If WVU's 48-17 win at Texas Tech started national whispers about the team, the volume has increased substantially after the 34-10 victory over TCU, one in which the Mountaineer defense again held among the premiere offenses in the Big 12 far below season averages in both points and yardage. West Virginia jumped to No. 12 after its first conference road win, then managed to secure a place inside the Top 10 in both major polls after the latest victory. The secret is no more. Now the challenge, besides the obvious, is to keep focus where it belongs.
"You feel good about it at the end of the year if it turns out the way you wanted it to," Holgorsen said. "It's hard to win in college football. There's a lot of good teams out there who have lost games. We are fortunate not to be one of those. You are only as good as your next game. Our team understands that. We aren't worried about rankings, about where we were preseason. They are only worried about where we will be at the end and the only way to do that is to prepare your tail off and get ready to play the next one."
Which is a match-up against an Oklahoma State team that has put up at least 38 points in its three Big 12 wins thus far. After an early setback against Central Michigan on a shocking last-second play, OSU has won four of five, the lone defeat on the road to to now-No. 8 Baylor 35-24. It's difficult to tell exactly how good these Cowboys (5-2, 3-1) are. The numbers indicate above-average performances nearly across the board - OSU is fourth in the Big 12 in both scoring offense and defense - but the schedule of Southeast Louisiana, Iowa State, Kansas, Central Michigan and a Texas team at 3-4 overall reveals a potential lack of competition.
Still, Oklahoma State sits alone in fourth place in the current league standings, and Stillwater could represent the most difficult road game remaining for the Mountaineers, especially as WVU should have the full focus and ire of OSU's players and fan base on Saturday. Among the keys to winning, perhaps even more so on the road, is avoidance of turnovers, especially in poor situations. It's an aspect West Virginia has excelled at of late, sitting at plus-three on the season after forcing 11 and committing eight. WVU is plus-four over its last two games, scoring 14 points after opponent turnovers while never losing the ball themselves.
"I'm talking about it. It has been a key, especially in the last two games," Holgorsen said. "We have eight in six games. Two of those happened right before the end of the second quarter against Missouri with back-up quarterbacks in there. Skyler (Howard) has done a nice job protecting the ball in the air and the wide receivers are fighting for it. It's the same formula."
Holgorsen was also asked about how the addition of offensive coordinator Joe Wickline has influenced the offense, and the beginning of the coaching relationship between the two when both were on Oklahoma State's staff for one season in 2010, the year before Holgorsen accepted the head coach in waiting job at West Virginia. OSU's offense led the nation that year in total yardage (537.6 per game) and was second in passing (354.7) and third in scoring (44.9 ppg).
"I think Joe is a hard worker and I knew he would do a good job with the game planning aspect of it," Holgorsen said. "He does a good job figuring what to do in protection and the run game. We had the offense pretty well set, but he has helped with the game planning aspect off things and helped with the tackles. They have made a lot of improvement in pass protection and we have a junior college tight end in Trevon Wesco who is developing as well. I knew what I was getting with him and I think he has helped our offense and overall game in general."
Holgorsen was also delved into some aspects of his defense after Texas Tech helped set an FBS record for most combined yards in a 66-59 loss to Oklahoma. Each team had 854 yards of offense for 1,708 total while TTU quarterback Patrick Mahomes set the NCAA record for total offense in a game with 819 yards, 734 via the pass. Mahomes' 88 passes fell one short of tying the national record. Holgorsen was asked if the game reminded him of West Virginia's initial Big 12 contest, a 70-63 win over Baylor that helped propel the Mountaineers to No. 8 in the nation before a collapse.
"We have done a lot of things around here to try and prevent things like that, both offensively and defensively," Holgorsen said. "I can't say that it's a whole lot different than what it was last year. I thought we had a really good defense last year. There were a couple games in October where we gave up yardage and points, but we finished second in the league (in total defense) and the numbers aren't that much different. I think recruiting and the overall aspect of how we ply has changed over the last four years. We have a defensive coordinator in Tony Gibson who is doing a good job and a staff who is doing a god job.
"Last year we had four secondary guys who all went to the NFL. Those guys were good, and I don't see a whole lot different now. We had really good players last year but the ball didn't bounce our way and we had an awful schedule. Those guys left and we replaced them with guys who are capable. It looks the same to me. I said that in camp and I'm glad everybody else is starting to take notice as well."