Mountaineers need stronger start Saturday at Maryland
MORGANTOWN - Dana Holgorsen on Monday clicked off all the stages his West Virginia offense has gone through since he arrived in Morgantown roughly nine months ago.
There was spring practice, where the scheme was installed.
There was fall camp, where the depth chart was pieced together.
There have been the first two games of the season, in which he has tried to figure out just what it is this group does and doesn't do well.
"I still don't know where we're at,'' Holgorsen said. "This next week will tell a lot. When you go up against a good team on the road they're going to expose some things and we're going to continue to adjust the things that get exposed.''
Indeed, after facing a decent Marshall team under trying weather circumstances and then struggling for a half against Norfolk State, the No. 18 Mountaineers (2-0) face their biggest test by far on Saturday when they travel to Maryland (1-0). The noon game at College Park will be televised by ESPNU.
It's not just on offense that West Virginia figures to be tested, either.
"We haven't started well offensively in two weeks,'' Holgorsen said. "Defensively we haven't given up any touchdowns, but we've given up some drives in the first quarter. I don't know what the yardage is in the first quarter, but I would imagine we're getting slaughtered.''
That's a pretty apt description, actually. In the first quarters against Marshall and Norfolk State combined, the Mountaineers were outscored 10-3. They did manage to outgain Marshall in the first quarter 80-50, but then FCS opponent Norfolk State rolled up a staggering 179-19 edge in yards in the first 15 minutes.
None of which bodes well for a fast start at Maryland in WVU's first road game of the season. That's a real concern.
"I know we've only scored three points in the first quarter and when you're on the road you've got to try and start fast,'' Holgorsen said. "They'll be rowdy and they'll have a good crowd and it's a tough place to play. It's hard to get the home crowd out of it, but starting fast is about the only chance you've got.''
Once West Virginia has gotten rolling on offense in each of the first two games, the results have been fairly impressive. Against Marshall, after a three-and-out to start the game and then being forced to settle for a field goal on the next possession, the Mountaineers scored on five of their last seven possessions, four of them touchdowns.
Then, after an awful first half in which Norfolk State led 12-10, WVU opened the second half with five straight touchdown drives, none of which took more than six plays or 135 seconds to complete.
"It's a work in progress,'' Holgorsen said. "I didn't have any idea where we were going to be [at this point]. Each year is different. You've got to take what you've got and you've got to figure out what we're good at and what we're not good at. And then it's just about making sure you stay the course and try to get better every week.''
Actually, there is something to be said for not being a well-oiled machine in early September.
"If we're hitting our stride this time of the year we'd either be a very, very experienced football team or we'd probably regress a little bit as the year goes on,'' Holgorsen said. "It's not surprising where we're at. We just have to continue to evaluate where we're at and figure out what we have to do to get better.''
Networks usually make those announcements just shy of two weeks prior to a game, but each year can hold the decision on a handful of games, as per their contracts with the leagues involved. In this case, the networks no doubt want to wait to see if this is still a battle of unbeatens between the now-No. 3 Tigers and the No. 18 Mountaineers before deciding where to put it in their schedules. It could be on ABC or any of the ESPN networks.
LSU plays Thursday night at Mississippi State.
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org.