By BRIAN WOODSON
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
It is safe to say that the expectations for West Virginia football won’t be as high in 2013 as they were prior to last season.
Keeping thinking that way. Dana Holgorsen appreciates the help.
“We had lots of conversations on here last year about how dang good we were,” said Holgorsen, during an interview with Jack Arute and Gino Torretta on SiriusXM Radio Channel 91 on Thursday afternoon.
“If you win a BCS game like we did and you have got some superstars coming back with star power and we started the year pretty good, but it is hard to maintain that.
“When everybody is talking bad about you and tells you you are not going to win very many games and you are not very good, and we are in over our head, it makes it a lot easier to motivate our guys.
“We are pretty motivated right now, I can tell you that.”
West Virginia came into its first season in the Big 12 last fall having beaten Clemson 70-33 in the Orange Bowl, and promptly started 5-0, climbing to No. 4 in the national polls before a porous defense played a role in a 7-6 record, losing to Syracuse in the Pinstripe Bowl.
Few were happy among the West Virginia fan base, but no one was more disappointed than the Mountaineers themselves, and especially Holgorsen.
“We are not happy with 7-6 either, but we are having a great offseason,” Holgorsen said. “We are coaching our guys hard, we are going to get them ready to play, nobody thinks we are any good which is fine.
“We will work hard and we will put ourselves in position to put the best product that we can out there.”
The Mountaineers are back, but will be without prolific offensive stars Geno Smith, Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey, all of whom will be selected in next week’s NFL draft.
“I don’t know who you are talking about, Jack,” said Holgorsen, when asked about that trio. “You have to approach it that way, those guys meant so much to West Virginia and so much to our team and the entire state, the fan base, the university.
“You talk about three guys that are going to go down in the history books as three of the greatest players to ever play here. The truth of the matter is we aren’t the only team that has got to replace good players, it is the nature of college football.”
The new stars of West Virginia will be on the gridiron today when the Gold-Blue Game is held at Milan-Puskar Stadium. The kickoff is slated for 2 p.m., and will be televised by WVNS-Channel 59. Admission is $10.
“We have been focusing on our guys here, we have got to have guys step up, and I don’t know who they are going to be yet,” Holgorsen said. “We are so young that we haven’t made those decisions of who is going to be the starting quarterback or starting receivers.
“We will add some more players through the summer and then line up in August and keep practicing and somebody will probably surface like they have in the past.”
There are plenty of positions up for grabs, including Smith’s quarterback slot, which is currently being contested between Paul Millard and Ford Childress, The lone returning starters on offense are tackles Quinton Spain and Curtis Feigt.
“That is probably our most experienced bunch, we do have some running backs coming back, but our center and our two guards were seniors last year that had about 140 starts between the three, a bunch of experience is gone up front too,” Holgorsen said. “The only area offensively that we have returning starters is offensive tackles, which isn’t a bad place to start.
“I have got two really good quality kids who have played a long time in Quinton and Curtis that are going to have to step up and be the catalyst of not only the O-Line, but the entire offense as well.
“We will start there, we will have a bunch of practices and we will figure out who is going to step up and be the guys, we don’t know that yet.”
While the offense was never an issue last season, the defense was among the nation’s worst, allowing 38 points and nearly 475 yards per game.
Holgorsen made several changes on the defensive staff, including elevating Keith Patterson to defensive coordinator.
“There has been a tremendous emphasis on defensive football here, we have got a lot of things in practice that emphasize defense...,” Holgorsen said. “Keith Patterson has done a great job of coordinating the defense and getting his coach-stamp on what we are doing defensively from a scheme standpoint.
“It is pretty similar to what we did last year with some tweaks. Every time you switch coordinators you get some different tweaks to it, we are happy with their process.”
West Virginia did use as many as 10 true freshmen on defense last season, so Holgorsen expects them to be improved simply from experience.
“I feel very comfortable with the fact that each and everyone of those guys is developing and is going to get better just based on the fact that they are going to be older and more mature and they have more knowledge of the game and caught up to the speed of the game,” Holgorsen said.
West Virginia will open its 2013 season by hosting William & Mary on Aug. 31, followed by its Big 12 opener the following week at Oklahoma.
Even though little might be expected of the Mountaineers, Holgorsen was asked if the West Virginia supporters might show a little patience as the team continues to find its place in the Big 12.
“Probably not just based on being a very passionate fan base,” Holgorsen said. “I wouldn’t change it for anything, I am excited about the fact that we have a very passionate fan base and we have tons of support and we are going to sell our stadium out every year and they are going to expect us to win.
“That puts pressure on us at times, but it also puts a whole lot of support behind us and we don’t want that to change.”
Holgorsen is confident that the avid West Virginia fan base will be ready for more football when the calendar indicates that it is time to tee it up once again in Morgantown.
“The fan base is going to be behind us. They were restless, they weren’t happy with 7-6, but again I don’t blame them, we weren’t either,” Holgorsen said. “We know they are going to support the heck out of us when September rolls around.”
— Contact Brian Woodson