“His completion percentage wasn’t as high as it has been due to the quality of the opponent,” the head coach noted Monday morning on the Big East Conference coaches’ teleconference. “But what we were able to do was, you know, make a bunch of plays. He, for the most part, you know, went where we want to go with the ball.
“It’s a constant, never-ending improvement situation. He’s got to continue to get on the same page with me and understand exactly where we want to go with the ball. So we’re happy with his progress, but there’s always room for improvement.”
Given another opportunity to discuss Smith’s development in his offense shortly after, Holgorsen again praised the junior signal-caller from Florida. But that praise was again quickly followed with the same message about Smith needing to take steps in improving his play within the system -- improvement that will only come with time and comfort.
“You know, he’s played a lot of football,” Holgorsen said. “He knows how to play the game. I’ve talked about his tempo and his body language and his want-to, and all that stuff is good. It still comes down to taking a bunch of snaps and the non-verbal communication that exists with me and where I want him to go with the ball on specific play calls.”
Many on the outside see West Virginia stepping down in competition from last week’s game against LSU to this week’s contest against the Mid-American Conference’s Bowling Green and expect a lopsided result.
Holgorsen agrees. But perhaps not in the way you might think.
“The one thing obviously is they’re No. 1 in net punting. They’re No. 1 and we’re No. 120, you know, so it’s going to be interesting to see that battle,” the head coach said, correctly pointing to the NCAA’s statistics.
The Falcons average 45.29 net yards per punt (after returns), while WVU is dead-last in that same category at 29.75. Only one other team in the nation (Miami of Ohio) averages less than 31 net yards per punt.
And given the Mountaineers’ issues in kick coverage and the return game -- all of which combined to cause WVU to start six possessions against LSU at its own 11-yard line or worse -- players will certainly hear about that statistical disparity this week in practice.
“I don’t know if we can win that punting battle. You know, they’re No. 1 for a reason,” Holgorsen said. “It’s going to be something we’re talking about all week due to the way we got outplayed on special teams. I can assure you we’re going to talk about it.”
Special teams won’t be the only area of emphasis Holgorsen will have in practice this week after dissecting the tape of his team’s 47-21 loss to the now-No. 1 Tigers of LSU.
Turnovers -- both preventing them as an offense and forcing them as a defense -- continue to be part of the coach’s refrain. Pre-snap penalties, which were non-existent through the first three weeks of the season but occurred on Saturday night, will also be something Holgorsen attempts to remove from the equation.
“We’ve got to become a smarter football team,” he said frankly. “That’s stuff I’ve been talking to them about ... When I say that facet of the game, I mean, it’s turnover margin. That’s both sides of the ball -- that’s our guys defensively making plays to get the ball in their possession and that’s offensively making sure we take care of the ball. Now I do credit LSU for a couple of the turnovers they created ... but with that said, we’ve just got to focus on that and become a smarter football team.
“The penalties and all that, they’ve got to be limited. I think we had eight on offense. We had a couple of pre-snap penalties on offense for the first time all year, which that probably has something to do with what they were seeing in front of them.
"And then field position stuff, which is all just special teams stuff. The biggest yardage distribution that exists was in special teams. We took a step back in special teams due to the fact that they just understand that part of the game better than we do. So [we need to] become a better, smarter football team in those three issues.”
One word Holgorsen has repeated often throughout his brief tenure as the head Mountaineer is “routine.” He preaches the gospel of normalcy, treating each opponent similarly and not changing the game-week schedule for any reason.
The same will hold this week, after an emotional week leading up to and including the LSU loss, and moving into what he acknowledged could be a “trap game” leading up to Big East play.
“We need to be able to do a good job of getting that opponent over with whether you win or lose, and then get back and get back to work and in a normal work routine,” the head coach said, pointing out that just like other weeks, his team had finished its film review of the LSU game on Sunday night.
“We’ve already addressed that, and we expect our guys to come in here tomorrow, you know, with a whole bunch of effort and energy to come in here and prepare to beat a good Bowling Green team.”