Mountaineers Get Jump Start On Terps

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – A smorgasbord of smatterings from head coach Dana Holgorsen as West Virginia gets deeper into preparation for the border battle Maryland.

Holgorsen, on the Big 12 conference call, was asked about the tempo of his offense and how he approaches the feel for what pace best operates in certain situations. His explanation was that the variation, much like being able to run multiple sets, alignments and plays with the same 11 personnel, was as valuable a tool as was the tempo itself. It wasn’t, in other words, as much about the speed as the ability to use the desired pace to match what the game dictated.

“I like that I can control something out there,” Holgorsen said, “because I can’t control much. If you go slow and stay slow, or go fast and stay fast (teams adapt).”

Maryland, off to a tortoise-like start early, seemed to fare better in the 35-17 home win over South Florida. The Terps (2-1) dropped a surprising 48-27 loss to Bowling Green on Sept. 12 in a game in which Caleb Rowe replaced Perry Hills in the fourth quarter. Rowe promptly threw two interceptions in three passes, including an egregious overthrow, yet was named the starter going into the contest with the Bulls. Rowe finished 21 of 33 with four touchdowns to go with three interceptions and three fumbles. It was, indeed, the definition of a mixed bag, yet head coach Randy Edsall has decided to stick with Rowe as the starter against West Virginia.

“They’re a good football team that had one bad quarter against Bowling Green,” Holgorsen said. “Other than that, they’ve been solid on all three sides of the ball. It looked like Rowe gave them a spark last week. They switched a few receivers as well. It’s a solid, balanced team on offense. They’ve been moving the ball and scoring points. And it’s an experienced defense; they’ve simplified what they’re doing, which has helped. They are physical at getting to the ball, and they’re fast. The special teams are making a difference with players like (cornerback and punt returner Will) Likely and (placekicker Brad) Craddock.”

The Terrapins rolled up 411 yards of offense with 10 different players catching a pass, led by Lavern Jacobs’ eight for 107 yards (13.4 ypc). UM finished nine of 17 on third and fourth downs, and held USF to just 60 yards passing while the teams amassed a combined 20 penalties – Maryland had a dozen – for 225 yards in a sloppy effort by both. Likely was held to just 22 yards on two returns, and the Terps’ ground game was mediocre, averaging just 3.4 yards per carry.

West Virginia (2-0) had a bye week, and scheduled a heavy lift for Thursday, paired with off days for the players on Friday and Saturday while the coaches recruited. The Mountaineers then reconvened Sunday for a practice in an effort to jumpstart game week preparations. WVU will not have another open week until late October, though that’s before the Thursday road game against TCU on the 29th.

“I’d prefer the bye week after a few more weeks rather than just two,” Holgorsen said. “We worked on the things we needed to improve upon and then let the kids be normal for a few days. There are not many opportunities throughout the course of the season you can let you players get away from it. And we went recruiting.

“We focus on east coast, and bordering states like Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Maryland there’s some pretty good football. Then we go up and down the east coast into Georgia and Florida. The biggest challenge is we are getting 90-some percent of our kids outside of West Virginia, so we are attracting kids who weren’t a legacy or who grew up watching West Virginia. But we have a kind of national appeal, which helps outside the state.”

Holgorsen was asked about how he handles the special teams, notably the field goal situation. The answer is, he doesn’t – at least in terms of live play.

“We work it every week, do it offensively and defensively,” he said. “It’s every Friday in our game script stuff. I think the tricky part is you don’t want to do that live because you have bodies jumping and guys getting tangled. If we are live on offense, our scout team defense is not, and if our defense is live, our scout team offense isn’t.”

It’s the same regarding the punt return and coverage, the latter expected to be tested this week by Likely, an All-American and All-Big Ten selection who has already taken two punt returns for scores. Likely returned a punt 69 yards against the Mountaineers last season in the 40-37 West Virginia win. Maryland also had a 77-yard pass and a 75-yard run in a game full of big plays. For its part, WVU scored on passes of 44, 43 and 36 yards, and got a safety and Josh Lambert’s 47-yard field goal as time expired for the win.

Lambert is 5-of-6 this season, the lone miss a 54-yarder against Liberty just before the half. He and UM’s Brad Craddock were Lou Groza award finalists last season, with Craddock winning the honor. Craddock is also 5-of-6, the miss a 19-yarder against Bowling Green. Both players lead their teams in scoring.

“Two quality kickers with strong legs,” Holgorsen said. “Josh has been solid since he got here. He’s a hard worker and he keeps himself in shape and he goes out with the mentality that he will be successful all the time. I guess that’s a good mentality for kickers. I try and stay out of all that. (Assistant coach) Joe DeForest does a good job of handling those guys’ mentality. I’m going to stay out of it.”

As expected, Holgorsen was also probed for his take on Kliff Kingsbury’s comments following Texas Tech’s win over Arkansas on Saturday. Kingsbury had choice words for Razorbacks’ head coach Bret Bielema, who has vouched for slowing down the fast-paced offenses Kingsbury grew up in under his father, a Texas high school coach, and the style he now runs with the Raiders. Bielema believes the offenses are soft, and that the added plays cause additional injuries; he also doesn’t think they are effective, though one wouldn’t know it by Tech’s 35 points and 486 yards.

“I’m happy for Kliff and Texas Tech,” Holgorsen said. “That’s a big win for them and a big win for the Big 12 over another SEC foe. I’ve seen spread offenses be soft and I’ve seen older, pro-set teams be soft as well. If you coach them to be soft, they’ll be soft. If you coach them not to be, they won’t be. I’d like to think we are as physical as any team out there.”

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