It was just about a year ago that Morgantown, W.Va., was the happiest place in college football.
On Sept. 29, 2012, West Virginia beat Baylor 70-63 in the Mountaineers; first Big 12 game. Geno Smith was the Heisman Trophy front-runner. A trip to Austin, Texas, was next on the schedule.
West Virginia football was on the rise – or so it seemed.
A year later, the Mountaineers are a mess, 2-2 with wins over William & Mary and Georgia State and coming off a 37-0 loss to Maryland.
“The one that can be blamed more than anybody is me, that’s for dang sure,” West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen said Monday on the Big 12 teleconference. “That’s not an acceptable performance.”
The week after 70-63, WVU beat Texas to improve to 5-0 and move to No. 5 in the country. Fans and media were lauding the offensive wizardry of Holgorsen, the Red Bull-chugging, Mike Leach disciple.
Since then West Virginia is 4-8.
Holgorsen was brought to West Virginia as offensive coordinator/coach-in-waiting after the 2010 season, but quickly that plan went out the window and he replaced coach Bill Stewart before ever working a game as the Mountaineers’ offensive coordinator.
The offense looked great the first two seasons with Smith playing quarterback, throwing the ball to Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey. That crew is in the NFL now, and Holgorsen’s offensive acumen is being challenged as he tries to rebuild.
“I’ve got to do a better job of getting these guys prepared to play,” he said in response to a question about his quarterbacks, but then quickly took it a step forward. “I’ve got to do a better job of calling plays. I’ve got to do a better job of all three sides of the ball, getting motivated and prepared to play. I didn’t do a very good job of that last week.
“So it’s going to start with me and I’m going to do a better job of it this week.”
No. 11 Oklahoma State comes to Morgantown this week, followed by a trip to No. 19 Baylor (3-0) Oct. 5.
For the Bears, 70-63 was the first of four straight losses last season. It was Baylor that appeared to be sliding back to irrelevance, a season after Robert Griffin III brought the Heisman to Waco, Texas.
But moving on from RG3 wasn’t all that bad for Baylor. Coach Art Briles, whose career intersected with Holgorsen’s at Texas Tech under Leach, had a seasoned replacement for Griffin in Nick Florence.
Even when Baylor was losing the offense never stopped humming. The Bears finished last season with four straight victories, including a 49-26 beat down of UCLA in the Holiday Bowl.
This season, with another new starting quarterback – junior Bryce Petty – Baylor’s offense has spent the first month of the season toying with inferior competition, putting up silly stats (751 yards per game but only 26 minutes of possession time per game) and becoming the first FBS team to score 60 or more points in its first three games of a season since LSU in 1930.
Briles went 8-16 in his first two seasons at Baylor, building slowly and steadily at program that had been in a doormat for decades.
“The plan has never changed since day one and that’s recruit good quality student-athletes that have a passion to play the game. Put them on the field in position to have success,” Briles said..
The Bears are off this week before starting Big 12 play with West Virginia, at Kansas State, Iowa State and Kansas. That could leave Baylor 7-0 hosting Oklahoma Nov. 7.
The lesson for frustrated West Virginia fans is to have some patience with Holgorsen. While it’s fun to be the next big thing, it’s better to be built for the long run. Holgorsen has yet to show if he can do that.