West Virginia was one yard short of beating Texas Saturday night at Milan Puskar Stadium. Leading Texas 40-37 with just less than four minutes to go in the game, the Mountaineers lined up on a 2nd-and- 1 from their own 35-yard line. Head coach Dana Holgorsen chose to run the football with Charles Sims on that second down, but Sims didn’t get it.
Then it was 3rd and 1, and Holgorsen elected to run the football again, this time with a bigger back in Dreamius Smith, but WVU still couldn’t convert. Unfortunately, not picking up that yard cost the Mountaineers the game.
After WVU punted, Texas drove the field, kicked a field goal and sent the game into overtime. Eventually, the current No. 23 Texas Longhorns would win the game 47-40.
Take what you will from the way the game ended, but looking at both in-game management and what’s ahead after Saturday night proves the program is headed in the right direction under Holgorsen.
The third-year head coach proved he’s learned how to adjust. And on Saturday, he adjusted very well to his personnel.
When starting quarterback Clint Trickett went down to injury and Paul Millard came into the game, it would have been easy for Holgorsen to let the game go by the wayside or not know how to put his team in a position to win.
With Trickett, the play calling is run-heavy and play-action based. When Millard is calling the signals, he doesn’t have quite the skill set or mobility to do what Trickett does off play action.
The first three series were brutal for Millard, who missed on his first five pass attempts and fumbled the football as the Texas defensive line applied pressure. So what did Holgorsen and offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson do?
They went with what Millard is good at – the up-tempo passing game aided by running the football. Millard is better when he can get the ball out quick and he showed that throughout the rest of the game, completing 16 of 29 passes for 259 yards and a touchdown.
Holgorsen’s ability to adjust on the fly shows the offensive knowledge that he has isn’t limited to just planning and preparation.
Additionally, Holgorsen managed the clock very well and gave the football to Charles Sims, which put WVU in position to be in the game against a very good Texas team.
This extremely young and inexperienced West Virginia team has improved drastically over the past couple of weeks. With 11 of the 22 offensive and defensive starters Saturday night being first-year starters, they took a Texas team with an entire offense back to the brink.
These are all Holgorsen’s recruits. In his first two seasons as head coach, he used players that were already in the program to be successful. Now, there is a sense that his players, meaning guys that he or his assistants have brought in, are beginning to understand what he wants out of them.
So was he outcoached at times this season? Yes. But does he have this program gaining momentum again? I believe so.
His players are gaining on-field experience now, and during the game the stands were filled with talented high school prospects on official or unofficial visits. He’s got people starting to understand what the Big 12 is all about.
Holgorsen is doing a good job and has dealt with the adversity of a young team without a quarterback this season.
Give him a whole offseason to work with these players, now with experience under their belt, and the Mountaineers should be improved by 2014.