"That looked like the same defense I have been going against for the last five weeks," Holgorsen said. "I never counted out those guys. This is the third year in the current system we have, and Tony Gibson is one of the top defensive coordinators on the country. We lost a lot of guys, but their back-ups, it was time for them to step in and do some things. We are starting nine seniors and a couple of juniors. Our depth is good. We have recruited well and added transfers that have helped. We are in position to pick right back up where we left off last year. I'm proud of those guys, but not surprised."
West Virginia held a subpar Missouri offense to just three meaningful points, and were on the verge of holding the Tigers to the fewest points of any Power Five opponent other than Kansas during the Holgorsen era until a late score inside two minutes. As it was, UM managed to rack up 462 yards of offense, but it took 100 plays to reach that number. Missouri was largely out of sync passing, and missed several chances to connect on passes in the intermediate game that more polished offenses will complete. But WVU was never truly challenged, and even managed a stand after William Crest's fumble was recovered at the seven-yard line.
Missouri ran three plays, and went zero feet after getting stacked up at the line twice and throwing incomplete to the end zone. When Tucker McCann hooked the kick wide left, WVU held on to what seemed then a precarious 13-3 lead at the half. The Mountaineers then went 80 yards in seven plays to open the third quarter, boosting the lead to 20-3 on Justin Crawford's one-yard scoring run. The Tigers never threatened again until the final two minutes.
Holgorsen said defensive end Christian Brown and sam linebacker Justin Arndt played particularly well. Brown finished with three tackles, and helped limit Missouri running back Alex Ross - a transfer from Oklahoma - to just 67 yards on 18 carries, an average of 3.7 yards per touch. Arndt was named WVU's Defensive Player of the Game after tying for the team lead in tackles with eight, including the line sack of UM quarterback Drew Lock. Arndt came untouched off the edge in a five-wide set and hit Lock from the blindside, dropping the sophomore for nine-yard loss. It was part of two tackles for loss for the former walk-on, who will battle with Xavier Preston for the starting job this season.
"That's an example of what I said; It's guys who have been in the program five years now," Holgorsen said. "They understand what they are doing and it's important to them. Those were two (standouts) and I'm expecting others to do the same moving forward."
The Mountaineers should have plenty of chances when they play host to an overmatched Youngstown State team this Saturday at 2 p.m. The Penguins, once among the elite level of FCS programs, have fallen off that pace recently, but still have enough talent to compete for conference titles at that level. Frankly, however, this game is more about West Virginia. The Mountaineers, 13-0 all-time against FCS opponents, must tighten up coverage in the secondary, and keep developing the chemistry required to mix and match nine new starters going into more difficult portions of the schedule.
The contest comes at a nice team, sandwiched between the challenge of an SEC opponent, and before an open week followed by a neutral site game against BYU, also 1-0 after a last-second win over Arizona. Youngstown State (1-0) showed some offense in the opener, beating Duquesne 45-10 behind 610 total yards and an average of 8.3 yards per play. YSU used a some balance, but primarily relied on a ground game that amassed 394 yards and three scores. Running back Tevin McCaster rushed for 107 yards while three other backs had at least 74 yards, including Jody Webb's 96 yards on just 11 carries. Quarterback Ricky Davis completed 12-of-16 passes for 187 yards and three touchdowns without an interception, while the defense limited the Dukes to 222 total yards in head coach Bo Pelini's second season opener at the school.
Holgorsen was also asked about Oklahoma's 54-yard field goal attempt, which fell short and was returned for a score by Houston defensive back Brandon Wilson to give the Cougars a 26-17 third quarter lead in a game they won 33-23.
"We cover that every week when we back up to kicking long field goals," Holgorsen said. "That's something we focus on having those guys cover. Those big dudes don't like covering much, I'll tell you that. You have to be careful about how long of a field goal you take because you are putting yourself in that situation."
He was also asked about Texas' 50-47 double overtime win over No. 10 Notre Dame, and if the conference needed the victory after OU's loss. The unranked Longhorns went ahead 31-14, then gave up 21 straight points to trail with 10 minutes to go in what developed into a wild fourth quarter at Daryl K. Royal Memorial Stadium. Both teams scored touchdowns in the first overtime before the Irish settled for a field goal to start the second session. Texas won it when quarterback Tyrone Swoopes plunged into the end zone from six yards out on the fifth play of what was the final drive.
"I think all Big 12 coaches probably think alike on this," Holgorsen said. "Anytime the Big 12 is facing another conference, we are everybody's biggest fan. I was rooting for Texas to win that game. Anytime the Big 12 plays in bowl games, the bigger the better. I think we are all rooting for those teams within the conference to win."