Like old friends getting together
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - Oklahoma State makes only its second trip ever to Morgantown today. The first was in 1928, so it's safe to say that no one has a memory of it, much less anyone who will have an impact on the game.
Since that time, the teams have played three more times, one just a year later. Another was in the 1987 Sun Bowl. Dana Holgorsen was 16 at the time. Mike Gundy was the starting quarterback for the Cowboys (handing off to Thurman Thomas and Barry Sanders) opposite WVU's Major Harris.
The most recent meeting, or course, was a year ago. It was a vastly different West Virginia team that went to Stillwater, Okla. For example, none of the skill-position players who will start for the Mountaineers were even on that team. Today's starting quarterback, Clint Trickett, was playing at Florida State.
Suffice it to say, then, that these teams do not exactly have a long history. Why then, do they seem to know each other so intimately?
Well, it's because the coaching staffs are both cut from the same cloth and have the same backgrounds. Holgorsen is largely responsible for the offense Oklahoma State runs from his year as the coordinator there in 2010. Special teams coach Joe DeForest was at OSU for 11 years. Gundy knows how Holgorsen thinks after handpicking him to remake the Cowboys' offense. Oklahoma State defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer matched wits with Holgorsen when they were on the OSU staff together and Joe Wickline was the offensive line coach.
Throw in the fact that for eight years WVU defensive coordinator Keith Patterson was at nearby Tulsa and coached against OSU a couple of times and it's all one, big familiar family.
All of which is why, when the teams meet at Mountaineer Field today (noon kickoff, ESPN), there won't be a lot that the teams don't know about each other. Familiarity might breed contempt, but it also breeds, well, familiarity. That often leads coaches to overthink things like communication and tendencies.
"You can overthink it,'' Holgorsen said. "They know us, we know them. Are there going to be specific times when they get a tip on what we're going to call? Probably. Are they going to be able to potentially pick a signal? Maybe. But so are we.''
Truth be told, it's not an unusual situation for Big 12 teams, even one like West Virginia, which has been in the league only a year and has played none of the others on a regular basis.
"It happens every week in the Big 12. Everybody knows each other,'' Holgorsen said. "When we played Oklahoma, nobody knew us better than Oklahoma and nobody knew Oklahoma better than us. But it's the same thing when Oklahoma and Oklahoma State play. It's going to be the same thing when us and Texas Tech play or when Texas Tech and Oklahoma State play.
"I think you can overthink it. The biggest thing is just getting your guys out there and letting them play.''
Take the Oklahoma State defense, for example. Holgorsen knows it well. It is essentially the same as he saw three years ago in practice every day while coaching the OSU offense.
"The scheme's not that tough,'' Holgorsen said. "They're going to play four down and a couple of coverages. They are mixing in a lot more man, but they're not going to blitz much. But they coach really hard on effort and on technique.''
Knowing the systems and the coaches, though, isn't even half the battle. No matter how familiar the teams are with each other, it still comes down to, as the saying goes, the Jimmys and Joes more than the X's and the O's.
"Knowing him, I'm sure he would say the same thing if you asked him, but it all comes down to execution,'' Gundy said of Holgorsen. "They're going to have some new wrinkles for us, but it still comes down to blocking, tackling and catching the ball. For us, it comes down to seeing routes, pattern reading, hitting our gaps and being fundamentally sound.
"Against anybody, one mistake can lead to a big play. It will be on the line for us every play. He has a great mind, and if we take something away, he will try to find another way to attack us. It's fun. I have a lot of respect for him and what they do offensively."
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1.