Column - Orange Bowl a taste of what offense can do
Published: Sunday, January 8, 2012
Updated: Sunday, January 8, 2012 22:01
In its 70-33 victory over No. 15 Clemson in the Discover Orange Bowl, the No. 23 West Virginia football team put on an awe-inspiring performance that would have been extremely impressive in any game. When you consider the fact that it was in a BCS bowl, it's a pretty amazing feat.
It was just what Mountaineer fans dreamt of when head coach Dana Holgorsen was hired to take over the offense following a heart-breaking loss to North Carolina State in the Champs Sports Bowl and a 2010 season in which the offense struggled mightily at times to put up points.
Holgorsen was the offensive guru who would be able to solve the problems the stagnant Mountaineer offense had at times last year. But I don't know if, even in their wildest dreams, WVU fans truly thought that a performance like Wednesday's was going to happen.
You would think after such a record-setting game, the team would be pleased with the way it played.
And it was.
But it also knew that the system was still just scratching the surface of its potential.
That should be a scary thought for any defense lining up against the Mountaineers in 2012.
"With Dana Holgorsen being your head coach, you can never be satisfied," said junior quarterback Geno Smith. "We scored some points, we did some good things but we're not satisfied yet. We want to come back next year and do it all over again."
The key cogs in the offense will be back next year, including Smith and his two biggest threats in the passing game in junior inside receiver Tavon Austin and redshirt sophomore wide receiver Stedman Bailey.
For weeks, Holgorsen and the rest of the coaching staff referred to the Mountaineer offense as something that was a work in progress. While it's still continuing to improve, a game like it had against Clemson could be just what WVU needs to carry this season's success over to 2012.
"We're not going to create another offense. It's not like we ran different plays today than we ran all year," said inside receivers coach Shannon Dawson. "In offense, it's all about execution and it's about having a clear mind, fast feet and just executing and believing in the system.
"Games like this tend to help kids – not that they didn't 100 percent believe in it before – totally believe and understand exactly what we've been preaching to them."
The strange thing about West Virginia's offensive outburst against Clemson was that for an offense run by Holgorsen, this isn't really that rare of an occurrence.
Since he became the offensive coordinator at Texas Tech in 2005, Holgorsen's teams have scored 60 or more points eight times. Out of those eight times, there have been four games when they've scored at least 70 points and even a game in 2005 when the Red Raiders put up 80.
But what makes what happened in the Orange Bowl different than all of those other times?
Not only was it on a bigger stage than any other time the teams did that but it was only the second time one of Holgorsen's offenses scored that much against a team from a BCS conference. And Clemson is much better than the Washington State team that Oklahoma State scored 65 on in its 2010 season opener.
The Mountaineers lose offensive linemen Don Barclay and Tyler Rader up front, but with Josh Jenkins returning from his knee injury and redshirt freshman Quinton Spain and redshirt sophomore Curtis Feight back to provide depth, they should be much improved on the line.
They return four of their top five pass catchers and all three of their running backs return – even though freshman Dustin Garrison is going to miss about six months after spraining his ACL and MCL.
Just because West Virginia returns a lot of its weapons, don't expect it to get complacent in the offseason. They won't let that happen.
"There are going to be high expectations for this offense and myself and this team," Smith said. "Me being a leader, I have to make sure that I get into the offseason, and work hard, and make sure that these guys are focused and we're humble, and we understand what's at stake."
And the biggest key to that, Dawson said, is going to be to stay consistent and do exactly what they've been doing this season. If they do that, they might be able to do more of what they did at the end of this season.
"You have to have success in the game for that belief (in the system) to take effect. This is just going to lead into believing that they can do everything and, that's what you want when they step on the field," he said. "You want them to have the confidence that the sky's the limit."