That losing streak finally came to an end this past Friday, as the Mountaineers traveled to Ames, Iowa and knocked off Iowa State 31-24 thanks to a late 75-yard touchdown catch-and-run from star receiver Tavon Austin.
“I thought we’ve done a good job of just sticking together,” Holgorsen said on Monday’s Big 12 coaches teleconference. “Obviously, you hit some adversity, you stack a couple losses on top of each other, and you can go one direction or the other.
“We’ve got a lot of seniors on our team that it means a lot to, and they didn’t want to go out like that. They didn’t want to be remembered as the team that couldn’t handle the new conference or any of that. The guys stuck together, and they’ve worked hard ... I’m proud of how they fought through a bunch of adversity, said enough was enough and figured out how to win a football game.”
Austin and the rest of West Virginia’s seniors will play their final home game and final regular season game this Saturday afternoon at Milan Puskar Stadium, when 1-10 Kansas travels to Morgantown.
While the Mountaineers (6-5, 3-5 Big 12) have less to play for than many seasons in the recent past, Holgorsen said he still expects the game to be an important occasion for the seniors and fans.
“There’s about 22 seniors it means a lot to,” the second-year coach said. “I would assume our entire fan base would want to come watch Geno Smith and Tavon Austin. Obviously there’s more than those two, but those two are dynamic football players I don’t have to coach very much. They make all kinds of plays without us putting them in the proper position.
“It won’t be too emotional. These guys have played a lot of football. Yeah, it’s senior day, but the real senior day is the bowl game, and getting them prepared to send them off on a very positive note the way we did last year in the Orange Bowl.”
Holgorsen, rarely one to mince words, took a couple of thinly veiled shots at Kansas coach Charlie Weis. While at Notre Dame, Weis reportedly told his team it would have a “decided schematic advantage” thanks to his experience in the NFL ranks.
Since Weis’ firing at Notre Dame, the line has been used as a jab of sorts. Holgorsen used it himself on Monday’s call.
“They’re going to coach them up,” Holgorsen said of the KU staff. “We’re going to be at a major schematic disadvantage going against their coaches. They’ve got coaches with tremendous pedigrees who have coached everybody in the world and coached for decades and decades.
“So we’re going to have to regroup out there real quick, come together with a good game plan and be able to play at the highest level. Our coaches are going to be challenged this week, to be able to match what we’re going to go against. So we’re going to have to regroup, get out there and try to get our seventh win.”
Asked if he preferred a bowl game closer to home -- the New Era Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx -- or one of the Big 12’s more traditional bowl game locales, in Texas or the far west, Holgorsen said it didn’t matter much to him.
“West Virginia has always brought a good group,” the head coach said. “The fan base has traveled well for bowl games, whether they’re up and down the east coast, or they’ve had games in Texas before. I think we had 10 or 15,000 people at the game down in Austin this year.
“West Virginia has always traveled well, and I feel quite confident that would be the case no matter where it is. Travel is travel, and bowl games are bowl games. There’s all kinds of good bowl games out there. I haven’t concerned myself with it. I haven’t talked to the team about it all. Becoming bowl eligible is a big step, and then after that what game you go to, it’s going to be fantastic no matter where you go.”
In terms of Saturday’s game against the 1-10 Jayhawks, run defense will likely be the key for WVU, as the Kansas passing game has been a minimal part of the offense all season, but especially in recent weeks.
Instead, KU gets much of its production from running backs Tony Pierson, James Sims, and Taylor Cox, who have combined to rush for more than 2,100 yards and 15 touchdowns this season.
“It will be challenging,” Holgorsen said. “You never know what you’re going to get. They kind of have a flavor of the week due to the fact schematically, you’re dealing with a group of coaches that understand football as good or better than anybody in the country. What we’ve got to do is figure out what their plan is going to be.
“Defensively, football is a lot about effort and staying in your gaps and getting off blocks and making tackles. To me, that’s probably a bit more important than any scheme that people can come up with. Football has been played over 100 years, and there’s a bunch of stuff out there that we’ve seen before. We’ve got to tackle good. We’ve got to get in our gaps. If their plan is going to be to run the ball, which clearly that’s what they’ve been going to over the last three weeks, we’ve got to do a great job of what I just said.”