Depth, experience a key for WVU

When West Virginia entered the Big 12 a few years ago, Dana Holgorsen expected his team to experience some difficult bumps in the road at times.

In a conference that is as fast-paced as the Big 12 is, with physical, fast defenses and even faster offenses, it's a league that forces teams to rely on having a lot of quality depth to roll in and out of the game at any given time.

And after two years of not having that depth, it's getting closer and closer to being where it needs to be for West Virginia to truly compete with the best teams in the league. That was more apparent than ever Saturday when the Mountaineers pulled off a 41-27 upset against then-No. 4 Baylor. The Bears had looked nearly unstoppable early in the season and it took WVU all it had to battle through the adversity it faced to win the game.

But that's where the depth came in to play. With talented young players ready to step up and experienced upperclassmen who have already been through the rigors of Big 12 play, this team appears ready to step up to most challenges.

"We've got guys that have played in this league for three years now. A couple years later they have experience and they've been there," Holgorsen said on Monday's Big 12 coaches teleconference. "Recruiting has been better because of the Big 12 brand, so you're able to add some younger guys into the mix that have talent. You're able to get guys like Edward Muldrow, Brandon Golson, Shaq Riddick and Jaylon Myers come in from the junior college and FCS transfer ranks and be able to be productive as well."

Last Saturday, the big challenge came in the form of injuries, as cornerbacks Daryl Worley and Terrell Chestnut both missed the second half with injuries as did running back Rushel Shell. Holgorsen praised the play and effort of Icky Banks and Ricky Rumph for stepping up in the absence of the other two corners against the talented Baylor receiving corps while running backs Wendell Smallwood, Dreamius Smith and Andrew Buie carried the load for the Mountaineers on the ground when Shell went down.

Having players step up like that illustrated exactly why that depth is so important when the Mountaineers get into a physical showdown like that one.

"They're all day-to-day. It was a very physical game, we knew it was going to be a physical game and we wanted to play it that way," he said. "I thought we played physical, we played the type of game that I felt like we needed to in order to win. But with that said, it was a physical game so we got guys banged up. We're going into Week 8, and that's part of the deal.

"Guys have got to do their part, they've got to get in the training room and get healthy and if they can go, then great and if they can't we'll need other guys to step in there and be able to play at a high level if we're going to want to win. With that said, we didn't lose anybody long-term. There's a list of guys who are banged up but nobody has been ruled out."

Holgorsen, once again, talked about how proud he was of the defense and the job that first-year defensive coordinator Tony Gibson has done to get his unit ready every week. The Mountaineers kept Baylor at bay and confused one of the most dangerous offenses in the country.

"The players play for him. They love him. He brings a tremendous amount of energy to the room, to the sidelines, he's competitive," Holgorsen said of Gibson. "He's doing a great job. His knowledge of what we're doing defensively, I don't think can be underestimated. He's comfortable running this scheme we're running. He understands the calls and has the confidence in the guys based on how they're playing, the experience, the effort and the energy they're playing with."

And although West Virginia has a couple of players on pace for record-breaking seasons, Holgorsen said he doesn't like to pay much attention to the stats. It's part of his mentality of playing the hot hand, and when a guy gets going they like to ride that success while they can. For WVU this year, that has meant heavy doses of Clint Trickett to Kevin White. The two are on pace to smash school single-season records and have become one of the best combos in the country.

"I don't really pay attention to it, to be honest. There are a bunch of stats that I pay attention to, but total yards and who has what doesn't really matter to me. We just have to continue to have that depth, have guys that can stay fresh and if a guy is hot and playing at a high level, they're going to play a lot," Holgorsen said. "That's what Kevin is doing right now. If somthing happens to him, then we've got to be able to put somebody in there that can perform to a level where we can make plays and be successful. That, to me, is how i judge it. Other stats, like third-down stats, turnovers, what you're doing in the red zone and how many negative plays you have - those are the stats that matter. Not to take anything away form Kevin and what he's doing or from Clint with what he's doing, but I like to talk about the stuff that matters, which is efficient offensive football."


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