With WVU set to face James Madison on Saturday at FedEx Field in Landover, Md., (home of the NFL’s Washington Redskins), Holgorsen is working to convince his players the game won’t be an easy one -- despite what fans may think.
“They’re sound, a good ball club,” Holgorsen said of the Dukes. “Mickey Matthews has been there for a long time, going on 14 years now and has built one of the top I-AA programs in the country. They’re sound on all three sides of the ball. Their schemes have been the same thing they’ve done for a long time. The kids believe in what they’re doing.
“The thing that stands out more than anything is the effort they play with. They play with a tremendous amount of effort. Their schemes are sound. They have as good of players at that level as probably anybody that exists there. It will definitely be a challenge for us.”
A study of the facts backs up Holgorsen’s contention. JMU is No. 5 in the latest FCS rankings and has beaten its first two opponents by a combined score of 97-10.
Holgorsen has also pointed to the program’s recent success against FBS foes, including a win at Virginia Tech two seasons ago and a narrow loss to Maryland the year before that.
“We talked about the fact that there’s already been FCS conference teams that have beaten FBS conference teams this year,” said the second-year West Virginia coach. “So it’s going to happen again, and we need to do everything we can to make sure it doesn’t happen to us.”
And in praising James Madison, Holgorsen also dropped a bit of a bomb on the Mountaineers’ season-opening opponent, Marshall, which WVU knocked off 69-34 in Morgantown on Sept. 1.
“We’re anticipating this being a bigger challenge than what we faced a week ago,” he said matter-of-factly.
One of the reasons West Virginia scheduled what might be seen as an odd game -- few schools see fit to play FCS opponents on neutral sites -- was for recruiting purposes, as the team hopes to continue to tap into the talent-rich area for prospects.
According to Holgorsen, the team can distribute tickets to recruits just as it would for a home game, but coaches can’t have contact with those recruits who visit as they would be permitted for a typical home game.
“Next year, we’re playing Maryland at the Ravens’ stadium. We have a game with BYU in I think 2015 that’s over there. So it’s something that’s important administratively,” Holgorsen noted. “It’s important to Oliver [Luck, the school’s athletic director] and important to Dr. [James] Clements [the university president] that we have a presence in that area.
“It’s three hours down the road, and with Baltimore and D.C. being such a good recruiting base, we’ve got a guy in there full-time. We’ve gotten a bunch of players from that area every year. Tavon Austin is from there. It’s obviously important to us, and having a presence over there to play and recruit is important for the future of the program.”
The game against JMU is designated as “Sam Huff Day” in honor of the WVU legend who went on to become a Pro Football Hall of Famer as a player for both the New York Giants and Washington Redskins.
Holgorsen said his players were aware of who Huff is since he is one of only two former Mountaineers to have their jersey retired. And after meeting Huff this past summer, the head coach said he was impressed with the way Huff approached the game.
“I was at an event with him in Washington, D.C. this past summer, so I got to know him a little bit there. Great guy,” Holgorsen said. “He’s a tremendous legend here in West Virginia, a great player here. I think it’s awesome he’s going to be able to attend the game.
“He took as much pride in playing special teams, running down and playing on the kickoff team and punt team as he did anything. That was one of the things we had a discussion about. His name and number is up in the stadium, and our players, it’s been so long ago they don’t remember the footage of it or anything, but they understand who he is and how much he means to the program here at West Virginia.”
The head coach indicated no decision has yet been made on the long-term status of running back Dustin Garrison, who did not play in the opener. Garrison tore his ACL in practice before last January’s Orange Bowl and underwent surgery and a lengthy rehabilitation process this offseason.
Garrison, the team’s starting running back as a true freshman in 2011, could be redshirted.
“He’s still trying to get his strength back up,” Holgorsen said. “It’s the same as it was a week ago ... it might get to a point where we’re only going to play him if we need him ... We’re going to continue to be smart with it. If we need him, we’ll play him. If not, we won’t.”