Holgorsen: Mental lapses hard to predict
MORGANTOWN - Yogi Berra was famous for saying that baseball is 90 percent mental and the other half physical.
Dana Holgorsen isn't quite as mathematically challenged, perhaps, but over the course of the last few weeks he has proven that his philosophy is pretty much the same.
All else being equal, wanting to succeed more than the other guy is just as significant as having the physical tools to succeed. In games against Syracuse and Rutgers, the West Virginia coach has seen both sides.
West Virginia got pushed around at the Carrier Dome and didn't take it seriously. The result was an embarrassing 49-23 loss.
Then a week later in wretched weather at Rutgers, the Mountaineers were again bullied for a half, yet turned things completely around and won 41-31.
The difference, Holgorsen said, was all mental.
"When your back is to the wall, you tend to respond with a bit more energy,'' Holgorsen said. "I thought we were excited to play going into Syracuse and our preparation was fine, but the biggest thing was when we got smacked, we didn't respond. Then last week [at Rutgers], there were a lot of opportunities to shut it down: It was too cold, they're winning by 10, this is not working out how we wanted it to, etc.
"We responded better within the game. I anticipate our preparation this week will be fine. It's about continuing to mature as a team and play well together and pick each other up and having more energy and excitement than the other team. When things get bad, you have to have the ability to step up and do something about it.''
This week presents another challenge when No. 24 West Virginia (6-2, 2-1 Big East) faces Louisville (4-4, 2-1) at noon Saturday at Mountaineer Field. It is yet another game in which the Mountaineers are solid favorites (14 points) against an unranked team.
There seems little question that the general consensus is that West Virginia is the better team. Louisville's offense is among the worst in the country (No. 103 out of 120 FBS schools) and while the Cardinals do play exceptional defense, WVU has at times proven that doesn't matter. The Mountaineers rang up 533 yards against No. 1 LSU, 643 in a win over Bowling Green and even 428 in a blizzard at Rutgers.
Yet there are always questions about how motivated West Virginia is and how hard the Mountaineers will play.
Holgorsen wishes he could predict that.
"There is no magic formula, there just isn't. If you had a magic formula, then there would be even more parity in college football due to the fact that everyone would be following the same formula,'' he said. "Look across the country. We went up to Syracuse and didn't play very well and they played great. You turn it around and Syracuse goes to Louisville and they didn't play very well and got beat [27-10 a week after pounding WVU].
"Look at the Big 12 with Texas Tech going to [Oklahoma] and beating them soundly, then turn it around and OU beats Kansas State soundly. And Iowa State goes to Texas Tech and beats the pants off of them. It happens all across the country every week, throughout the whole season. I don't know a magic formula to prevent that from happening.''
Obviously momentum doesn't play a big role. Look at the games Holgorsen cited. Syracuse had all the momentum in the world going to Louisville, as did Texas Tech in playing Iowa State. Oklahoma had none going into its game against Kansas State.
So while West Virginia might seem to have some momentum after a near-perfect second-half turnaround at Rutgers, that's not necessarily a factor.
"To be honest, I think every week is independent,'' Holgorsen said. "If anyone should have some momentum right now, we should based on coming back home, based on overcoming the adversity that we overcame last week. We have everything out there in front of us. We're 6-2 and have a chance to finish strong. Does that give us an advantage? I doubt it. You have to line up and play every week.
"One of the things that we've learned over the last two weeks is that you'd better play with effort all four quarters. Regardless of what the score is, you better be playing for four quarters. That can't ever change, especially when there's as much parity as there is. In this league, it doesn't matter who it is, they can get you. You better be ready to go out there every week.''
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org.