The scheme looks familiar
MORGANTOWN - Dana Holgorsen's offense ranks second in the country in total offense and third in passing and over the last three games and seems to be warming up, averaging 533 yards of total offense, 385 yards passing and 32 points over that span.
There's just one problem, though. That's Holgorsen's offense at Oklahoma State, not the one at West Virginia.
At WVU, Holgorsen's offense is pretty much stuck in neutral. It is averaging 223 fewer total yards, 154 fewer passing yards and 10 fewer points. If the Mountaineers have any hope of snapping a three-game losing streak this weekend, those numbers no doubt have to change.
That's because on Saturday West Virginia (5-3, 2-3 Big 12) goes to Stillwater to face Oklahoma State (5-3, 3-2) in a 3:30 p.m. game at Boone Pickens Stadium. There Holgorsen will be facing the offense he successfully turned from mundane to nearly unstoppable two years ago in his one and only season as the Cowboys' offensive coordinator.
Two years later, OSU is still rolling offensively despite having used three different quarterbacks this season. The offense West Virginia will attempt to slow down is essentially the same that Holgorsen transformed.
"They haven't changed it much at all,'' Holgorsen said Monday of the Cowboys. "They do a fantastic job of coaching technique and coaching effort, and that goes back to a lot of the stuff I've said from a scheme standpoint.''
Translation: Over the course of the last three weeks, while West Virginia's offense has taken a nosedive in terms of production, Holgorsen has maintained that there's nothing wrong with the scheme. And in OSU he has proof. If Oklahoma State can be productive running the same scheme, WVU's problems rest elsewhere.
Then again, it's not just WVU and OSU that embrace the same offensive schemes. While others might vary in the way they execute and attack, the philosophy of spreading the field, taking advantage of mismatches and playing at a fast tempo is widespread in the Big 12.
"They're as close as it gets to us offensively,'' Holgorsen said. "But there are a lot of similarities in what TCU did, in what Iowa State does, what Texas Tech does, what Oklahoma does. There's a lot of carryover in the Big 12 from an offensive standpoint.''
Why, then, if all of these Big 12 teams are having unquestioned success with the offense, is West Virginia not right now? After averaging 570 yards of total offense, 406 passing and 52 points through a 5-0 start, the Mountaineers are averaging just 330 total yards, 231 passing and 22 points (17.3 by the offense) during an 0-3 slide.
Well, Holgorsen takes the blame.
"They haven't changed it much. They just do a tremendous job of coaching technique,'' Holgorsen said. "They're doing a better job of coaching technique right now offensively than we are. Ultimately it's not the plays you run but how you coach specific positions from a technique standpoint and an effort standpoint. That's what makes you good offensively.''
Obviously Holgorsen knows how to coach it well. In his one season at Oklahoma State he took an offense that ranked No. 99 in total offense and No. 61 in passing to No. 2 in total offense and No. 3 in passing. In eight years as an offensive coordinator or head coach at four schools, he's never had a passing offense that ranked lower than No. 6 in the nation. Last season at WVU was the first time in that stretch his offense ranked outside the top six in total offense (15th).
This year his passing offense is still ranked No. 5, but it's headed in the wrong direction.
In order to reverse that trend on Saturday, Holgorsen and the Mountaineers will have to outplay a team with intimate knowledge of how to stop that offense. Then again, the flip side is that Holgorsen and his defensive staff have no shortage of practice in defending the offense he installed at Oklahoma State.
Whether that makes a difference at all remains to be seen, but Holgorsen doubts it.
"I don't know how you're going to use it as an advantage,'' Holgorsen said. "I mean, if you look at this game they're going to know what we're doing offensively and we're going to know what they're doing offensively. It comes down to getting your guys ready to play. It gets down to being very sound fundamentally and technique-wise to where you're a little bit better than the guy across from you.
"There are a lot of one-on-one matchups within the game of football that you've got to win, and they're doing a pretty good job of that.''
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1.