Holgorsen and WVU accomplished what they set out to in nonconference play, finishing with a 3-0 record that has the Mountaineers ranked in the top 10 of both major polls.
But West Virginia faces its first ranked opponent this week, No. 25 Baylor, in a game that should generate plenty of buzz in Morgantown. The program’s first-ever Big 12 game falls on Homecoming weekend, and Holgorsen expects a raucous atmosphere.
“We’re looking forward to a very festive, fun Saturday this upcoming week,” the second-year head coach said on Monday’s Big 12 coaches teleconference. “I thought the energy and excitement level of last week was very average, not only from a players’ standpoint, but from a coaches’ standpoint and from an atmosphere standpoint.
“I expect that to be totally different this week, and that’s something we’re looking for, it being like that. I think our players will respond as well. But it’s the same: ignore all the outside and just focus on eliminating as many distractions as we possibly can so we can get to the point we’re just doing our job.”
The job of work when facing coach Art Briles and the Bears begins on defense, as Baylor’s offense has been among the nation’s most proficient through its first three games of the season.
Despite losing last season’s Heisman Trophy winner, quarterback Robert Griffin III, and star running back Terrance Ganaway, BU is piling up points and moving the ball almost at will. It ranks fifth in the nation in scoring offense (51.3 points per game) and has scored 47 or more in all three outings.
Senior quarterback Nick Florence has done a fine job of replacing RG3, completing 71 of 110 passes for 1,004 yards and 11 touchdowns. The Bears rank fifth in the country in passing offense, averaging 361.7 yards per game.
Thus, the WVU defense -- led by co-coordinator Joe DeForest, brought in partially because of his familiarity with Big 12 teams dating back to his decade-long tenure as an assistant at Oklahoma State -- will be needed as much as ever this weekend.
“That side of the ball is important, I don’t care who you’re playing,” Holgorsen said. “Every team poses different challenges. Maryland had a couple skill kids that are as good as I’ve seen in my years of coaching. So they’re young. They’re going to get better, but they were still pretty dangerous.
“Obviously Baylor poses a problem with more experienced guys. They’ve got guys that have been in Coach Briles’ system for four or five years. They’ve got seven or eight seniors and four or five juniors on offense. They’re experienced, and they’ve been in the same system for four years now, which is going to pose some problems because they’re going to be better at what they’re asking them to do. So yeah, it’s important. But we need to worry about us and try to get better than what we did last week.”
Repeatedly, Holgorsen was asked about the buzz surrounding the program’s first foray into the Big 12. While he acknowledged the excitement, he also indicated the West Virginia program is used to such attention.
“There’s a lot of anticipation, not only within the state of West Virginia, but across the country, with having West Virginia be a part of the Big 12 as well,” Holgorsen said. “There will be a lot of eyes on us, which we’ve had that situation before. We have a lot of experienced kids and a program that’s pretty established, used to winning and being in the national spotlight.
“I don’t think it will take away from our preparation. I don’t think we’ll allow it to become a distraction. Ultimately, we’ve got to get to work. We’ve got 20 hours a week that we can deal with our kids when it comes to getting ready for a football game, which is exactly what we’ll do.”
While some have characterized quarterback Geno Smith’s game against Maryland on Saturday as subpar, Holgorsen said that the senior signal-caller turned in a fine performance.
“Everybody wants to say he didn’t play good last week, but I think he played pretty good, still completing 70 percent of his passes, three touchdowns, over 300 yards,” the head coach said.
“He did a great job taking care of the ball. We put more on him in the pass game because we didn’t do a good job getting our run game going. They were doing some different things because we didn’t do a good job establishing the run, and he still handled it. He got hit a few times and he didn’t allow that to affect his performance at all. He’s playing at a very high level, and last week, I saw him do some things he didn’t do in the first couple weeks.”
In the last two seasons, since Holgorsen’s offense was installed at Oklahoma State, Baylor has struggled against the Cowboys. When Holgorsen was OSU’s offensive coordinator in 2010, the Bears fell 55-28 in Stillwater. A year later, even with RG3 in the midst of his Heisman-worthy season and with the game in Waco, Baylor lost 59-24 to Oklahoma State.
With WVU adopting DeForest’s defensive ideas -- taken, in part, from his experience in Stillwater -- and running Holgorsen’s high-powered offense, it could make for another tough matchup for Baylor. Las Vegas sportsbooks have made the Mountaineers at least a 10-point favorite early in the week.
“Oklahoma State did a good job of moving the ball on offense that Baylor was always playing from behind,” Holgorsen recalled of those games. “Obviously we’ll look at those tapes like Coach Briles and his staff will look at those tapes to try to see if there are similarities or things we can do better, things they can do better, so on and so forth.
“But I don’t know. Every year is different. When Baylor lines up and plays Oklahoma State this year, it’s going to be a completely different ballgame. You can try to take things and learn from it, but ultimately it’s about preparing the team you have this year the best you possibly can to put those guys in position to make plays.”