WVU football: Holgorsen, Pasqualoni have different stories in first year as schools
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- One has more wins than any football coach in conference history. The other will coach his first Big East game Saturday.
One is Connecticut's Paul Pasqualoni. The other is West Virginia's Dana Holgorsen.
They meet at noon Saturday at Mountaineer Field when the 16th-ranked Mountaineers play host to the Huskies. Pasqualoni hopes to right the things that have gone wrong in his first season at UConn (2-3) while Holgorsen tries to keep his first season going the right way for WVU (4-1).
"I think that we came into this realizing there were areas that we were going to have to develop and certainly the quarterback position was one of them," said Pasqualoni, who in 14 seasons at Syracuse won 107 games overall, 62 games in the Big East and four league championships. "We're very inexperienced at the linebacker position as well and we've had to do some reshuffling on our offensive line."
The Huskies have played three quarterbacks in all five games - although Johnny McEntee has started each - and have used four different starting lineups on the offensive line.
"These things don't help you, especially when there's a new staff and a new system offensively, defensively and on special teams and you're trying to get acclimated to all those things," Pasqualoni said.
Holgorsen nevertheless admires the Huskies and said they could be 5-0.
UConn lost 24-21 at Vanderbilt, 24-20 against Iowa State and 38-31 against Western Michigan. Vanderbilt (3-1) kicked the game-winning field goal with 2:56 to play. Iowa State (3-1) held off two UConn drives into Cyclones territory late in regulation. UConn lost a fumble at the Western Michigan (3-2) 13-yard line with 45 seconds remaining.
"UConn has been very competitive, doesn't matter which opponent," Holgorsen said. "They've got a lot of returning guys. You might attribute it to, like ourselves on offense, a change in the coaching staff and all that. It took us a little bit to get going. But they've got returning players, good players, good coaches.
"If they were 5-0 or 0-5, based on what I've seen on tape and as competitive as they've been, I know they're going to play hard. They've got good, physical football players. They'll be a challenge, no question."
The Mountaineers, meanwhile, have made the most of continuity and continued improvement in UConn's problem areas. It begins with one of the nation's most productive quarterbacks.
Geno Smith has quickly digested Holgorsen's offense and is No. 7 nationally in total offense, No. 3 in passing yards and No. 5 in passing yards per game.
The Huskies are No. 83 nationally in pass defense. In last week's loss to Western Michigan, quarterback Alex Carder passed for 479 yards and five touchdowns.
"We'll certainly try as best as we can to tighten up the pass coverage this week and hopefully we do a little better job rushing the passer and putting on a little more pressure," Pasqualoni said. "Alex got the ball out very, very quick. Geno is an exceptionally quick quarterback and very capable of getting the ball out to his receivers.
"He's got a heck of a crew of receivers with vertical speed and real athleticism. We're going to have to vary the coverages we play and change some looks and hope we're able to get some pressure."
Tavon Austin has a team-high 35 receptions for 490 yards. Ivan McCartney and Stedman Bailey both have three touchdowns. Sixteen of McCartney's 28 catches have gone for first downs, including six on third down. Bailey has three straight 100-yards games for the first time in school history.
"Usually at the college level, due to fact you have new faces and new bodies and guys that haven't been playing together for a while, it usually takes a couple years with some people to get on the same page," Holgorsen said. "These guys have been doing it a long time."
Smith and Austin are both juniors. Smith played at Miramar (Fla.) High with McCartney and Bailey.
"Those guys are having some success that we probably wouldn't be having right now if those guys didn't have a familiarity for where they're at at all times," Holgorsen said.
The Mountaineers haven't had any of UConn's issues on the offensive line, either. Holgorsen has praised its play and improvement after the past two games.
The Mountaineers have allowed one sack in the past 103 pass attempts. Against LSU, Smith passed 65 times and was never sacked on his way to a school record 463 yards. Last week against Bowling Green Dustin Garrison ran for a school freshman-record 291 yards.
Holgorsen has made no lineup changes on the offensive line and will only use one backup in most games.
"They've allowed themselves to be coached," Holgorsen said. "After the first game, we knew we had a couple new starters and a couple guys who were returning starters who didn't go through spring practice. So we had that, plus a new coach and a new system and a new scheme.
"It's not surprising it took a few games to get going. They've showed improvement each week not only with what the schemes are but with what their technique is."
Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at email@example.com or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/wvu.