We’ve been here before. It’s not fun. But the path forward is clear, and Dana Holgorsen should know. He’s been on the other side.
Generally, those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it and with a bye week ahead of West Virginia, Holgorsen could stand to learn from his own coaching story arc. Eight years ago, West Virginia football stood on a similar crossroads.
Jeff Mullen was the architect of two straight squandered seasons in which the most talented team in a watered down Big East failed to secure an outright league championship and the BCS bid that came with it. 2010 was more of the same, and a brutal night in Storrs, Connecticut was the most egregious showing yet. Oliver Luck made Bill Stewart's coordinator change for him, bringing Dana Holgorsen over from Oklahoma State as the future head coach in waiting. I won't rehash how that summer played out.
The point I'm trying to make is that a proactive, successful coordinator change for Bill Stewart would have changed the trajectory of his tenure in Morgantown. At the end of the day, unfounded loyalty to a proven bad fit was what cost him the job.
Flash forward to 2018. The song remains the same, and it's Dana Holgorsen's turn to be proactive or face the end of an eight year tenure that, as much as I've supported him, has featured more disappointments than successes.
Saturday night in Ames was a larger debacle than anything during the Jeff Mullen era. That's (in the nicest terms possible) not good. Jake Spavital, for the last ten quarters of football, has shown nothing but an unending desire to have this Mountaineer offense do anything but play to its strengths and it finally came to a head as West Virginia's lack of an offensive plan put its defense in bad situations time and time again. 42 plays is absolutely unacceptable for a team with this talent. The team we saw on Saturday was unable to win on first and second downs because of Spavital's consistent need to run into the weakest part of the offensive line, despite finding success with off tackle play.
So, once again we're at a crossroads. A West Virginia head coach, working for an athletic director that didn't hire him, is left with an ineffectual offensive coordinator that has stymied an offense far more experienced and talented than anything Jeff Mullen had to work with. Everything remains in front of this team and a historic Big 12 championship and New Year's Six bowl game is very much in play, but Spavital has shown an inability to adjust from the last ten quarters of anemic, uninspired offense. If this remains the same, another 8-4 or 7-5 season is looming in Morgantown. With the talent at hand, it would be an unacceptable end.
I don't ask West Virginia for consistent elite play as it would be a fool's errand, and unreasonable expectations are the worst part of fanhood. I do expect West Virginia to take advantage of their chances to be special, and with Spavital holding the reins of this offense, it seems unlikely that the 2018 edition will do so.
With a regression to the mean likely in 2019, Dana Holgorsen must show an ability to harness the talent he has this season to give me a reason to sit through two or three more 7-5 or 8-4 campaigns before a Junior or Senior Trey Lowe pilots a Big 12 title contender. The path towards finishing strong has a very clear first step.
Dana has to put on the black pullover.