Holgorsen vows to be 'united'
MORGANTOWN - There could be a lot of extra elbow room on West Virginia's sideline Saturday when the Mountaineers face Cincinnati, and it has nothing to do with the roominess and vast expanses of Paul Brown Stadium.
Instead, it could very likely be because WVU's travel roster will be trimmed down, not because of a lack of healthy players or budget cuts or anything of the sort.
It's simply a matter of attitude.
"We're going to take who wants to win,'' first-year WVU coach Dana Holgorsen said Tuesday. "We're going to take who wants to pull for their teammates and who wants to be all in on this thing, not guys who pout or mope because they're not playing or any of the rest of it.
"We're going to be a united team. And the only way I know how to get that accomplished is to take only people that are focused and heading in the right direction.''
During a Tuesday press conference in which an inordinate amount of time was spent discussing attitude and effort, Holgorsen several times mentioned 50 or 55 as a potential travel party. West Virginia's dress list for a road game is generally closer to 65.
But after watching his team bounce around at points during a 6-3 season from generally listless to somewhat engaged, Holgorsen apparently feels the time has come to buy all in or get out. Thus, the threat to trim the travel squad.
It all has to do with the effort the Mountaineers have shown, particularly during the past three weekends. First there was a complete lack of focus in a 49-23 loss at Syracuse, then what amounted to a one-half performance in a 41-31 win at Rutgers and finally another collapse in last weekend's 38-35 loss at home to Louisville.
"In order to win, we've got to play with effort all the time,'' Holgorsen said. "There were spurts last week where there was effort, but there weren't a bunch of them. It didn't happen all the time. And typically a team that plays with effort all the time in a league that has about the same amount of talent, then the team that's able to play with effort all the time is going to be the team that wins.''
Holgorsen used Cincinnati as a prime example. The Bearcats (7-1, 3-0 Big East) have climbed from obscurity into the Top 25 and into the Big East driver's seat not because of overwhelming talent, but because of effort. West Virginia (6-3, 2-2), on the other hand, has slipped from precisely that perch to near irrelevancy perhaps for the same reason.
"Cincinnati is a team that has found ways to win,'' Holgorsen said. "They've been in a lot of close games and the one thing that stands out more than anything is the amount of effort they play with. When you play with that kind of effort, good things happen.''
And when that effort isn't there, the result is two losses in three weeks by a combined 29 points to teams that were each two-touchdown underdogs. Losses like that aren't uncommon in college football these days, but they can usually be traced to something other than simple bad breaks.
"What we're facing now is just reality in college football. It happens every week,'' Holgorsen said. "The latest one is Northwestern going to Nebraska. Who'd have put their money on Northwestern? That's just the reality of college football right now. And the teams that are able to understand that are the ones that win championships.''
Holgorsen was asked if he thought his players, college students all, understand that reality.
"No. I don't think that's the case right now,'' Holgorsen said. "I think there's a lot of guys that just show up and expect to win, based on winning 60 games in six years. And there's a whole bunch of people who think that way who haven't played a down around here.''
Ultimately, of course, getting a team prepared to play both mentally and physically and making sure that players have the right attitude is up to the coaching staff.
"It's a mentality and it's hard. And you've got to find ways to get guys to do it,'' Holgorsen said. "That's our challenge this week. Our challenge is to get guys to play with effort and energy. Whatever we've got to do to find a way to cultivate that, we've got to do it. But I've said that all year. Our job as coaches is to get the guys ready to go.
"That ultimately lands on my shoulders, but there's a whole bunch of people that are in this together.''
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org.