Four years ago Dana Holgorsen arrived in Lubbock, Texas the toast of college football. His 5-0 team was racking up points and yardage at a silly record pace and had emerged as the darkest of dark horse national title contenders. Four quarters of football later his squad flew away beaten, battered and exposed. A complete lack of toughness, both mental and physical, emerged that day as the key trait on a team that would limp to a disappointing 7-6 season.
All of the sudden what had been sexy was silly. We learned that the ball has three sides and no offense was great enough to overcome ineptitude in all other phases, not to mention a top-heavy roster that lacked the depth to compete in the Big 12. Dana Holgorsen's extreme makeover of the WVU football program began in many ways on that windy Texas Saturday when he was confronted for the first time with how far he truly had to go.
Fast forward 4 years where Holgorsen is leaving Lubbock with a 5-0 team fresh off a complete undressing of the homestanding Red Raiders. WVU leaned on a roster deep in both defensive talent and skill positions, physically punishing Texas Tech and leaving no doubt as to the superior program. A team that was unknown and an afterthought at the bottom of the top 20 is all the sudden within striking distance of the top 10, but armed with a rushing attack that can control a game and the best defense in the conference, the 125th edition of the West Virginia Mountaineers seems much better equipped to compete for an entire season than the 121st edition ever was.
It was a long, hard rebuild but Mountaineer Football is back. The journey starts in earnest now and WVU will not be sneaking up on anyone. Let's dive right in.
Some of the available reading here at the hotel... pic.twitter.com/JdlQDozgZc— Jed Drenning (@TheSignalCaller) October 14, 2016
You can have your X's and O's and Jimmy's and Joe's.....Kliff is here to talk about Kimmy's and Flo's
Looked like the Mountaineers and Red Raiders had to be pulled apart during warmups. They're just real excited to win that John Denver Trophy— Smoking Musket (@SmokingMusket) October 15, 2016
I'll be honest this made me nervous. A hallmark of that 2012 squad was fake tough-guyness and challenging a team on their home field in the pregame was chapter 1 from their book. But I think we can come away from this one saying the 2016 Mountaineers are genuine tough guys.
Rushel Shell looks better when he runs violently.— Allan Taylor (@AllanTaylorWVU) October 15, 2016
Also I really like how Holgorsen has used his backfield this year. Keep Shell in as starter - he's the vet, he's earned it. Let him soften folks up, test the defense. Then bring in Crawford or McKoy as a change of pace but come back to Shell intermittently and when it's time for that late-game Mortal Kombat fatality drive.
Many have blown off @Big12Conference with Baylor &W.Virginia as its banner carriers. Oughta sight should never mean outta mind.They're good.— Tim Brando (@TimBrando) October 15, 2016
Much love to Tim Brando - he's been on this train since he worked the Mizzou game and I'd say it's safe to say he's earned some fans in the Mountain State (I mean he even pronounced 'Hurrican' correctly people!)
West Virginia is flat-out silencing Texas Tech right now. This is one of the best halves of defense any team has played this season.— SI College Football (@si_ncaafb) October 15, 2016
Let's talk about the Mountaineer defense. It wasn't so much that they stopped Texas Tech, it was that they physically dominated them. I watched and re-watched the game and I swear 80% of the time when a WVU defender made contact with a ball carrier, they went backwards. Sometimes a quite a high rate of speed.
Despite losing receivers a time or two the secondary was strong, particularly one-man wrecking crew Kyzir White. But the starts of the show were the defensive line and linebackers, who held TT to a paltry 34 yards on the ground and kept a scrambling Pat Mahomes from being able to inflict any real damage. The 3 man rush didn't always get him, but they generally kept contain and a couple times were able to corral him. I in particular liked the delayed blitz that was employed later in the game and resulted in a huge sack.
Most underrated aspect of this one: they held Texas Tech, a team that had scored 50 in their last 5 home games, to essentially 10 points. Now normally performances like that are somewhat the byproduct of turnovers that stop a high-octane offense. Not this game - the WVU D generated a single turnover, Sean Walters' heads up interception when the Red Raiders were driving to potentially take the lead. That's impressive.
(*speaking of Walters, you know what set up that pick? Jeremy Tyler taking a defensive holding when he was clearly beat for what would have almost certainly been a touchdown. Tyler had a tough day and at first blush this penalty was another bad moment for him, but he actually ended up saving 7 points and a huge momentum shift. Credit where it's due.)
All in all for the second straight year Tony Gibson shut down one of the most prolific offenses in the country. Can't ask for more than that.
Tony Gibson discusses adjustments with the WVU defense . . . pic.twitter.com/ZgPDNI0uTS— Jed Drenning (@TheSignalCaller) October 16, 2016
STOP!! PLEASE!!! Do NOT adjust ANYTHING.
I've preached this for years: have a good OL and the wins will come— WVUIE97 (@WVUIE97) October 15, 2016
Trust me, he's absolutely been saying this for years.
Speaking of our old site manager @WVUIE97, he's been preaching patience with Holgo and the importance of depth for awhile, many times when it was not the prevailing opinion. Some of you may remembered a beautifully detailed manifesto that ran in this very space nearly 3 years ago painting an accurate and unflinching picture of the attrition that had plagued the program, starting with the previous coaching regime. The roster at the time would have been hardly adequate to win a Big East title, much less navigate the Big 12.
Three classes later WVU has put together great classes and expertly mined the junior college (and FBS) ranks to assemble a deep and talented roster that seems to get stronger as the game goes on. The most telling stat this year may be that, of the 10 new starters on defense, 9 of them are seniors. That's program depth right there, kids.
I say again - credit where it's due. You told us so @WVUIE97.
It was clear very early that Sky was feeling good. He was nearly flawless and I think I only counted a couple passes that were off - one on the first drive of the game when he got crossed up with Daikiel Shorts and another later in the game. His nicest toss of the day may have been an incompletion, a strike that hit Ka'Raun White in the end zone on a post, but White mistakenly dove and couldn't corral the ball behind him. Had he kept on his feet that eventual field goal becomes 6.
And we haven't even talked about the STIFF ARMS. Howard was doling out punishment to TT LBs, almost seeming to seek out contact. His runs were all effective and twice he took it to paydirt. We're 5 games into the season - that's "you are what you are" territory and I think we can now confidently say Skyler is a Dimpled Assassin.
Dana Holgorsen's Blood Red Bull Content is currently .925. pic.twitter.com/khUmgPg3Ob— Jim Weber (@JimMWeber) October 15, 2016
Its the remix to ignition, Lyons better send an extension. Holgo's chugging that redbull. Got every team in here wishin'.— RIFLE SCHOOL (@EERSNATION) October 17, 2016
As we all know R & B remixes aren't simply enjoyed here at the Retweet but encouraged.
Speaking of extensions, I think maybe you see how things look next week but then if you're serious about bringing Holgorsen back (and why in the world wouldn't you be) then something needs to start happening. Be interesting to see how Holgo handles things here. Do you play a little hardball and try to get something extra or take the opportunity to create some security. Will be an interesting sub-storyline over the next few weeks.
A conversion by TTU in final minutes snapped WVU's amazing streak of 23 straight Big 12 games of holding teams to 50% or less on 3rd down.— Jed Drenning (@TheSignalCaller) October 16, 2016
Maurice Fleming called for targeting and is out of the game with 9 minutes to play— BlueGoldSports.com (@Blue_GoldSports) October 15, 2016
Final note on the game itself before we cast our gaze forward - this really pissed me off. First off it was clearly a call made to create some perceived equity (TT had a player ejected on the same call the play before) and that always annoys me. You don't owe anyone anything when they break a rule. Second it was just a crappy call. Fleming clearly saw what was coming and tried to pull up. He didn't attempt to drive even his shoulder into the receiver and led with his hands, smacking the ball carrier in the head. Fact of the matter is this is still football and there is still contact. If you can't handle that go play tennis.
There's just no reason he should miss any time in a vital next game for WVU. if the Big 12 refuses to rescind that call it's a crime.
Final score: UNC 20, Miami 13— Canes Football (@CanesFootball) October 15, 2016
Hey climbing the rankings is great, but stepping over the dead bodies of two traitorous sonsabitches to get there is DIVINE. #BigEast4Ever
Time to start taking West Virginia seriously. The best passing offense in the country (by far) has 10 points in the 4th quarter.— Jon DiMuzio (@jondimuz) October 15, 2016
Just a team playing football no big deal.Seriously, nothing to see here.
Hahahaha OK fine now that's just silly clickbait. Eeeeeeasy big fella, we're 5-0. As Harvey Keitel's Wolf put so artfully in Pulp Fiction, "let's not start (bleeping) each other's (bleeps) just yet.
We're on the cusp of fun stuff though. I'm making my first trip to Mountaineer Field in 3 years and I expect what the kids would call a fully "turnt" atmosphere. And we owe these guys. I still haven't forgotten dirty Josh Carraway's insanely illegal hit on Clint Trickett that essentially shut down the WVU season. We started off talking about things coming back around in Lubbock and I have a feeling they do the same in Morgantown on Saturday.
I'm sorry about this. Unintended consequence. pic.twitter.com/Av72x9YM1D— Mike Casazza (@mikecasazza) October 16, 2016
And so we must talk about our old friend The Fall. Capitalized now of course, as it has become a Thing.
You know what isn't A Thing? Irrelevance. Not seeing your score cycle through with the rest of the top 25 while you're watching another game later in the day. Not hearing the talking heads even utter your squad's name because they've quite likely forgotten they're a squad. Since that aforementioned ill-fated trip to Lubbock in 2012, that's been our reality for all but a couple weeks in 2014 and it sucked. It sucked bad.
I'm getting old and at this point I've seen a few of these cycles, both good and bad. The Fall may suck, but believe me, I'll take it all day over The Nothing. The Nothing is boring. The Nothing means you care a little less. The Nothing means the brisk breeze of autumn doesn't carry the intensity it does when things matter.
Ask Pitt about the Nothing.
I'll take the Fall every time, and I'll be running headlong to whatever fate awaits, cliff or mountaintop on Saturday.
As a final note, I won't be able to keep abreast of the Twitters at the game the way I normally would, so please tweet at me @abpriddy to give me your thoughts, complaints and witty repartee. I'd like to include some more fan observations moving forward so let me see what you've got.
Let's keep climbing, let's keep believing and LET'S GOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!