MORGANTOWN, W.Va.– The season opener is right around the corner for the West Virginia University football team but its using this week to prepare as if it’s game week.
“We will put them through exactly what they are going to do through a game week,” head coach Dana Holgorsen said. “No different than what we have done the previous three or four years. Sunday, they came in, we watched the scrimmage, we lifted weights and then let them go. Monday was their off day. That’s their school day. Today we will start preparing for Missouri… We will start preparing, we will break up scout teams.
“We will introduce our opponent and teach our kids how to practice on Tuesday, how to practice on Wednesday, what the routine is going to be like Thursday, travel Friday, come in on Saturday and have a game day routine. We will go through all of the pre-game stuff. Even prior to that, what the food is going to be Friday night, where they will be staying, what our meeting schedules are like, when you wake up, all of that good stuff. We have quite a bit of guys that haven’t traveled with us yet, so I feel like it is important for those guys to go through that routine before we asked them to do it for real next week. Then we will do the mock game; it’s not a scrimmage. I used to try to tackle a little bit in that thing, and it doesn’t work out very well. Sideline situations, how you sub, when you sub, special teams things, there are a lot of moving parts in this mock game that I think is very important for our guys to go through. Then, obviously, once that’s over we will sing “Country Roads” and get used to doing that.”
Holgorsen feels the Mountaineers are in a good place heading into the first game.
“We have good depth,” he said. “We pretty much know who the guys are that are going to play. You do get to a point in camp where you know that you aren’t going to get any better until you play. We hit that last week at some point. We know who the guys are that are going to play. I don’t think you totally understand what that’s going to look like or how you are going to perform until you actually go out there and do it. Even with some of the older guys, it’s a new year, you are a year older.”
WVU’s offense struggled immensely against its defense on August 13 but that isn’t too much of a concern for Holgorsen.
“We have gotten a little better since then, we had an off day,” he said. “We know kind of what we have on offense. We had some complacency issues, which I addressed. With that said, I thought our defense has been playing well. I think they are pretty motivated. We have some good players, and we have some motivated players. I would much rather it be like that the offense getting after the defense. We did a little bit better the next week, but I am not concerned with where we are at.”
While starters are beginning to solidify themselves, some positions are still up for grabs.
“Hopefully, we will keep them battling all year long,” he said. “(Redshirt junior offensive lineman) Marcell (Lazard) will get the nod and will start, but (redshirt freshman offensive lineman) Colton (McKivitz) is going to play. Colton is probably going to end up playing both left tackle and right tackle. When do we put Colton in the game? That depends on how Marcell plays. There are situations that effect that. The battle at corner is ongoing. We have four seniors in, (redshirt senior cornerback) Antonio (Crawford), (redshirt senior cornerback) Nana (Kyeremeh), (redshirt senior cornerback) Maurice (Fleming), and (redshirt senior cornerback) Rasul (Douglas), that have all done good things and they will keep plugging away.”
With the loss of junior safety Dravon Askew-Henry, the Mountaineers’ defense took a tough loss but senior Jeremy Tyler is working hard to fill the void.
“Jeremy looks good there,” Holgorsen said. He’s played it, he has experience. I’ve been very proud of Jeremy. Where I thought that (redshirt senior safety) Jarrod Harper stepped in for Karl (Joseph) last year and did a solid job, I see Jeremy stepping in for Dravon and doing a solid job, not only from a performance point of view but from a leadership point of view as well. Both of those guys, I’m proud of how they have stepped in and done it.”
Offensive lineman Adam Pankey’s DUI arrest will cause the senior to miss at least the Missouri game.
“He’s currently suspended from the team,” Holgorsen said. “We hold these guys to high expectations and when you don’t meet that then there are going to be consequences. He is suspended from the team, it’s disappointing, but we will continue his suspension through Missouri and then we will re-address it at that point.”
With Pankey suspended, senior offensive lineman Tony Matteo will get a chance to start when Sept. 3 rolls around.
“Tony is a fifth year senior who was competing for a guard job anyway,” Holgorsen said. “Tony was probably playing better than any of the guards for the first five, six days, then he went down. We will slot him at the left guard spot and he will start there, and (redshirt junior offensive lineman) Kyle Bosch will start at the right guard spot. Depth took a hit, (redshirt junior offensive lineman) Grant Lingafelter has been stepping up for the last week while both of those guys were out and did a good job. He started a game a couple of years ago, so we still have a good rotation in there with those four guys.”
WVU has a lot of options at wide receiver but the Mountaineers will expect big things from junior Shelton Gibson this season.
“In order for him to be a better all-around player, he has to be able to do all of that stuff, but by no means are we going to take what he does well and try to get him to do something else,” Holgorsen said. “We have big play potential with him, with (sophomore wide receiver) Jovon (Durante) and with (redshirt junior wide receiver) Ka’Raun (White) that the can stretch the field. We’d be foolish not to continue to do that. If they’re going to pile people into the box then we need to be able to stretch it. If we’re stretching it, then they have to back people off and we should be able to run the ball. It would be foolish to do that. We like the 24-yards per catch that he got or whatever it was. I would be okay for twice as many catches and 18-yards a catch.”
Sophomore wide receiver Gary Jennings appears to be WVU’s go-to punt returner heading into the opener.
“He’s makes too good of decisions,” Holgorsen said. “He got a lot better throughout the course of last year. He’s a dependable guy who makes great decisions that has very very very few mistakes and very very very few muffs. He’s tracking it well. I’d like to be able to get a few more yards after the catch to improve field position from what we’ve done the last couple of years, but we’re at a point now where we’re just trying to get a guy to catch the damn thing. Now we have a guy who can catch it, so now let’s try to figure out what we do with it.”
Holgorsen thinks that confidence and consistency has been the biggest difference for senior quarterback Skyler Howard.
“He’s more confidence,” Holgorsen said. “Part of that he’s more trustworthy with the people around him. There’s more familiarity. The relationship that he and (redshirt senior offensive lineman) Tyler (Orlosky) has is really good on the field. Those guys know what each other are thinking at all times. The rapport he has with the receivers and the timing aspect of what he has with the receivers is night and day. The confidence that he has in the backs, and just from a consistency point of view from an x’s and o’s standpoint. Going into his senior year after being here for two years, there’s a consistency that I’m seeing that needs to develop as well. He’s in a better place. I like where we are offensively. We have to go out there and be more consistent, and I think he will be a big part of that.”
Even though the Mountaineers will use this week as a mock week, the true test will come in 11 days against Missouri.