WVU football: Holgorsen says focus of off week will be fundamentals
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- Once 5-0 and ranked No. 5 in the country, the trend that's handed West Virginia back-to-back blowout losses and a spot at the bottom of the top 25 will remain during this open week.
Nothing is the same.
"It's going to be a little different than our first off week," Mountaineers Coach Dana Holgorsen said Tuesday at his weekly press conference, when he spent about 25 minutes explaining what has gone wrong in consecutive losses by a combined score of 104-28. "The routine will be about the same, but the mentality will be a little different."
The Mountaineers (5-2, 2-2 Big 12), who host TCU (5-2, 2-2) on Nov. 3, had four assistant coaches out recruiting Monday and will send the whole staff out Friday and Saturday while the players take a break. In between, practices Tuesday, today and Thursday must bring WVU back to where it once was.
"It's about mentality," the second-year coach said. "We've got to do a better job offensively playing our game. We didn't do a very good job of that last week. Defensively, we've got to get better at everything that we do and make sure we understand the situation we're in from a base, alignment and fundamental aspect that we're trying to play with. That's what we're trying to improve now."
And that's not the way the second open week was supposed to happen.
When WVU had an open week after season opener against Marshall, the Mountaineers played a lot of live football in practice. That's not normal, but the offense went against the defense just to keep the team developing so early in the season.
WVU is now in the ninth week of the season, but has more concerns about performance than development. Holgorsen likened this week to what the Mountaineers might experience in spring football or the early stage of preseason practice.
"At this point, I think it's more important to get out there and focus on the fundamentals of football," Holgorsen said. "Playing so many young kids, as we are, the first thing that goes in the heat of battle is the technique - and there have been examples of that all across the board. We'll focus a lot on fundamentals and basic football."
Offensively, Holgorsen said his offensive linemen, running backs and receivers need to block and to finish blocks better than they have on run and pass plays.
Pass protection has only allowed WVU quarterback Geno Smith to complete one vertical pass the past three games.
Three games ago against Texas, running back Andrew Buie ran 31 times for 207 yards and two scores. In the past two games, WVU has run 31 times for 71 yards against Texas Tech and 36 times for 133 yards against Kansas State.
Holgorsen also wants to tune the offensive tempo, which hasn't been what he wants it to be the past two games. He said WVU can't play as fast as he wants for prolonged periods, but that the offense is at its best when it can mix it up and have a balance of fast and settled tempos.
The Mountaineers were slow against Kansas State, huddled at times and even had to burn a timeout after coming out of a huddle and then changing the play at the line.
"There are specific things we do offensively that we can do and there are specific things we do offensively that we can't do from a tempo standpoint," Holgorsen said. "We were probably a little too settled last week and that's 100-percent my fault. I should have pushed the envelope on some things."
There are more problems on defense, but the focus isn't necessarily as broad as the situation presents. Holgorsen maintained confidence in the schemes of defensive coordinator Joe DeForest and co-defensive coordinator Keith Patterson.
WVU hasn't tackled or covered well and hasn't pressured the quarterback enough to assist the defensive backs, all while playing with a variety of young players and personnel packages.
Holgorsen cautioned against expecting the scheme to change.
"We've tried that," he said. "Within our defensive scheme, there are different coverages and different blitzes and different fronts. When we get in one and it doesn't work, we go to another one. It's a multiple defense that can line up in a variety of ways."
He said WVU tried many things against Kansas State, but the Wildcats made the appropriate counters. At the same time, Holgorsen said his defense didn't make plays.
"As an offensive play caller, I go back to this and I tell the team this all the time: If you guys are going to rely on us as coaches making the perfect call all the time, we're going to fail you," Holgorsen said. "Nobody can do that all the time."
The coaching staff won't be free from inspection and alterations, either. There have been discussions about finding new or better ways to get players on offense or defense in position to make the plays that have not been made.
"That's where we've got to do a better job as coaches," Holgorsen said. "Nobody is pointing fingers anywhere and I'm not pointing fingers in any particular place. Nobody is doing that. We all understand that what we have to continue to do as coaches is put them in a position to be successful.
"Teach them technique, teach them how to make plays and then build the confidence to where they can do it and get out there and work hard on it. Ultimately, it comes down to getting to practice, working hard in practice and getting better at what we ask them to do."
Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/wvu.