By BRIAN WOODSON
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
It is newcomer Saturday as West Virginia plays host to Texas Christian in a 3 p.m. kickoff slated to be televised by FOX.
West Virginia and Texas Christian are the newest additions to the Big 12, and both are have found the going difficult in their first season.
The Mountaineers (5-2, 2-2) started 5-0, but have lost two straight by a combined score of 104-28, while the Horned Frogs (5-3, 2-3) — always a top team in the Mountain West — have lost three of four since beginning the campaign at 4-0.
TCU followed up a triple-overtime loss to Texas Tech with a 36-14 loss last week to Oklahoma State, while the Mountaineers had last week off to find answers after dropping consecutive decisions to Texas Tech (49-14) and Kansas State (55-14).
West Virginia head coach Dana Holgorsen is ready for his 21st (BCS) ranked Mountaineers to get back on the gridiron against the Horned Frogs.
“We are pretty excited to get back to work here and prepare for a good TCU football team and good football program coming into town this weekend,” said Holgorsen, in comments provided to the media on Tuesday. “I have a lot of respect for coach Gary Patterson and what he has accomplished at TCU. He has won something like 85 percent of his games there. They have coaches that are used to winning. They have players and a fan base that are used to winning.
“They are coming off of a couple tough losses. They are in a new conference. The quality of opponent is pretty good. They are playing a lot of young kids, and we are expecting them to get better and better over the course of the season.”
TCU has struggled since losing quarterback Casey Pachall to suspension, with redshirt freshman Trevone Boykin expected to play against the Mountaineers, having thrown for 1,122 yards, 11 touchdowns and six interceptions. He is questionable for Saturday’s game and could be replaced by sophomore Matt Brown.
The Frogs have four receivers with at least 20 receptions, led by Josh Boyce with 44, and five touchdowns. Two backs, C.J. Catalon and Matthew Tucker average 45 yards per game.
“Offensively, they pose a lot of problems...Boykin is a dual threat guy that is dangerous with his feet. He has some weapons around him. The receivers that they have are guys that could have gone to other quality, quality programs,” Holgorsen said. “They do a tremendous job of distributing the ball to a bunch of different people.”
TCU has long been known for stingy defenses, and this one is ranked 12th in the nation against the run and 23rd in yards allowed. The Frogs are, however, 63rd in pass defense, which could be good news for West Virginia’s pass-happy attack.
“Defensively, they are playing really good. Gary’s defenses have been very good. They are giving up more points and yards than they would like,” Holgorsen said. “Everyone is complaining and asking what is wrong, but they are doing a good job of staying true to their schemes and coaching their kids up.
“I think they have one senior playing for them on defense. They have younger, inexperienced guys that play hard. They play with tremendous passion, and this year is no different. It is the same stuff. It is the same schemes and the same effort. They are playing some pretty good people.”
However, Holgorsen was more concerned over the last two weeks with his team and trying to right the ship after a couple of rocky outings.
“We try to get to know our opponent as well as we can (but) we worry about ourselves and getting our guys ready to play.,” Holgorsen said. “We want to get them prepared from a mentality standpoint, and we want to get them in the right frame of mind. We worry a little bit more about ourselves than the opponent. With that being said, we get to know the opponent as much as we can. We want to get the guys in the right frame of mind to execute.”
The second-year West Virginia coach said there weren’t a lot to changes made since the loss to Kansas State.
“We haven’t changed a whole lot. Our mentality is good and our body language is good,” he said. “Our confidence is back up, and our players are excited about playing. We want to practice hard this week and be excited about playing a football game to the best of our abilities.”
West Virginia has struggled on both sides of the ball during its recent troubles, but Holgorsen is confident that Geno Smith — who is still having an Heisman Trophy type season with 2,417 yards, 26 touchdowns and just two picks — will be able lead the Mountaineers back to their winning ways.
“He is mature. You have to have a lot of guys like that. He has been in front of that camera a lot,” he said. “He has been under center fielding snaps for many years, and he is one of the most experienced guys we’ve got.
“He knows how to handle situations because he has been there before. He needs to learn how to lose better. We talked about that this last week, but he is not responsible for the loss. There is a whole bunch of people, probably 50 or 60, that play in the game. There are coaches that are involved in the game. There are a whole lot of people that can accept responsibility for the loss.”
West Virginia’s defense has been more of a problem than the offense, with the Mountaineers continuing to rank 114th or worse in five categories, including a nation’s worst 120th against the pass.
Holgorsen said the Mountaineers practiced three days last week and then gave the players some time away from the gridiron.
“I was proud of how they played with effort. They were attentive. They kept playing. If 5-2 teams that are coming off of a loss pout, then they are probably not going to finish the year well,” he said. “There are a whole bunch of teams in the same situation that we are. There are some teams coming off of losses.
“How you handle those losses comprises what you are going to be made of. They were physical and played up with effort. We wanted them to get away from it and be 18- to 22-year old kids. They came back Sunday ready to go. They were glad to be back on Sunday. We had a good practice up at the indoor facility, and hopefully, they do the same thing.”
The effects of Hurricane Sandy could mean that weather could be a factor in Saturday’s game. Holgorsen said the Mountaineers have played in their conditions in the past.
“The weather is setting in, so maybe the weather will be like this Saturday. We played in conditions like this last year and were able to win,” Holgorsen said. “We will probably do some of our work inside. It is the same situation that many teams around this area face. You have to deal with the weather. We are not going to panic about it.”
These clubs have met once before, with West Virginia defeating TCU 31-14 in the Bluebonnet Bowl in 1984. Not coincidentally, Kevin White, who was the quarterback on that team, will serve as the honorary captain for the Mountaineers on Saturday.
—Contact Brian Woodson