Holgorsen knows Tigers will be a challenge

First-year West Virginia coach praises LSU, notes his team's toughness after three games.

Anybody searching the LSU locker room this week for any bulletin board material emanating from West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen might as well give up the chase.

The quirky and personable Mountaineers' coach has shagged one question after another about the Tigers this week and fielded them flawlessly from a respect standpoint.

Bottom line: Holgorsen says LSU is pretty darn good in a lot of different ways.


Holgorsen: 'Their defense is as good as anything I've seen on tape.'
A sampling of what Holgorsen has had to say this week:

--- "They have as good as d-line as there is in the country."

--- "Their team speed is unbelievable and they have team speed all three sides of the ball."

--- "We know we're not going to be able to wear them down. We're just going to have to execute and do our best to hang on."

--- "We've got to adjust the speed of the game. They're as fast a football team as there is out there."

--- "It looks to me that they're highly motivated and are playing with a lot of energy. They've been in some big games already this year and have guys who can rise to the occasion."

--- "Their defense is as good as anything I've seen on tape."

Now, that's just this week, and that's by design.

A disciple of the Hal Mumme/Mike Leach coaching family, Holgorsen has constantly told the West Virginia media that all games are equally as big to him and that he doesn't start looking at one team until the game in front of him is done.

Turn the calendar back to this summer, though, and Holgorsen was already acknowledging the challenge LSU posed to the program he took over this summer under less-than-ideal circumstances when Bill Stewart was fired.

Holgorsen was still focused, mind you. But he didn't hesitate to sing the praises of the Tigers and LSU coach Les Miles. Holgorsen spent last season as the offensive coordinator at Oklahoma State under Cowboys coach Mike Gundy. Before Gundy took over at OSU, he was Miles' OC for four seasons.

From 2001-04, Holgorsen coached against those Miles-led Cowboys teams as the offensive coordinator at Texas Tech under Leach.

"Les had a big impact on Mike Gundy from an organizational standpoint and toughness standpoint," Holgorsen said. "He coaches with an old-school, roll-up-your-sleeves, get-it-done type attitude.

"Those years at Tech his teams were probably the most physical team we faced year in and year out and that comes from him being an old offensive lineman. They feed off him and play good, hard, physical football."

When he got to WVU last spring, Holgorsen said he found a similar toughness in the Mountaineers, who haven't finished lower than second place in the Big East Conference since 2002 and have gone at least 5-2 in league games in each of those eight seasons.

"These guys before me have done a real good job of instilling toughness," Holgorsen said. "This is a tough group of kids who love to play football. Our practices are very physical and that's a great place to start if you're a coach.


'This is a tough group of kids who love to play football.'
"When I got here, I saw right away that defensively we had a chance to be pretty good. The defensive staff has all been here and all of them have been coordinators. We've got a good solid scheme and they've coached the hell out of these guys. That gives you a chance to win some games."

Holgorsen's introduction to the football culture at West Virginia also made an impression.

In his years at Texas Tech, Houston and Oklahoma State, Holgorsen was part of programs that got better and better but always played second fiddle in their respective states.

That's definitely not the case at WVU. Not only are the Mountaineers the biggest school in their state, they have been a standard-bearer in the Big East and are the only program in the league's current configuration that has ever played in a game to determine the national championship – although that was in 1988, well before West Virginia was in the league.

As LSU fans don't need to be reminded, the Mountaineers also would've been a likely participant in the 2007 BCS National Championship Game if not for a massive upset against Pittsburgh on the last weekend of the regular season.

"For nine years at Tech, we were picked anywhere from 4th-6th in the conference every year," Holgorsen said. "In the Big 12 at that time, you had to deal with Oklahoma, Texas and Texas A&M every year. Now we're going to be kind of the frontrunner here because what we've got is as good as anybody in the conference. The kids who come here have the sense that they should win every game and you want that."

WVU has won all three games this season with Holgorsen calling the shots.

The offense he implemented is part Mumme, part Leach, part Baylor coach Art Briles, part Houston coach Kevin Sumlin, but the biggest part Holgorsen.

The Mountaineers will throw the ball a bunch – they average 41.3 passes a game – and pile up a lot of yards (356 per game).

But this isn't the Texas Tech offense that Leach made famous for huge production but infamous for not being able to grind out yardage in goal-line situations or when the Red Raiders were trying to run out the clock.

"I guess the biggest thing is, we're a little but more conventional," Holgorsen said. "The (offensive line) splits aren't as wide. We have a little more reliance on the run game, a little more motion and movement. Mike's system works great but there was always kind of a ‘Here's what we do and we're never going to change' way of thinking. We're constantly evolving. We want to keep implementing more movement, more motions, more fast-paced, more slow-it-down – more variety than what we did at Tech."

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