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West Virginia's Offensive Principles Based In Early BYU Passing Attack

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - West Virginia's offense will get a glimpse of its roots this Saturday.

Dana Holgorsen's passing attack is versed in the very ideals that were instilled at BYU by LaVell Edwards in the early 1980s. Edwards knew his team was outmanned physically, and he needed an offense that could move the football without relying on brute force along the line, which was what most successful major programs had utilized, dating to the wishbone at Oklahoma and Nebraska's option attack, among others. So getting the ball out quick and taking advantage of wherever defenses were weakest were prime goals, and Edwards and offensive coordinator Norm Chow rode that and a string of highly-touted quarterbacks to six 11-plus win seasons in seven years, including the 1984 national championship.

Hal Mumme saw similar issues when he was at West Texas A&M and UTEP, and took some of BYU's principles into his new job at Iowa Wesleyan, where Holgorsen played for two season before beginning his coaching career with Mumme at Valdosta State in 1993. By then, current Washington State head coach Mike Leach, a 1983 BYU grad, had worked on staff at Iowa Wesleyan and Valdosta State, adding to the offensive make-up. Mumme and Leach would go on to rewrite the record books at Kentucky, and Holgorsen would eventually join Leach again at Texas Tech, where the ideals were further honed.

From those roots sprang a new style of football, which engulfed the high school ranks in Texas and fueled the rise of the passing game in the Big 12. And it's the reason why West Virginia will see some mirror images when it faces BYU and offensive coordinator Ty Detmer. Detmer, a San Antonio native, won the Heisman Trophy at BYU in 1990 before a 13-year NFL career, and is in his first season at his alma mater.

"Still to this day we have some stuff in our playbook that goes back to the BYU days," Holgorsen said. "I was with (Hal Mumme) two years at Iowa Wesleyan, and we talked a lot about BYU. When coach Leach joined us at Iowa Wesleyan, he obviously has a degree from BYU. A lot of our principles in the passing game were a lot of those things that those great quarterbacks were doing from BYU. We took them and stole them and we will use them to this day."

Brigham Young (1-2) has struggled on offense thus far, managing just 18, 19 and 14 points over its first three games in a win over Arizona and losses to Utah and UCLA. But it has among the better defenses West Virginia will face this season in allowing just 111 rushing yards per game, and an average of 3.3 yards per carry. The Cougars have given up 17.7 points peer game to rank 30th in the NCAA; WVU is 20th with 16 points allowed.

"This is the first time we have played away from home and they have had a very challenging schedule," Holgorsen said. "The competition they played has been unbelievable. They have been in three tight games. This will most likely be a tight game, and we need to handle that. Then they will be physical. They are a physical outfit and we need to be able to handle that."

A key to that will be getting just enough from the ground game to keep the offense balanced. West Virginia has lacked bug plays in the run game, the issues being equal parts defensive alignment, blocking and the backs pressing at times. While Rushel Shell was effective - Holgorsen said he had his best game as a Mountaineer versus Youngstown State - the Mountaineers need a speed back as a big-play threat. That figures to be Justin Crawford, who showcased exceptional burst and solid vision against Missouri before a second game slump.

"I think he has the potential to make a difference in what we are doing," Holgorsen said. "He had a good camp and picked things up easily. He had a great first game at Missouri, then tried way too hard against Youngstown State. The two guys are feeding off each other. Them doing that and bringing different things to the table is going to have an impact. Once (Crawford) gets more comfortable and settles in to what we do, he will have more opportunities to show that he can make a difference at this level."

Holgorsen also addressed West Virginia's passing game, one that has racked up 321 yards per game while anchoring the 32 points per game average. Quarterback Skyler Howard has completed 43-of-68 passes (63.2 percent) for 642 yards and five touchdowns. He has been intercepted twice, but has yet to be sacked by a line that is performing well despite continued shuffling and a key injury to starting left tackle Yodny Cajuste. And the Mountaineers are showing good distribution, capitalizing on Shelton Gibson's ability to stretch the field with Daikiel Shorts' in the intermediate game and Ka'Raun White a mix of both.

"The offensive line is doing its job, and the quarterback is doing a good job of getting us in the right play," Holgorsen said. "We gotta have the potential to go downfield when the safeties are down playing the run, ad when BYU drops people, we have to his those intermediate routes. We are doing a good job averaging more yards than we did last year to this point. Jovon Durante is a guy who has proven capable (of doing more). He just needs to settle down and let the game come to him. He brings an element to our inside receivers that we haven't had in the past."

Holgorsen also said he addressed players dropping balls prior to getting in the end zone, a mental blunder of epic proportions that has plagued multiple teams this season. He made all of WVU's skill position players run "as fast as they could through the goal line and hand the ball to a manager who dressed up like an official. So if it happens to us, it's not for lack of addressing it. I don't know what else I could do."

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