Head coach Dana Holgorsen came to West Virginia in 2011 as one of the brightest and best offensive minds in college football and with the reputations as being associated with winning programs everywhere he has been.
In assistant coaching stops at Texas Tech, Houston and Oklahoma State, serving as offensive coordinator at all three schools, worked under such successful college head coaches as Mike Leach, Kevin Sumlin and Mike Gundy.
During the time Holgorsen was at Texas Tech and Oklahoma State, the offenses of both schools annually ranked among the nation’s top 10, and he helped develop a string of successful college quarterbacks, including Graham Harrell at Texas Tech, Case Keenum at Houston, Brandon Weeden at Oklahoma State and Geno Smith in his first year at West Virginia. All four QBs are now or have played in the NFL.
Despite his previous success, Holgorsen hasn’t really lived up to expectations in his two seasons at West Virginia. Even with future NFL starters Smith, Steadman Bailey, Tavon Austin on the roster, Holgorsen’s team finished in a tie for fifth place with a 4-5 record in the conference and a 7-6 mark overall in his first season at the helm in 2012. That was just one season after the Mountaineers had won the Big East championship and a top-25 ranking in their final season in the Big East before moving over to the Big 12.
The 2013 season was even more disappointing for Holgorsen’s troops as the Mountaineers slipped to 4-8 overall and missed out on the bowl season for the first time since 2001.
Holgorsen is banking on the fact that the experience and confidence starting quarterback Clint Trickett gained in starting seven games for the Mountaineers last season will pay off in the 2014 campaign. The playing time his senior signal caller got in 2013 should help Trickett gain more consistency in the coming season, Holgorsen believes, and can make a huge difference between winning and losing.
“There’s a rapport that needs to exist with him (Trickett) and the receivers in order to be successful,” Holgorsen told reporters during the recent Big 12 Skywriters Tour.
“They need to understand each other and every one of their little nuances when it comes to being able to get open and sign language and a nod here and a cut-off there. And all that is starting to exist right now with him and the rest of the guys. I think that’s all going to take care of itself.”
Trickett, who transferred to West Virginia from Florida State, comes into his redshirt senior season with quite a bit momentum, having thrown for over 300 yards in back-to-back, season-ending wins over Kansas and Iowa State.
Although Trickett started seven games last season, he was completely healthy in only three of them. He had surgery in the offseason for a torn labrum that limited his throwing motion in the final four games of 2013.
“It is part of the game and people do have to play injured,” Trickett said to reporters who were at West Virginia as part of the Skywriters Tour, “but knowing the time I was really healthy we weren’t that bad and pulled off a pretty good one (against then-No. 11 Oklahoma State) and the rest of the time I wasn’t, that’s definitely frustrating. You just wonder, ‘What if?'”
Trickett is back and healthy, though, which is a very good thing given that the Mountaineers face a very daunting nonconference slate to start the new season. West Virginia kicks off the 2014 season on Aug. 30 against mighty Alabama, which won back-to-back BCS national championships in the 2011 and 2012 seasons.
The next weekend, the Mountaineers host Towson, the runner up in last season’s FCS championship game, followed by a game at Maryland, which trounced West Virginia 37-0 a year ago.
The road doesn’t get any easier to begin the Big 12 season. Holgorsen’s squad opens up its conference schedule at the end of September with a home date against Oklahoma, the pick of the Big 12 coaches to win 2014 conference title.
Holgorsen brought in a new defensive coordinator after the disappointing 2013 season. Tony Gibson is the fourth defensive coordinator at West Virginia in as many years.
“You better be able to improve defensively and stop some people if you want to win some games,” Holgorsen said. The third-year West Virginia coach is hoping that indeed is the case in 2014.