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West Virginia Head Coach Dana Holgorsen Weighs In With Thoughts and Opinions On The Weekend That Was

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - West Virginia's performances over the first two games have warranted mixed reviews from Dana Holgorsen.

The head coach said he was "pleasantly surprised" with the play of his receivers, who racked up 363 yards and four scores in the win over Youngstown State. Shelton Gibson had a career day, amassing 171 yards and touchdown catches of 54 and 57 yards in setting new personal bests. Daikiel Shorts worked the intermediate game again, snaring another half dozen passes for 93 yards and a score one week after setting career highs with eight catches for 131 yards in the win over Missouri. Ka'Raun White finished with five catches for 88 yards and a touchdown, while Gary Jennings caught one pass for 11 yards. Running backs Rushel Shell and Kennedy McKoy each had a reception, McKoy's going for a 21-yard touchdown to cap the 38-21 victory.

"I'm pleased with the progress," Holgorsen said. "Daikiel Shorts is as good of a possession receiver as I have had. He's been fantastic over the middle and extremely reliable. We were waiting for guys to break the games open. Shelton Gibson had the opportunity to do that this week and took advantage. Ka'Raun White has become consistent. Guys have to be able to do that every week and change games every week. I'm pleasantly surprised with where they are, but they have a long way to go to be where some of the ones I had were at."

Quarterback Skyler Howard completed 20-of-33 passes for the five touchdowns, matching his career high for TD passes set in the Cactus Bowl against Arizona State. It was part of a 624 yards of total offense, the 13th-most in school history. The Mountaineers ran for 235 yards to balance the 389 off the arm of Howard. But Holgorsen said he wasn't pleased with the offensive line play, particularly in pass protection. While Howard wasn't sacked - the line has yet to allow a sack this season - Holgorsen said that was more a product of the quarterback play.

"I'm probably more happy with the lack of negative plays than I am the pass protection aspect of it," he sad. "I give Skyler a ton of credit for what we have done in the passing game as far as getting the ball out of his hands. We haven't been holding on to it. He has been making things happen. We have to get a lot better at the tackle spot. We have played really good ends. Everybody talks about the guy at Missouri (Charles Harris), but those two cats who played for Youngstown State (are good). Give Skyler a lot of credit for what we are doing in the pass game."

YSU's Derek Rivers, the school's all-time leader in sacks and a preseason FCS All-American - and fellow end Avery Moss combined or eight tackles, all solo, and were able to make Howard uncomfortable in the pocket early before Marcell Lazard and Colton McKivitz adjusted. Lazard, in particular, had a difficult time in the first half, and was often both pushed back by the bull rush and evaded by a series of swim and rip moves by Rivers. The junior's technique and footwork were far better over the third and fourth quarters, and not coincidentally, that's when West Virginia's offense put up 24 of the last 31 points in the game.

The Mountaineers now have an off week before playing BYU in Landover, Md. on Sept. 24. The Cougars are 1-1 after an 18-16 win against Arizona on a last-second field goal, and an equally gripping 20-19 loss against Utah when a late two-point conversion failed. Brigham Young has turned more to the run game than the pass, a departure from their historic roots under legendary head coach Lavell Edwards, but have shown the ability to challenge vertically with 6-4 wideout Moroni Laulu-Pututau,  who averages 11.7 yards per catch. Running back Jamaal Williams has rushed for 220 yards over two games, with a 5.4 yards-per-carry average. Quarterback Taysom Hill is 42-of-68 with three interceptions and a touchdown.

And while BYU will get a long look, there are other goals over the bye week - the first of two over the first six weeks of the season.

"Go recruiting," Holgorsen said. "When you have a bye week - there's no such thing as an off week - you gotta get out and go recruiting. Be out there and be visible and watch games and evaluate. All bye weeks are the same. We're going to go ahead and get ready for our next opponent - we got a good team on the horizon with BYU - then give the kids a little time off. They don't get a chance to get away, so when you have that chance, you get them away a bit."

 Holgorsen was also asked about the performance of the Big 12 thus far. Texas' week one defeat of Notre Dame in double overtime has been the highlight; Oklahoma lost to Houston in a marquee match-up last week, while week two was worse. Then-No 15 TCU lost at home to Arkansas, Arizona State outlasted Texas Tech, Ohio beat Kansas, Iowa topped Iowa State for the Cy-Hawk Trophy and Central Michigan shocked then-No. 22 Oklahoma State with a last second pitch-catch-and-toss score. It has left the conference with just three undefeated teams in Baylor, Texas and West Virginia.

"I think it has everything to do with the nature of who we are playing," Holgorsen said. "Schedules are changing. Nobody is playing three cupcakes."

Holgorsen then quickly added an addendum.

"Well, there's a few that are."

The prime Big 12 example being a Baylor program that avoids solid out of conference games like it's playing dodge ball. The Bears will run the gauntlet of Northwestern State, SMU and Rice this season, and have matched up against the likes of Lamar, Buffalo, Wofford, Louisiana-Monroe, Sam Houston State and Stephen F. Austin over the last five years. Baylor has never played a regular season Power Five out of conference game in the last seven years. The last major conference program BU played was Connecticut in 2009, with the Huskies winning 30-22.

In the same time frame - from 2009 through this season - West Virginia has played Alabama, Colorado and Missouri once, Auburn and LSU twice and Maryland six times. WVU is 8-5 over the 13-game span.

"Everybody plays challenging games now," Holgorsen said. "When Power Five plays Power Five, guys are going to lose. I think we are doing a better job with that, playing Power Five teams. With that said, teams are going to lose You can't have it both ways. Do you want challenging out of conference schedules, or do you want undefeated teams with cupcake schedules?"

Holgorsen also addressed the ruling that officials incorrectly awarded Central Michigan an extra down on which the Chippewas scored on a 51-yard Hail Mary that was caught at the eight-yard line by receiver Cooper Rush, then lateraled to teammate Corey Willis, who beat the OSU defenders to the goal line. 

"We want everything to be fair," Holgorsen said. "That said, referees are human and they are going to make mistakes at times. If you sit and question everything, it takes things out of their hands. We have had these discussions with replay and things. It's an unfortunate situation, no question. You're trying to keep the human element in it, but replay has taken that away. I don't know why this would be any different.


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