Offensive numbers suited to Holgorsen’s style
SHEPHERDSTOWN — Like so many football assistants at the college level, Head Coach Dana Holgorsen bounced his way from place to place like the metal ball in an arcade pinball game. Small college. Then reaching the bigger stages at Houston, Texas Tech and Oklahoma State.
His reputation as an offensive innovator was growing.
Finally, WVU athletic director Oliver Luck brought him to Morgantown to be the coach-in-waiting to replace Bill Stewart, a problem-tormented coach, despite a series of 9-4 records that didn’t seem to satisfy enough people.
Holgorsen eventually replaced Stewart, who resigned under immense pressure, following a short series of media reports that entangled him in alleged attempts to smear his already-named successor’s name.
In his first season, Holgorsen’s high-flying Mountaineers grabbed an Orange Bowl bid as Big East champions. In the Orange Bowl, West Virginia crushed Dabo Swinney and his Clemson Tigers, 70-33, culminating a 10-3 season.
Much of the controversy concerning Stewart, Luck and Holgorsen settled to the hidden bottom of the glass.
The next season, a wet, cold, just plain nasty late-December day in 2012 saw West Virginia lose in the Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium. Some of the bloom was off Holgorsen’s rose.
After a 4-8 record in 2013, there was no bowl of any kind, and soft rumblings began to waft over the golf courses and expensive homes out on Cheat Lake.
A loss in the Liberty Bowl completed a 7-6 season, a winning one in 2014 but also without much fanfare on or off the playing field.
A one-point victory over Arizona State in the Cactus Bowl brought an 8-5 record to the 2015 ledger.
All the while, Holgorsen’s teams spiced the scoreboards with points and high-octane total offense yardage. He had been hired by Luck to produce fireworks . . . and victories. His lighted skies of points outdid his won-loss records.
Even with a 10-2 record the next year, West Virginia didn’t arrive in a major bowl and traveled to Orlando to play North Carolina State in the Russell Athletic Bowl. The Wolfpack won that one.
Holgorsen’s bowl record was 2-3, putting him in about the same category as Gene Corum (0-1), Jim Carlen (1-0), Bobby Bowden (1-1), Don Nehlen (4-9), Rich Rodriguez (2-2) and Stewart (3-2) as Mountaineer coaches who had been to the post-season festivities since 1964.
The Camping World Bowl in Orlando was this team’s destination. The record was 8-3 before meeting Syracuse. Smiles were wide, Flying “WV” signs were in evidence. School President E. Gordon Gee and his trademark bow tie were awash in the lyrics of the song “Country Roads”.
However, late-season losses to Oklahoma State (49-45) and Oklahoma (59-56) left some stains. As in the past, West Virginia could score bunches of points, but some opponents could drown the Mountaineer defense in even larger bunches of points.
Holgorsen was back on familiar turf at the Camping World Bowl. His offensive coordinator, Jake Spavital, had taken a head coaching position at Texas State, so Holgorsen called his own offensive plays against the Orange in the bowl game.
The unusual circumstances — his quarterback sat out the game, as did a starting offensive lineman — and the absence of an injured receiver, had an effect on Holgorsen’s play selections and how dramatic he wanted to be at times.
But he was obviously happy to be thrust back into a situation much like the one that had gotten him noticed . . . and gotten him to Morgantown as a first-time head coach.