Get Connected
  • facebook
  • twitter

Holgorsen's up-tempo 'O' mash-up of many styles


By Ed Owens

The Dominion Post, Morgantown, W.Va.


Jan. 02--SAN ANTONIO -- Dana Holgorsen's offense is unique in its tempo, use of formations and ability to change gears between differing game plans every week. But Holgorsen's offense is not entirely his own.

T hat's b e c a u s e WVU's new offensive coordinator and head coach "in waiting" is a sponge.

Parts of the offense Holgorsen employs can be traced back to his playing days under Hal Mumme, at Iowa Wesleyan. He's been influenced by Mike Leach, at Texas Tech, and truly began to incorporate his own style while serving as offensive coordinator for Kevin Sumlin, at the University of Houston. He's even borrowed bits and pieces from former WVU coach Rich Rodriguez, whose Mountaineers offenses terrorized the Big East.

And it's that willingness to adapt that has helped keep Holgorsen's offenses on the cutting edge for the better part of the past decade.

"There's tons of carryover but there's also lots of new wrinkles every week," Holgorsen said this past week. "When I left 1/8Texas3/8 Tech and had my two years in Houston and one year 1/8at Oklahoma State3/8, I wasn't scared of changing things. In my eight years at Tech with Mike and, prior to that, my Valdosta 1/8State3/8 days and my Kentucky days, stuff was always done relatively the same way every week. That's how I differ from some other coaches."

It's impossible to argue with Holgorsen's success.

His offense at Oklahoma State finished the regular season ranked first nationally in total offense (537.6 yards per game) and third in scoring (44.9 points per game).

In 2009, Houston under Holgorsen led the country with 7,887 yards of offense, more 1,000 more than the closest competitor, Nevada (6,573). The Cougars ranked third nationally in total offense in 2008, and Holgorsen's offense at Texas Tech ranked third in 2007.

The Red Raiders finished eighth in total offense in 2006, fourth in 2005 and seventh in 2004.

Holgorsen "is a real smart guy and he's really focused," Oklahoma State running back Kendall Hunter said. "All you have to do is buy in and trust his system and you'll be OK. He spreads the ball around real well so everybody got the opportunity to make plays. All of us bought in and, you saw it, we had a pretty successful season."

Despite playing in an offense in which quarterback Brandon Weeded threw for 4,037 yards and 32 touchdowns, Hunter got plenty of touches. He finished the regular season averaging 126.3 rushing yards per game and recorded 16 touchdowns on the ground.

"Coach Holgorsen came in and took control of the offense," Weeden said. "He brought a different attitude. He's a great guy and he's a fun guy to be around, but he's also a great offensive mind. Fortunately, he puts us in position to make plays work."

One of the biggest keys to Holgorsen's offense is speed, and not just as it relates to the players' ability to run: They also have to think fast, move fast and act fast.

The up-tempo nature of Holgorsen's spread is designed to keep defenses on their heels.

"I talk to our guys all the time about playing fast, which really means two different things," Holgorsen said. "It means to run fast but it also means play with good tempo, which means you have to communicate fast, substitute fast and get lined up fast. I hate all that slow stuff where you're looking at the play clock and there's only eight seconds left and the ball still hasn't been snapped. That's just boring to watch."

That philosophy was on display in Oklahoma State's Alamo Bowl showdown with Arizona, this past week. The Cowboys' offense was relentless, rarely letting the play clock dip below even 15 seconds. And while that didn't translate to success on every single possession, it wore down the Wildcats and helped open more opportunities as the game wore on.

Oklahome State outscored Arizona, 19-3, after the second quarter and held on for a 36-10 victory.

"Arizona has a pretty athletic defense," said WVU athletic director Oliver Luck, who was at the Alamo Bowl. "They're not the Chicago Bears from 1986 but they're athletic and pretty strong. And that was a glimpse of 1/8the offense3/8 that we're going to see here."

Setting the pace

The fast-paced nature of the offense doesn't give defenses a chance to catch their breath, but it puts a lot of pressure on Holgorsen's own players as well.

Unlike most offensive coordinators, Holgorsen doesn't call the game from up in the coaches' box. He prefers to be down on the sideline, calling the plays in directly from the field.

Holgorsen's hands-on approach, combined with the demanding tempo of his offense, makes communication an even more important component in the coachquarterback relationship.

"Think about what a quarterback normally does after a pass or a handoff: They watch the play," Luck said. "But our kids will soon get out of that habit. 1/8Holgorsen3/8 doesn't use a backup quarterback to signal in the next play because it wastes time, so it's always right on to the next play. That efficiency is very important to get the offense into a rhythm."

Playing with that kind of speed will also put some added demands on WVU's defense next season.

A faster-paced offense leaves its own defense with less time to rest on the sidelines, especially when things aren't going according to plan.

"The tricky part of the whole tempo thing is that you don't want to put your defense at a disadvantage," Holgorsen said. "You don't want to play fast, go threeand-out and put your defense right back out on the field. You can use tempo to change the game if you need it to change the game, and we're going to be able to do that. We're not just going to go fast as much as we can, we're going to vary our tempos."

Old and new

Fans will certainly see some similarities between Holgorsen's offense and the one Rodriguez ran at WVU, particularly in the pace of play.

"Rich was one of the first guys to just go out and play as fast as he possibly could," Holgorsen said. "I've already talked to 1/8WVU defensive coordinator3/8 Jeff Casteel about the tempo he likes to practice with and he based it on how Rich practiced. And you have to be able to practice that so that it becomes second nature to them."

There are some fundamental differences in philosophy between Holgorsen and Rodriguez as well.

"Rich runs the quarterback where I don't," Holgorsen said. "His run game with the quarterback is just not something I'm interested in doing. And my passing game with the quarterback is a little more extensive than what he did."

And that's music to an old quarterback's ears.

"It's a very exciting offense," Luck said. "Watching 1/8the Alamo Bowl3/8, I thought, 'Man, I wish I was 17 again so I can play in this offense.' "


To see more of The Dominion Post or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to

(c) 2011, The Dominion Post, Morgantown, W.Va.

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.


User Comments