MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Despite long odds of reaching the Big 12 championship or playing in a major bowl game, West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen thinks his team carries ample motivation into the regular season’s final month.
“If you can’t be determined to get out there and coach harder and play harder and practice harder and get to a point where you play harder, then why do you do it?” he said Tuesday,
After falling 50-39 to Oklahoma State for their third loss to a top-25 opponent, the Mountaineers (5-3, 3-2) try to rebound against the conference’s feel-good story, No. 14 Iowa State (6-2, 4-1).
“I’m as anxious as anybody to see the determination of our team moving forward,” Holgorsen said.
‘Toughness’ talk dominates
Holgorsen pointed to the word “toughness” on the wall of the team room, emphasizing what was lacking against Oklahoma State.
“If you don’t have that, then you’re going to have a hard time being successful,” he said. “You can look at everything that happened from blocking to tackling to sustaining blocks to getting off blocks to running hard and not running hard, all that stuff. We just didn’t play as hard as we need to, bottom line.”
While particularly bothered by the lack of a running game, Holgorsen said the mentality extended to Will Grier and receivers having a subpar day. He complete just 20-of-42 passes with miscommunications factoring into three of four interceptions.
“There’s a toughness that has to be able to exist from the passing game as well,” Holgorsen said. “Receivers have to line up the right way and come off the ball and fight through people that are going to try to cover you and attack the ball and create separation and keep your feet and go vertical. You didn’t see that out of one of our receivers last week.
“They were every bit as bad as anybody up front when it came to having to protect or having to run block the appropriate way. There’s no one I can excuse offensively. It’s everybody that lined up.”
Wellman bothered by soft run game
Count Elijah Wellman among the players most chafed by the dramatic dip in West Virginia’s rushing attack. From 234 yards per game the first four weeks, the production has averaged only 91 yards during the last four.
“I’m a fullback on an offense with not much run game,” he said. “Saying we’re getting beat in the toughness aspect, as a captain, it kind of rubs me the wrong way and I have to get these guys going a bit more.”
Lanning in the middle
Joel Lanning’s transformation from Iowa State starting quarterback to the nation’s sixth-leading tackler makes him “a different breed,” Holgorsen said.
After appearing 30 games at quarterback, the 6-foot-2, 230-pound senior bulked up for the switch to Mike linebacker before his senior season. He’s averaging 10.9 tackles per game for the nation’s No. 21-ranked scoring defense (18.8 points).
“He sees a lot,” Holgorsen said. “We’ve talked about David Sills and his quarterback background allowing him to be able to do some smart things in running routes, I’m sure that helps (Lanning) as well. Just seeing things and studying film, he see things happen probably before they happen.”
Lanning still dabbles in offense on short-yardage situations — converting 5-for-6 third- and fourth-down runs — and completed 2-of-3 passes this season at Oklahoma. He also recovered a fumble that day in a 38-31 upset win.
“That guy has to at this point played more snaps in college football than anybody ever,” Holgorsen cracked.
As to whether Holgorsen has coached a quarterback who could transition to linebacker, he joked, “Well, it wouldn’t be Clint (Trickett).” He suspected Skyler Howard could play defense, however.
“I think Skyler had that mentality. He was tough and physical and smart and could run,” he said.
No love for rain gloves
Livid over West Virginia dropping eight passes in the rain against Oklahoma State, assistant coach Tyron Carrier told his receivers to remove their special wet-weather gloves.
“They went from the regular gloves to the wet gloves to bare-handed,” Carrier said. “I was probably the reason for going bare-handed because I just lost my cool and said ‘Everybody take them off.'”
After dropping a short pass in the third quarter, Gary Jennings tossed his gloves to the sideline between plays.
“He looked the ball in and as soon as he went to squeeze it, it shot out,” Carrier said. “I just was fed up and made everybody take them off.”
David Sills said receivers have seldom used the rain gloves and he “wasn’t feeling comfortable in them.”
Ka’Raun White bluntly said the wet gloves “suck,” he went back to them on a fourth-quarter touchdown. “My hands got cold, so I put them back on, but I was sort of body-catching stuff.”