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WVU football: Holgorsen says Mountaineers similar to Cowboys

STILLWATER, Okla. -- Dana Holgorsen spent the 2010 season helping Oklahoma State reach the heights it has the past few years.

He's spent this week studying the Cowboys so that his West Virginia team doesn't reach a depth it's never sunk to before.

There's something he can't shake as the Mountaineers (5-3, 2-3 Big 12) prepare for Saturday's game against Oklahoma State (5-3, 2-3).

"It's like we're looking in a mirror because what we do offensively, what we do defensively and what we do from a special teams standpoint is so similar," Holgorsen said. "As you know, there's a lot of crossover and a lot of familiarity. We know a lot about their players and their schemes and they know a lot about our schemes.

"There aren't a lot of secrets that exist. It comes down to motivation and determination and what team gives greater effort."

The teams are close. The lines that separate one from the other and a win from a loss are thin. WVU, which hasn't won a game since Oct. 6, has plenty of incentive to be determined and motivated, though. The program hasn't lost four straight games since 2001 and four conference games since the same season, but has never lost four straight conference games.

That's all on the line in the 3:30 p.m. game (ABC) at Boone Pickens Stadium.

"Once you get into a game, it's not much different than any other game," Oklahoma State Coach Mike Gundy said. "They are much more familiar with us than we are with them. They've been here. We only know them. We don't know their players. Once the game gets going, in most cases you actually forget who's on the other side."

In addition to Holgorsen, who Gundy hired as his offensive coordinator in 2010 so Holgorsen could install the offense he popularized first with Mike Leach at Texas Tech and then with his own flair at Houston, WVU defensive coordinator Joe DeForest was a Cowboys assistant for 11 years.

Running backs coach Robert Gillespie had the same position in 2009-10 at Oklahoma State, quarterbacks coach Jake Spavital was Holgorsen's graduate assistant in 2010 and defensive graduate assistant Andrew McGee played cornerback for the Cowboys in 2009-10.

They are all familiar with a portion of the Oklahoma State roster and what those players can do. They also know how games go when one side is so familiar with and similar to the other.

"I think we're evenly matched, talent-wise, and I think we do the same things," DeForest said. "I think the bottom line is effort and turnovers. Who's going to give the most effort? Who's going to be the most physical team? Who's going to create turnovers?

"It's those three things. After that, scheme doesn't matter. It's all about effort and creating turnovers."

Turnover margin is the obvious separator. The Mountaineers rank No. 25 nationally there and forced three against TCU.

The offense managed 10 points and used one to take the team's first lead since the win at Texas Oct. 6. WVU hadn't scored off the previous four turnovers.

Oklahoma State led the nation in turnover margin and forced turnovers last season, but is No. 110 of 120 FBS teams this year. The Cowboys have forced nine turnovers and committed 18, including 12 interceptions.

Attitude has been something the Mountaineers have been concerned with since the loss to Texas Tech that started the losing streak. Holgorsen said players on the team that was 5-0 before the game wanted it to be easy after tough games against Baylor and Texas.

Holgorsen hasn't tamed his criticism.

"We're playing with nine or 10 guys from an effort standpoint," he said. "If you have eight or nine that are playing with tremendous effort and one or two who aren't, then you're playing with eight or nine. We have to play better together. Trust in the system and trust in people being in the right spots is a big thing.

"How do we explain nine dropped balls? We haven't had nine dropped balls all year. That's just execution. We have to execute, and it's harder to execute when you play tougher defenses. You have to elevate your game, and that's coaching. We have to get it out of them. When things get harder, we have to play better."

The familiarity between the teams won't make it any easier for players and coaches, though. Each side figures to know specific ways to succeed against the other so play calls and schemes can only do so much, especially when Holgorsen said he can call about 90 percent of Oklahoma State's plays when watches film and will change hand signals so the Cowboys aren't able to read what his coaches relay from the sideline.

"You have to execute, which means finishing blocks, running routes, running full speed, going through your reads offensively, checking the proper run based on what coverage you get, throwing and catching, making the catch and getting up field," Holgorsen said.

"Defensively, it means being in the right spot and having a chance to make the tackle. If you have a chance to pull the trigger as a quarterback, then you better pull the trigger. If you have a chance defensively to strip the ball, strip the ball. If you have a chance to make a play in the air, you need to make the play."

The difference comes from the players and whether the coaches have them in position to make that impact.

"Our job is to get them in the proper mindset to play determined, motivated and with tremendous effort and to get the right people out there and try to put them in the right situation," Holgorsen said. "At that point, hopefully we've coached our guys to be able to pull the trigger and make a play."

Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at or 304-319-1142. His blog is at


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