“When you put together a second half like [the defense] did, it makes the first half almost look like a disaster,” head coach Dana Holgorsen reiterated on Sunday. “It was just a dominating performance by Coach Casteel and those guys.”
Obviously, Holgorsen didn't mean the first half was a problem in any literal sense for the defense. Yielding nine points in a half is a very good defensive showing, and even though the Mountaineers did allow 178 yards of offense to the Huskies, it did so grudgingly. It took UConn 40 plays to get to that total, 18 of which came on their first two drives of the game. After that, Connecticut had 11 possessions on which it managed no more than six plays, and five of those failed to produce a single yard. No wonder, then, that Holgorsen was quick to point out that the defense was the linchpin in the win – right down to the play that got the offense going.
“The spark was that fumble return,” he said, referring to Pat Miller's punch-out that knocked the ball to Jewone Snow, who proceeded to rumble down the sideline to set up a point blank scoring opportunity. “The defense played well the whole game.”
With that side of the ball playing well, Holgorsen might have been tempted to rein in the offense a bit and ride the defense to the win. However, that's never been his philosophy, and isn't likely to change.
“We don't look at it that way,” he explained. “Our job when we get the ball is to be productive, move the ball and get points. When we didn't have ball much in the first quarter – we only had about ten plays We were pressing in the second quarter, and we don't need to panic like that. We just need to try to put points on the board.”
After “putting the UConn game to bed” on Sunday, Holgorsen turned his attention to the off-week. While the schedule will be a bit different for his team, he is still sticking to his mantra of making sure everyone knows what is expected each day.
“We met today and got the game over with, which is important, win or lose. Then you move on from it. We will lift and practice, and then get into recruiting toward end of week, and get out on the road for some visits. We have laid the schedule out for the team, and they were told what to do this week. They'll be student on Monday, as always, then student athletes through the week .They'll get a couple of days off at end of week, but they have to come back in the right frame of mind. We have two important road games coming up, and we can't taper off.”
Asked to assess the state of the team halfway through the season, Holgorsen was generally pleased.
“Our goal from beginning has been to win the Big East championship,” he said. “We are happy to be at 5-1 and 1-0 in conference. Like everyone, we'd like to be undefeated, but we put up a decent fight against the number one team in the country and learned a lot from it. I'm happy with where we are. The morale on the team is high, the excitement is high and we are showing improvement each week.”
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Immediately after the game on Saturday, Holgorsen indicated that he had probably gotten away from the run a bit too quickly. The Huskies loaded up against that play phase, and when West Virginia didn't move the ball well early on, Holgorsen went to the passing game. The Mountaineers did end up with 29 rushes, but only 12 of those came in the first half.
After reviewing game video, Holgorsen had a couple of additional thoughts on his first reaction.
“It was a challenge to run against them,” he reiterated. “They do a good job with their scheme, and their defensive line whipped us up front physically. The first thing, when that happens, is that I will tend to get away from the run, but in hindsight I probably should have stuck with it a little bit.”
Holgorsen also pointed out that the running backs actually had solid stats in the game. Andrew Buie averaged 5.5 yards on his two carries, while Dustin Garrison, (4.4) and Shawne Alston (4.0) were also productive. With just 10 plays from scrimmage in the opening period, WVU managed just three running plays – two from Garrison and one from Tavon Austin.
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According to Doug Rigg's Twitter account, the linebacker has been cleared to participate this week and should be available for duty against Syracuse. Rigg was on the sidelines Saturday with a short cast on his left wrist, which was operated on following the LSU game.