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WVU future doesn't look bright in light of narrow win

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - West Virginia University's football team could have put up another touchdown on William & Mary in Saturday's home opener at Milan Puskar Stadium.

The final could have been 31-17, rather than 24-17.

Yet Mountaineer coach Dana Holgorsen appropriately killed the remaining seconds and sent his players into the victory formation.

Or, perhaps more correctly, he sent them into an oh-thank-God-we-were-somehow-able-to-come-back-and-win-this-one formation.

See, the final score correctly reflected the game. WVU lived up (or down, depending on how you view it) to the low expectations bestowed upon it in the preseason.

Beforehand, there were many questions. Who would be the starting quarterback? (Paul Millard.) Would the other (Clint Trickett) play? (Yes.) Would the Mountaineer running game be front and center in Holgorsen's heretofore "Air Raid"? (Yes.)

What few questioned, however, is whether the Mountaineers would win over a team picked to finish ninth in the 11-team Colonial Athletic Conference.

Afterward, even Tribe coach Jimmye Laycock seemed to suggest such.

"If you'd have told me coming up here we'd be tied going into the fourth quarter, I'd probably have taken that, to be honest with you," Laycock said.

The reason is WVU has many more resources with which to attract talent. The reason is the Mountaineers have become nationally recognized in the sport.

On Saturday, though, West Virginia looked more James Madison-ish. William & Mary, meanwhile, was poised. It was disciplined. It was smart. It certainly was well prepared.

Holgorsen said his team really didn't focus on the Tribe until last week. Which showed. William & Mary apparently focused on WVU all off-season.

"I told our coaches early in the preseason I didn't want to work on a whole bunch of stuff we wouldn't use against West Virginia," said the coach.

The Tribe players were disappointed.

"It was a tough loss," said standout W&M free safety Jerome Couplin. "We had the lead at halftime. We were tied going into the fourth quarter. We gave up a touchdown late in the game and that hurt.

"[The Mountaineers are] a good team. They have depth. They have athletes. They gave us their best shot. They played hard; we played hard."

Says a lot, right?

WVU fans have to be concerned. When Holgorsen was hired, they expected a return to the high-flying days of Rich Rodriguez. And there certainly have been some of those. (See Orange Bowl, Clemson; early season 2012.) What they saw on Saturday, however, was more reminiscent of the Frank Cignetti WVU days.

The question is, can Holgorsen turn an offense that ran the ball 44 times on Saturday and passed 27 times into a Big 12 winner? Can it even come close to winning this coming week at Oklahoma?

After the William & Mary game, Holgorsen admitted his team has a run-oriented makeup.

"Yeah," he said. "We threw 27 passes. I don't care as long as we win. We have to figure out what we do well."

Behind Millard, WVU had little tempo until the beginning of the second half. It was without big plays, save for a 69-yard bomb to Ronald Carswell.

"I was disappointed we didn't get loose," Holgorsen said. "We ran the ball probably more than at any time in my coaching career. But I felt it was right thing to do."

At game's end, one could tell Holgorsen was almost afraid to call a pass. There were some tipped throws. There was a K.J. Myers fumble after a catch, although Daikiel Shorts recovered it.

"I was a little uneasy at quarterback, as you guys could probably sense and tell," Holgorsen told the media afterward.

Yep. One just wonders if there's any way at all that can fly in the Big 12. Keep in mind Rodriguez grinded his WVU spread offense into a lethal rushing attack.

Assistant coach Tony Gibson smiled at the thought.

"Yeah," he said. "I didn't get to watch a lot of our offense today, but yeah."

While Charles Sims is impressive at tailback, though, there's no Pat White on the 2013 roster.

Defensively, the Mountaineers have improved, but ...

"Next week," Holgorsen said, "OU is going to have some guys who will make some plays. We've got lots of concerns. We'll look at the tape and go from there."

"We have to fix mistakes," said WVU safety-turned-corner Travis Bell.

The Mountaineers have to fix many aspects of their team. Or the victory formations will be few and far between this season.

Reach Mitch Vingle at 304-348-4827, mitchvingle@wvgazette.com or follow him at twitter.com/MitchVingle.

 


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