DALLAS–The college football season is right around the corner and West Virginia University head coach Dana Holgorsen is excited for the things to come this year.
“Just like everybody else in the country, pretty excited about the upcoming season,” Holgorsen said at the Big 12 Media Days event at the Omni Hotel on Tuesday morning. “Think we’ve had a fantastic summer. I think the one thing that stands out at this point in time with our football program that hasn’t existed in the past is what our summer was like. We went through June and July, even a little bit of last week of May with over 100 guys in the program. A lot of new guys, 31 new guys that we were able to work with a little bit that’s going to get us a little ahead for August.”
The Mountaineers have several new faces on the sidelines this fall including cornerbacks coach Blue Adams, wide receivers coach Tyron Carrier, safeties coach Matt Caponi, and offensive coordinator Joe Wickline.
Holgorsen is pleased with his new assistants, especially Wickline, who coached at Oklahoma State with Holgorsen.
“Arguably the best “O” line coach I’ve been around, and I’ve made that statement on more than one coach,” he said. “He brings a wealth of knowledge. I’ve got a good “A” line coach in Ron Crook, who is still heading up the offensive line meetings. What Joe is going to bring to the table is he’s got a wealth of knowledge when it comes to football in general. I feel like we need to get back to our roots just a little bit more, maintain the run game that we did last year that allowed us to have the about Big 12 leading rusher in Wendell Smallwood, and though he’s moved on to the NFL, I feel like we’ve got three capable bodies to do the same stuff that Wendell did, and then we’ve got to improve in the pass game. Averaging 35 points a game, being a top-20 offense isn’t good enough in this league. So we’ve got to move the ball a little bit more, score a little bit more points if we want to be in contention to win it.”
Another face WVU fans will see a lot of this season is former wideout Stedman Bailey, who played three seasons with the Mountaineers and three seasons in the NFL with the St. Louis Rams. The Miami, Fla. native returns to Morgantown as a student assistant coach.
“We will see how much he brings to the table,” Holgorsen said. “I’m anticipating him being able to take a couple of young receivers and showing them technique stuff and kind of doing what he did with the Rams a little bit, just get his feet wet with coaching. He’s got high hopes for being able to play again and that’s going to be out of his control and out of my control, but in the meantime we want him to get his degree and hopefully make a difference on couple of these what I think are talented, young receivers we have at West Virginia.”
While WVU has several new members on the coaching staff, many offensive players return to pick up where they left off in January.
Starting quarterback Skyler Howard had moments of brilliance last season but other times he looked shaky.
Holgorsen believes that in order for Howard to have an effective passing game, the senior will need to have a good rapport with his receivers and become more comfortable in the pocket. Coach Wickline has been working with Howard on that.
“So having coach Wickline be able to widen that pocket a little bit, having the timing with him and all these receivers that we got, I think it’s going to make a bunch of difference and if we can maintain the running game where we were at and improving that passing game a little bit I feel like we’ll be where we need to be,” Holgorsen said.
Despite the loss of Wendell Smallwood, the sixth year head coach still has high hopes for the Mountaineers’ running game. He believes his offensive line is strong enough to help bolster the backs’ performance.
“I’ve talked a lot about improving the pass game, but by no means is that going to detour anything that we’re trying to get accomplished in the run game,” Holgorsen said. “Wendell had a great year but everything starts up front. We got Tyler Orlosky, here, fifth-year senior at center, Adam Pankey who has played over 2,000 snaps at guard, fifth-year senior, Tony Matteo, fifth-year senior, you know a couple of good young tackles, so I feel like we’ve got a pretty good “O” line. That’s where it starts. Then we’ve got to find a back who hits that thing quick, and keep him healthy and keep him fresh and I think we will be just as effective in the run game next year as we were this past year.”
Entering its fifth season in the Big 12, WVU is hoping to make a run for the conference championship. Holgorsen thinks his team has been knocking on the door the last two seasons and is right where they need to be.
“Well, I think we’re right where we need to be, to be honest with you, we’ve showed improvement the last two years,” he said. “Looking back on last year we won more games than we have in the previous three years in the Big 12.
“Two points away from winning 10, so I think we’re pretty competitive. I think the schedule sets up a little bit better this upcoming year. We got a lot of bodies, a lot of returning starters, a lot of guys that are familiar with what’s going on. So I feel like we’re right where we needed to be. Early on we flat out didn’t have the depth to be able to compete. We had a couple of high- level players that won us some games, but we didn’t have the depth. That’s not an excuse anymore because the last couple of years we’ve had depth and we’ve been competitive. So I like where our team is at, and I feel like we’re going to be he every bit as competitive or more this upcoming year.”