“Much like what we did on defense a couple weeks ago, we’re looking for bodies that play with a tremendous amount of effort and it means a lot to them,” said WVU’s second-year coach on Monday’s Big 12 teleconference. “We will continue to look for guys that bring effort, bring energy and get out there and play hard, because playing football means a lot to them. Those guys, it means a lot to them.”
In the midst of a four-game losing streak, finding players who care may become increasingly difficult. After Saturday’s loss at Oklahoma State, Mountaineer quarterback Geno Smith said “I don’t think it means as much to every one of us as it does to some of us.”
Holgorsen indicated he has tried to identify players who are driven despite the circumstances. That’s why players like Arlia, Clay, Nehlen and safety Cecil Level have been seeing increased action of late.
“That’s kind of your goal every week: get your guys ready to play, get your guys excited to play,” Holgorsen said. “You start to lean on some of your seniors at this point to finish the year strong.
“I mean, we’re still fighting for the same things we were a week ago, that we were a couple weeks ago, which is just to try to get better each week and try to win the game, try to improve your bowl status and figure out why we play this game that we love. That’s a challenge every week, and when you start adding a couple losses on top of each other, that challenge becomes a bit greater.”
Still, though, the West Virginia coach insisted he didn’t think attitude was an issue in his team’s most recent loss, Saturday’s 55-34 setback in Stillwater at the hands of the Cowboys. And with No. 13 Oklahoma coming to Morgantown this week for a game, he said he didn’t expect to have any problems motivating his players.
“I think we’re fine. We’re not happy, but we’re still motivated,” he said. “I thought our approach last week was good, thought our effort last week was good. So I expect it to be the same way this week. I mean, it better be. We’ve got a good team coming to Morgantown. It’s going to be on national TV, and we’ve got to play good.”
As for that game against the Sooners on Saturday, Holgorsen said he expects OU to defend his offense differently than other teams have in the last month of the season. That doesn’t mean the task will be any easier, though.
“It’s a different approach than what we’ve faced over the last six or seven games, I guess,” Holgorsen said. “We’ve seen a lot of zone coverage, a lot of drop seven, drop six. These guys are a man coverage team.
“I mean, they’ve got tremendous athletes. They’ve got tremendous football players. They’ve got big, thick guys up front that do a great job against the run, then they’ve got about six or seven coverage guys that can all cover. It’s going to be one-on-one matchups all over the place, and we’ve got to do a good job of winning those.”
Despite West Virginia’s swoon, which now includes the program’s longest losing streak in more than a decade and its first-ever four game conference losing streak, the head coach indicated he believes fans are still going to be excited for Saturday’s game against Oklahoma -- billed by many in the preseason as the game of the year in the Big 12.
“I think people are pretty excited about it,” Holgorsen said. “They’ve had it circled for awhile just because OU is such a storied program over the past 100 years. They have tremendous history. They’ve been able to accomplish championships and all that. So I think a lot of people are going to want to come in and watch the game, yeah.”
Because Oklahoma has changed a few defensive tactics since Mike Stoops returned to the school as defensive coordinator, Holgorsen said the Sooners will probably be more familiar with WVU’s offense than the Mountaineers will be with the OU defense.
“I’m kind of excited about it actually,” Holgorsen said. “We haven’t faced anything different for quite some time. This is a different style of defense.
“Mike Stoops is a great defensive football coach. Bob Stoops is a great defensive football coach. I’ve competed against them for many years. The one thing that never changes is the effort they play with, the nastiness they play with. They play with just a tremendous amount of energy, and regardless of what the scheme is, I think that’s probably more important than anything -- their mentality, and it always has been for the 14 years they’ve been there.”