With 43 days remaining until the green flag drops on the 2015 college football season, Dana Holgorsen and his West Virginia University football team kicked off Day 1 of Big 12 Conference Media Day.
Holgorsen returns to Morgantown for his 5th season with 15 starters back from last year’s 7-6 team that lost to Texas A&M in the Liberty Bowl.
Much of the attention during the off season has centered around the Mountaineer defense. With the likes of Karl Joseph, KJ Dillon, Nick Kwiatkoski, Larry Jefferson, Kyle Rose, Daryl Worley and Dravon Henry back, this should be the best defensive unit Morgantown has seen in a long time.
And Holgorsen isn’t backing away from it.
“I’ve just got guys that have a bunch of experience,” he said. “When we came into this league three years ago, everybody remembers Geno Smith and Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey, but I doubt you could name another person, especially on defense. Just the guys that have been here three and four years, even going into their fifth year – guys have been here and they’ve played a bunch.
“It’s been a long road to get to this point defensively, and we obviously feel good about it.” Holgorsen said.
West Virginia defensive coordinator Tony Gibson set the bar high early during the spring when he said expects this defense to be one of the best in the country.
“That’s our mindset now,” Gibson said. “We want to be aggressive, we want to dictate tempo of games, we don’t want to let the offense do that to us, that’s when you get on your heels.”
It’s often said that defenses take on the personality of their coach, and it’s easy to see why players enjoy playing for Gibby.
“He’s one of the most consistent coaches we’ve had,” safety Karl Joseph said. “He’s a fun coach to play for, he’s aggressive. He gets disappointed in us a lot, and I like that because it means he cares and knows what we are capable of. It doesn’t take him yelling at us; he can just give us that disappointed look and we know we need to step up.”
On the other side of the ball, the offense continues to be the wildcard.
It’s no secret that Holgorsen likes to throw it around the yard and mix in the run to keep the defense off balance. In 2015, you’ll likely see several new wrinkles to the Mountaineer offense.
But Holgorsen is adaptable.
“Last year we were still top seven or eight in passing in the country, but we ran the ball over 50 percent of the time,” he pointed out. “That’s just kind of what our philosophy is, and that’s the way it’s going to be. The more success we have running the ball, the more we’re going to do it.”
Ball security is something Holgorsen has stressed during the off season.
“Everybody talks about the quarterback position taking care of the ball when he’s throwing it, but you’ve got to take care of the ball in the pocket, and you’ve got to take care of the ball when you tuck it and head downfield as well,” said Holgorsen. “Whoever that guy is for us is going to be the guy that can take care of the ball more than anything. We were 120th in turnover margin last year and we felt like we could have put ourselves in a position to win the conference if we’d have done a better job of taking care of the ball and getting turnovers on defense as well.”
One luxury Holgorsen will have in his pocket is the ability to show different formations and group sets on offense. With inexperience at the wide receiver position, the run game powered by Rushel Shell, Wendell Smallwood and Donte Thomas-Williams will need to lead the way.
Add more design quarterback runs, and you can start to see the Mountaineers adapt to Big 12 football.
Teams across the conference are going towards dual-threat quarterbacks that can both throw and run. Multiple schemes often create multiple problems for defenses, and keep defense coordinators awake at night.
But that doesn’t mean Holgorsen still can’t throw it 40 times a game… or does it?
“Geez, I still like to throw the ball a good bit, you know,” he said. “But I know one thing: if you can’t do either one, you’re not going to be worth a darn, I can assure you of that.”