WVU, Pitt coaches focus on now, not then
MORGANTOWN - Dana Holgorsen didn't dip into whatever tape archives he might have this week to pull out old Tulsa games as a refresher course.
Nor did Todd Graham spend a lot of time rehashing and studying games involving Houston and Oklahoma State.
For starters, both men have pretty good memories, so they don't need reminders of what happened the last time they faced each other. Or the time before that. Or the time before that.
But the real issue here is not the past, but the present.
When Holgorsen and West Virginia meet Graham and Pitt Friday night at Mountaineer Field in the 104th Backyard Brawl, it will be the fourth straight season the two have faced each other. Graham was the coach at Tulsa and Holgorsen the offensive coordinator for two years at Houston and one at Oklahoma State.
The teams Holgorsen and Graham coached played each other each of those years.
But using any of those games as a study tool is rather pointless, both insist. In addition to the obvious - the personnel on the field is completely different - there's the not-so-small matter of this:
The schemes have changed, too.
"Yes, there is familiarity on both sides of the ball,'' Graham said of the transplanted coaching staffs at both schools. "But [Holgorsen] is very adaptive, just like we are. If you look at what we're doing, it isn't exactly what we did at Tulsa. And if you look at what he's doing, it's not exactly what he did at Oklahoma State or at Houston.''
For Pitt and Graham, that's probably a good thing because Tulsa never had much success against Holgorsen. Yes, there was the 46-45 shootout Houston won in 2009 - the one after which Holgorsen accused Graham of telling his players to fake injuries to slow the Cougars' offensive tempo - but the other two were blowouts.
Houston won the 2008 game 70-30, and Oklahoma State set a school record with 717 yards in a 65-28 rout of Tulsa in 2010.
Holgorsen, naturally, is quick to caution against expecting anything similar in Friday night's Backyard Brawl because there really aren't as many scheme similarities as one might think.
"It's not the same system,'' Holgorsen said of Graham's Panthers compared to Tulsa. "He'll say the same thing about my system and me. It's different than when I was at Houston or Oklahoma State.
"You can't just keep things the same from place to place based on personnel and who your players are. You have to fit your players. It is not exactly the same scheme.''
There does seem to exist, however, the potential for another shootout between the teams coached by Holgorsen and Pitt. West Virginia leads the Big East in passing, total offense and scoring, while Pitt is mired in the middle of the pack in all of those comparative defensive categories.
Then again, West Virginia's defense ranks roughly the same as Pitt's overall and the Mountaineers have done themselves few favors in the kicking game most of the season, so surrendering points could offset any offensive explosions.
The bottom line, though, is the old saying that all coaches like to bring up when talk shifts to schemes and familiarity - that the Jimmys and the Joes are more important than the X's and the O's. So even if Holgorsen and Graham think they have a great bead on what the other has planned, execution is still the wild card.
"At the end of the day it's about being able to execute and stop them from executing. That's where the challenge is,'' Graham said. "There's a lot of familiarity on both sides. But it's about this set of players.
"College football is about matchups. They're trying to get the ball to their best players, and we're trying to do the same thing. They do a very good job. They have a really good scheme. I think we have a good scheme, too. Being able to go against each other has contributed to where we are at. I think going against people that are really good makes you better."
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org.