the Mountaineers establish by gaining yards and stringing together first downs. They were very good against Marshall eight months after being very good in the 70-33 Orange Bowl win against Clemson.

Holgorsen was concerned about losing the sharp edge. WVU's scoring drives covered 9, 8, 5, 3, 9, 7, 9 and 3 plays and between 41 seconds and 3 minutes, 36 seconds - plus one drive that lasted one play and four seconds after an interception return. The Mountaineers saw just eight third downs and converted five of them.

"I thought we executed well and I thought we were good on third downs, so the biggest thing was keeping our tempo the same and the best way the keep the tempo the same is to put the ball down and play football," Holgorsen said. "We gave ourselves a bunch of snaps to do that."

The Mountaineers also focused on some of the shortcomings covered up by the final score. Holgorsen harped on potential turnovers and three "reckless plays" - two fumbles the Mountaineers recovered and the pass receiver K.J. Myers bobbled that Marshall intercepted. Holgorsen said the offense had five negative yardage plays on top of the three offensive penalties.

The offense's errors contributed to the few successes Marshall had on defense.

"Our first objective is to make them punt," JMU Coach Mickey Matthews said. "If we get them to punt, we feel like we're doing well. They don't like to punt and they don't punt much. But they have very good speed and as much athleticism as any team we've watched on film.

"The biggest thing we have to do is limit their yards after the catch. That's our emphasis. They throw a lot of short stuff and their guys can take it to the house. They make a lot of yardage and make a lot of people miss in the open field. They've got great players. I'm not the first coach to say that."

WVU scored TDs on the three drives that featured the offensive penalties, but the negative-yardage plays were costly.

One was a two-yard loss by running back Shawne Alston that preceded a turnover on downs inside Marshall's 5-yard line. Another was a 10-yard loss on a run by Tavon Austin set up a second-and-20 before a punt Marshall blocked to set up a touchdown.

Backup quarterback Paul Millard completed a pass to Jordan Thompson for a two-yard loss on first down and was sacked on second down before another punt.

The reckless plays and the negative plays were outside WVU's mission on offense.

"If we can improve on those two things, we'll be better offensively," Holgorsen said.

Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at mikec@dailymail.com or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/wvu.


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