Holgorsen to offense: Let it happen
MORGANTOWN - There came a point during West Virginia's 43-16 win over Connecticut Saturday afternoon when Dana Holgorsen had seen enough from his offense.
On the Mountaineers' first seven possessions, five would end in three punts, a turnover and a failed fourth-down conversion. Yes, there was a touchdown, but that came on a short field (45 yards). There was a field goal, too, but this offense isn't about field goals.
At one point, Holgorsen left his front-row view of the field and walked back to where his offense was gathered on a bench. And he let them have it.
"That's Coach Holgorsen to the max. That's the way he handles things,'' quarterback Geno Smith said. "He's on those Red Bulls. He's hyped up. He's that kind of coach and that's what we love about him.
"He's a straight-forward guy. He's not going to shoot you any crap. He's going to make sure you know exactly what he wants you to do. He's going to get his point across, and that's what he did.''
It didn't happen immediately, of course. It seldom does. In fact, it took a defensive play - Jewone Snow's 83-yard fumble return - to ignite the offense more than anything Holgorsen said or did.
Still, Holgorsen's point was well taken by the offense. It was pretty much the same one he always makes:
Don't try so daggone hard. Just play and let it happen.
"When we try to do too much we make uncharacteristic mistakes - we have penalties, turnovers, I make bad reads or bad throws just because I want to make a play,'' Smith said. "But when we just go out and have fun and play the game and do what we're supposed to do and what we're coached to do, the offense is dynamic. We can strike on anyone at any time.''
Midway through the season - and now with an off week to regroup - that West Virginia offense has managed to strike on every team it has played. When the No. 13 Mountaineers got going Saturday against UConn, the result was four touchdowns and a field goal in a six-possession span. A game that was a 10-9 nail-biter was suddenly a 43-9 blowout.
It all happened in 14 minutes, or less than a quarter, and it was all done in almost workmanlike fashion. Yes, there were big plays - like Stedman Bailey's 84-yard touchdown reception - but for the most part it was accomplished by simply running the offense and letting things happen.
Letting them happen, rather than trying to force them to happen, is the key.
"I think we started pressing in the second quarter because they had scored a couple of field goals and we were down,'' Holgorsen said. "We don't need to panic and press like that. We can't worry about what the score is. We need to take the series and get first downs and try to put points on the board.
"But I'm as guilty of pressing as anyone else.''
In other words, when Holgorsen goes on a rant like he did at his offense on Saturday, it is in a way meant not to fire people up as it is to perhaps calm them down. They don't need motivation as much as they need discipline and patience. They need to be reminded of what baseball players are told all the time - you can't hit a seven-run home run, but you can chip away.
"You can't really feel it, but he's an outside observer and he can tell,'' Smith said. "And we may have been pressing because we all want to make plays. But he does a great job of settling us down.''
That's been an almost constant theme during the first half of the season for West Virginia's offense. The Mountaineers have played six games and have trailed in every one of them. Just as significantly, they've rallied in every one of them. Even in their 47-21 loss to No. 1 LSU, the Mountaineers chipped away at a 27-7 deficit to make it 27-21.
"I think it's just about our confidence and our swagger,'' Smith said. "Sometimes we go out and I don't think we believe truly how good we can be, and that plays a big part in the way we play. We try to do too much instead of just reacting and letting our abilities take over. But when we settle down and just go out there and play our game and play smart and be the smarter football team, we do well because we're athletically gifted and we have playmakers who can do special things in space.''
Holgorsen expects some of the problems his offense has faced. He knows West Virginia isn't going to score every time it has the ball, and because of that there is a perception of inconsistency.
That perception is magnified when the Mountaineers almost always start slowly and fall behind, as they have done in virtually every game.
"But if we're consistently good all the time, that's probably unrealistic expectations," Holgorsen said. "If we're consistently bad all the time then we're going to lose every game. The fact that we're good in spurts is better than the alternative, I guess.''
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or email@example.com.