Time to Rally

  • By John Antonik
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  • October 18, 2012 04:19 PM
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My first thought was Syracuse after watching Texas Tech play the way it did against West Virginia last weekend.

If you recall, it was right around this time last year when the Mountaineers traveled up to Syracuse to take on our old friends from New York. Before the game, the fired-up Orange celebrated the 50th anniversary of Ernie Davis’ Heisman Trophy season, and then quarterback Ryan Nassib did his best to revive the memory of past Syracuse greats by throwing for 229 yards and four touchdowns in an easy 49-23 victory.

Nassib completed all but eight of his 32 throws that evening, and tight end Nick Provo seemingly enjoyed monastic solitude running down the field against West Virginia’s secondary.

As it turned out, though, that triumph may have been very satisfying to Syracuse, but it didn’t catapult them to the season they were expecting. While West Virginia was celebrating another BCS bowl victory, Orange supporters were trying to figure out how a season that began with a 5-2 record could end up so miserably at 5-7. Actually, it looks like they still haven’t figured it out yet considering the 2-4 start to this season. And Nassib and Provo, well, they weren’t exactly the second coming of McNabb and Harrison either.

Meanwhile, Texas Tech put on a similar display of flawless football last Saturday in Lubbock, passing, running and defending its way to an easy 49-14 victory over the then-fifth-rated Mountaineers. Seth Doege did his best imitation of Nassib by completing all but nine of his 42 pass attempts, and tight end Jace Amaro also found clear skies by catching five passes for 156 yards and a touchdown. The one big difference, however, is that Texas Tech is actually a good football team, unlike Syracuse last season.

But the bigger point is this: West Virginia had its bad game right around this time of the season last year. The Mountaineers were lethargic and it showed against Syracuse before Holgorsen rallied his troops, got them refocused, and led them to an outstanding finish.

Earlier this week, Holgorsen said the only thing you can do when something like this happens is to roll up your sleeves and get back to work.

“We’ll go about it the same way we did the previous five games when we were successful,” he said. “I don’t think there is anything wrong with what we’re doing offensively. I think we had a bad game. I don’t think anybody across the country in the history of football is able to put up the kind of numbers that we were on a very, very consistent basis. We’ve got to find other ways of finding other guys who can step up and we’ve got to be able to win some games in other areas of the field as well, such as special teams and defense.”

Last year, West Virginia recovered from the Syracuse defeat to win a very difficult game at Rutgers against a fired-up Scarlet Knights team that was honoring paralyzed player Eric Legrand. The Mountaineers rediscovered their running game, with Shawne Alston rumbling for 110 yards and two touchdowns in the snow and slush at Rutgers Stadium, and Holgorsen rolled the dice with less than seven minutes remaining when Geno Smith ran it in on fourth and goal to put the Mountaineers up for good. The outlook on West Virginia’s season was recalibrated, the defense found its way, and Holgorsen got a much needed boost from some unlikely players.

There is no reason to believe he won’t get his team refocused this week in time for Saturday’s key showdown against fourth-ranked Kansas State at Milan Puskar Stadium.

“The guys were embarrassed, they were hurt and disappointed,” Holgorsen said of last Saturday’s loss to the Red Raiders. “It is not fun for anybody. We got in here (on Sunday) and didn’t sugarcoat anything. It wasn’t a positive session and it wasn’t a ‘it’s OK guys, it’s going to be OK, don’t worry about it’ session. That is not what we did. Our job is to coach them and tell them what reality is. I told them what reality is prior to going out there (to Texas Tech), and we didn’t reach them. That is my fault for not reaching them.”

Holgorsen should have no trouble reaching his players this week. K-State is good any way you slice it with a big, physical, playmaking quarterback, a rough and tough defense, and a veteran coach who has made a living off of fielding teams that don’t beat themselves. Those are the things Holgorsen has been preaching to his players this week.

“(Kansas State is) probably the most disciplined team I have seen in a long time on all three sides of the ball,” he said. “They don’t make mistakes. They play with tremendous effort and they play extremely physical football.”

He continued.

“Offensively, it starts with their quarterback. Collin Klein is a tremendous football player,” he said. “You watch him on tape and you have to stop the run because between him and their running back, John Hubert, they rush for 200-some yards a game (248.5). You look at them throwing the ball and it doesn’t look very good, but it goes exactly where you want it to go. They have big-play potential outside and they have some receivers that can really run.”

Defensively, Holgorsen is extremely impressed with what the Wildcats are doing to stop teams this year.

“They are great against the run,” he said. “Arthur Brown is a special football player and is as good as I have seen at linebacker from an effort standpoint, a playmaking standpoint and a physicality standpoint. They don’t have many holes in their secondary. There is not going to be a whole bunch of space to get a ball in there, and we have to do a good job of blocking up front and fitting the ball into tight spaces. They don’t miss many tackles and they play with great effort.”

Even K-State’s kicking game is nearly flawless, says Holgorsen.

“They have two return guys in Tramaine Thompson and Tyler Lockett that are as good as anyone in the country,” Holgorsen said. “Both punt and kick returns they are averaging a ton. Their kickers are nearly perfect, averaging 40 yards a punt, and they are almost perfect when it comes to field goals and extra points.”

Yes, the message is clear: Kansas State is going to be a handful - just like all of the teams the Mountaineers are facing in the Big 12 this year. To borrow a phrase from a bad Will Ferrell movie (Step Brothers), it's the Catlalina Wine Mixer! It's running with the bulls! It's big time!

“We are spoiled with as much as we win around here and don’t like to lose, but we are not going to get used to it (losing), I can assure you of that. With that said, there are a whole bunch of people out there doing the same things we are,” Holgorsen explained. “There are nine other teams in the Big 12 that are used to winning and all of them have really good facilities, and it’s going to be challenging each and every week.

“My message going to the team was to accept the grind because it is reality. Texas Tech has been to bowl games 19 out of the last 20 years, it is a good program with good facilities, and they have a good football team. We watched them on tape and said, ‘Look, these guys are pretty dang good. You better get ready to play.’ We didn’t have enough guys that bought into that.”

It was right around this time last year when Dana Holgorsen sent his team a wakeup call after the Syracuse game. This week, following the Texas Tech loss and with Kansas State looming, the message was delivered once again.

It will be interesting to see how they respond.

Check out Antonik's new book The Backyard Brawl: Stories from One of the Weirdest, Wildest, Longest Running, and Most Intense Rivalries in College Football History now available in bookstores. A portion of the sales benefit the WVU Department of Intercollegiate Athletics. Also, be sure to "Like" the new Backyard Brawl Facebook page and tell us your personal WVU-Pitt story.