Holgorsen’s task: Keep WVU from looking past Norfolk State
MORGANTOWN - There is little reason to believe that West Virginia will work up more than a token sweat before polishing off Norfolk State Saturday afternoon at Mountaineer Field.
Of course, there was little reason to believe that Michigan would do the same a few years ago against Appalachian State. Or that Virginia Tech would face a challenge from James Madison last season.
Granted, those were upper-tier FCS opponents and Norfolk State does not fit into that category. The Spartans play in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, which as a league hasn't won an FCS playoff game in 12 years and last spring put to a vote of the school presidents whether to even continue participating in those playoffs. (The league will, scrapping a proposal to give up its automatic berth in favor of a revival of a postseason bowl game between historically black colleges.)
But Norfolk State has played three FBS opponents in the last four years - twice at Rutgers and once at Kentucky - and lost by a combined 128-3.
Yes, the Spartans won their opener by a mile last week, beating Virginia State 37-3. But perhaps Virginia State was looking ahead to this week's game.
It's in Institute against West Virginia State.
Still, Mountaineer coach Dana Holgorsen is not going to be caught shrugging off an opponent. Any opponent.
"We treat every opponent the same. We didn't make a huge deal last week of being with in-state Marshall,'' Holgorsen said. "We make a big deal of saying 'This is who our opponent is. This is what they do. This is how we'll prepare for the game. This is the routine of the game week. Let's worry about ourselves and go out and execute it. '
But history will come into play. Very recent history, in fact.
Last weekend alone, Sacramento State beat Oregon State 29-28 in overtime, and Richmond beat Duke (for the third time in six seasons) 23-21. Washington needed a late interception to hold off an Eastern Washington team that passed for 479 yards, winning 30-27, and Northern Iowa came within 40 seconds of beating Iowa State before losing 20-19.
Oh, and Kansas State needed 10 fourth-quarter points to beat Eastern Kentucky 10-7.
"They've already brought it up,'' West Virginia sophomore linebacker Doug Rigg said. "What was it, two or three [FCS] teams won last weekend? They're not going to let us forget that.''
The simple numbers are likely to come up, too. Since 2003, FBS schools are 583-51 against FCS opponents, but those 51 are still very real. That's an average of five or six upsets a year.
"You see it all the time when those teams beat the bigger teams,'' Rigg said. "The only way not to let it happen to you is to prepare like you do every other week.''
And that, actually, could be a little easier for West Virginia this week, simply because of familiarity. No, the Mountaineers have never faced Norfolk State, but the Spartans run offensive and defensive schemes that are quite similar to the Mountaineers.
"Defensively, they run the same scheme that our defense does,'' Holgorsen said. "Their coach [defensive coordinator Mark DeBastiani] and Jeff Casteel are buddies. Jeff coached him [and coached with him when WVU's defensive coordinator was at Shepherd], and so schematically it's going to be similar. They may come out and do something completely different, which most teams do, but it shouldn't be a problem figuring out what they're going to do based on the familiarity we have with our own defense.''
Offensively, the Spartans spread the field, and last week against Virginia State, an NCAA Division II team, and senior quarterback Mark Walley was named the MEAC player of the week after completing 25-of-29 passes for 255 yards and two touchdowns and running 10 times for 42 yards.
"We'll show them who they are, what they do, what situations we need to be prepared for,'' Holgorsen said of preparing his team for Saturday on a short week. "And then we need to practice and figure out what we need to do, what our job is and get it done.''
Convincing his players to treat Norfolk State the same as Marshall a week before or Maryland a week later, though, can be problematic. Then again, Holgorsen says it's no different this week than any other.
"You have to be able to read your team every week,'' he said. "It doesn't matter who you're playing because they all count as a win and some games are obviously more challenging than others. Some opponents are more challenging than others. Your job as a coach is to get them ready to play every week.''
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org.