“It’s certainly made things easier from a coaching perspective, that’s for certain,” Holgorsen said. “Last year, we did our best to put the guys on high alert and be guarded as far as what you’re listening to in the media. We had a tremendous amount of experience offensively coming back, coming off the big Orange Bowl win. We knew we’d have issues defensively. We lost four draft picks to the NFL after last year and knew we’d be extremely young on the defensive side. So this year is just completely different.
“There are no expectations whatsoever. We’re coming off a disappointing bowl loss. Offensively, we’re the unit that has no experience coming back. We’ve got two guys that started at offensive tackle, and that’s it for the entire offense. Then defensively, you’ve got the guys with the experience coming back. We played so many young guys there last year, all our leaders are on defense. The experience, the guys who played a lot of ball, are on defense. It’s night and day from where it was last year. From a coaching perspective, it’s a little bit easier to get their attention.”
He didn’t say so directly, but much of the reason it’s been easier to grab that attention seems to have been the team’s lackluster end to the 2012 season, when the grind of Big 12 competition finally caught up to his team.
West Virginia’s offense clicked at a high enough level in the early season to mask the problems of a struggling defense, but ultimately lost five games in a row and six of its final eight when the offense finally came back down to earth.
“Everybody likes to be patted on the back, so they’re probably missing the fact they got patted on the back all the time,” Holgorsen said of this year’s club. “But, you know, welcome to the Big 12. There were nine teams that went to bowls in the Big 12, eight opponents that went to bowls in the Big 12. It’s a competitive situation.
“Everybody in the Big 12 is going to be tough. It’s something that we had to go through, from a players standpoint, an administrative standpoint, a fanbase standpoint, it’s something we had to go through to truly understand it. I’m sure they miss the pats on the back, but with that said, I think we’ve got a bunch of guys that like to play football, a bunch of guys that are motivated to get better, a bunch of guys that are excited about where we’re at from a conference standpoint. So we’ve got their attention. We had a great 14 weeks since the bowl game got over, and we expect to get a lot better in the next 14 weeks leading into camp.”
As the NFL game has evolved and moved towards “college-style” offenses, Holgorsen said he has not been surprised to see former Mountaineer receiver Tavon Austin pegged as an increasingly coveted prospect ahead of Thursday’s first round of the NFL Draft.
“Tavon fits a whole bunch of different offenses, but when you think of the uptempo spread offenses that have infiltrated college football over the last decade, that’s the type of guy you think about,” Holgorsen said. “You think about a slot guy that is dynamic, that you can move around and get the ball and a variety of ways. You can line him in the backfield, motion him out of the backfield, line him up at receiver, throw it to him, move him back in the backfield. That’s what college football has been about, and that’s kind of what you see the NFL going to a little bit, from the current head coaches and offensive coordinators that were there last year to some of the guys that have been hired, you’re seeing a bit of a move toward the college game.
“He fits that profile. He fits the spread offense, dynamic playmaker profile who can also do some return game stuff, so it’s not surprising to me to see him climb the charts. He’s the type of kid that the more you’re around him, the more time you spend with him, the more you want him on your football team.”
The lone coaching change in the Big 12 this offseason saw one of Holgorsen’s pupils get his shot at running a major college program. Kliff Kingsbury was hired to replace Tommy Tuberville at Texas Tech, meaning the former Red Raider QB during Holgorsen’s time as an assistant in Lubbock is now back to lead the program.
Holgorsen said Kingsbury’s quick rise through the ranks was no surprise -- and that the young head coach should be a successful one.
“I thought a lot of him when I was on Texas Tech’s staff,” Holgorsen said. “My first three years there, Kliff was the quarterback, and we leaned on him a bunch to help kind of get things started there, and things got kick-started at a pretty high rate there in 2002. I thought a lot of him as a person, thought a lot of him as a player, but also thought a lot of him as a potential coach.
“You kind of knew he had that in him. He had it in his bloodlines with his father being a high school coach. When he was done playing, I always kept up with him. We’d bump into each other a bit, and I’d end up getting on the phone with him and ask him what he was doing. He didn’t really have any direction, so I was fortunate that he was able to come to Houston. It was good for him because he was still training, still trying to play, and he could do that and dabble in the coaching thing. It ended up working out pretty good for him. It’s been fun watching him since I left Houston. He has had tons of success at Houston and Texas A&M, and he’ll do a great job there at Texas Tech. He’s a true Red Raider.”
In case anyone thought WVU may be a bit closer to naming a starting quarterback after 15 spring practices, Holgorsen quickly dissuaded that notion.
“Wide-open, man!” Holgorsen quickly responded when asked the status of the race for the starting signal-caller spot. “Paul Millard and Ford Childress each got 50 percent of the reps in the spring.
“We kind of encourage them to get out there, throw with the guys and study film for the next three-and-a-half months while coaches are out on the road with recruiting and camps and vacation and all that stuff. We’ll get the race kick-started back up in August to see who made the most progress over the last three-and-a-half months. We don’t have to make a decision now. We get 27, 28 practices in camp where we can continue to evaluate them and see who makes the most improvement in the next four months.”