Holgorsen's intriguing reunion
STILLWATER, Okla. - Of all the old faces and places Dana Holgorsen is seeing this season, there's an argument to be made that actually Oklahoma State isn't even the most familiar.
He did, after all, spend eight years coaching at Texas Tech. He was born, raised and went to college in Iowa. The vast majority of his major-college coaching career prior to his arrival at West Virginia (10 of 11 years) was spent in Texas.
He spent less than a year at Oklahoma State.
Still, when Holgorsen and the Mountaineers (5-3, 2-3 Big 12) walk out onto the turf at Boone Pickens Stadium for today's 3:30 p.m. game with the Cowboys (5-3, 3-2), this one will be by far the most intriguing reunion in WVU's first swing through the Big 12.
Because of the influence of Holgorsen - whether it be in his one season constructing Oklahoma State's offense or his subsequent raids of the Cowboys' coaching staff - these teams are cross-pollinated like few others.
How will that influence the outcome? Well, perhaps not at all, but it's certainly fuel for the fire.
"Once you get into a game it's not much different than any other game,'' OSU coach Mike Gundy insists. "They're much more familiar with us than we are with them. They've been here. We only know them, we don't know their players. And once the game gets going, in most cases you actually forget who's on the other side.''
Who's on the other side from Oklahoma State today is a group that was instrumental in the Cowboys' rise to prominence the past three years.
Holgorsen was the offensive coordinator who transformed OSU's offense in 2010, hired by Gundy to add a spark and ending up revolutionizing it. He was helped along by running backs coach Robert Gillespie (who had been at OSU a year before) and his joined-at-the-hip graduate assistant, Jake Spavital. Both came with Holgorsen to West Virginia, Spavital eventually getting a promotion to full-time quarterbacks coach.
The OSU influence at WVU isn't limited to the offense, though. Joe DeForest spent 11 years as the Cowboys' safeties coach and special teams coordinator, developing the latter units into some of the country's best. Last winter Holgorsen lured him to Morgantown, as well.
The end result is that Oklahoma State continues to run Holgorsen's offense and now West Virginia is mimicking OSU's defense and special teams, prompting Holgorsen this week to declare that studying tape of the Cowboys was like looking into a mirror.
There is, however, one critical difference between the teams, at least at this particular point in the season. Oklahoma State is doing a better job of executing those nearly identical schemes on both sides of the ball.
While West Virginia has struggled mightily on offense the last weeks, Oklahoma State has continued to move along even while being forced to play three different quarterbacks because of injuries. The Cowboys are averaging more points and more yards (both rushing and passing) than are the Mountaineers, although turnovers have been a much bigger problem. OSU has lost the ball 18 times this season, 11 more than WVU.
On defense, the Cowboys are markedly better, allowing more than 100 fewer yards per game and two fewer touchdowns. OSU also has some of the best special teams in the nation thanks to All-America kicker-punter Quinn Sharp, while WVU has the return potential of Tavon Austin and not much else.
For all of those reasons and more, Oklahoma State is more than a touchdown favorite today. In order for West Virginia to have a chance to snap out of its three-game slide, Geno Smith and the West Virginia offense will have to regain more of the form they showed during a 5-0 start, while a porous defense must build on a stronger performance last weekend against TCU while eliminating the embarrassing big plays that are still an issue.
What won't be an issue, though, is any animosity created by the fact that Holgorsen stayed at OSU for just one year and moved on. Gundy, after all, hired him to charge up the offense and he did that beyond all reasonable expectations. The Cowboys still benefit from that.
And Holgorsen certainly got what he wanted out of OSU, which was a head-coaching job. That's why he went there from Houston.
"I felt that in order to get a job like the one I'm fortunate enough to have now that it would take being a coordinator at a higher level,'' Holgorsen said. "In my conversations with [Gundy and OSU athletic director Mike Holder] I told them I wasn't going to go there for a year and leave for the same job [as a BCS-level coordinator elsewhere]. It was going to take a job like this for me to leave the situation that I was in.''
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1.