The Mountaineers, now just eight days from kickoff, have switched from preseason into season mode. And while the shift is subtle, covering such basics as finalizing the two-deep and polishing off the mock prep week that just was, it's an imperative part of the overall preparation process.
Head coach Dana Holgorsen noted Tuesday that WVU finished the previous week with their final scrimmage, held Aug. 20. The team ran approximately 90 plays and attempted to shore up the depth, focusing mainly on the second team players. Holgorsen also previewed the week, noting that the coaching staff would "put them through exactly what they are going to do through a game week, 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. (Tuesday we started) preparing for Missouri."
West Virginia is now deep into preparations for the Tigers, who went 5-7 last season and lost six of their last seven. Holgorsen said the staff wanted to "teach our kids how to practice on Tuesday, how to practice on Wednesday, what the routine is going to be like Thursday, travel Friday and then come in on Saturday and have a game routine. We will go through all of the pre-game 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
"I feel good about where we are. We have good depth. 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."
The Mountaineers also seem mentally refocused after a poor offensive outing in their second scrimmage. Holgorsen said starting senior quarterback Skyler Howard looks more confident and consistent compared to last year.
"Part of that is he’s more trustworthy with the people around him," Holgorsen said. "There’s more familiarity. The relationship that he and Tyler (Orlosky) have 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 (from last season). 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."
Despite the season starting soon, some position battles remain. Junior offensive tackle Marcell Lazard was named the starter at right tackle, but redshirt freshman Colton McKivitz will be rotated in. On the defensive side, the cornerback battle is more wide open. Four seniors in Antonio Crawford, Nana Kyeremeh, Maurice Fleming and Rasul Douglas will be involved in the team's cornerback packages, but how many snaps they and younger corners receive remains to be seen.
"You have nickel packages where guys are going into the game," Holgorsen said. "You have guys that need a rest, maybe they will take a series off here and there. Mike Daniels will play. We have Jordan Adams. We have Elijah Battle, we have a lot of bodies there that need to keep practicing and keep playing. What ends up happening in the first game with who starts and what the reps are, I will be shocked if it doesn’t change between game one and game two."
The Mountaineers also brought in four new assistant coaches. This means changes in how the staff communicates and game plans, an aspect that was addressed in recent staff meetings. The on-field and in-box coaching assignment were also set.
"We kind of went over that last Saturday, and we will do it again this Saturday as a apart of the mock game. Coach (Joe) Wickline will be upstairs in the box talking to Coach (Ron) Crook. Coach (Tyron) Carrier will be on the sidelines like Lonnie (Galloway) was, doing all of the motivational stuff. Defensively, Mark Scott will be up in the box and relaying down to the field through Coach (Matt) Caponi, who will be on the sidelines as well as Coach Blue (Adams)."
With a new season comes a yet-to-be-discovered personality of a team with players coming in, leaving, and returning players maturing. Holgorsen admitted he can't tell what his teams overall personality is at the moment, but that he has a hunch that West Virginia is "a pretty blue collared, hardworking bunch that’s determined to get out there and out-work people. That sort of thing. I hope that’s who they are. That’s who they think they are. That’s who I think they are right now. I hope that continues throughout the course of the season. It’s a long season and teams change. I think we would all like to see a little bit of consistency with who we are."