MORGANTOWN - It was a year ago at this time - two games into the season and preparing to play Maryland - that a lot of the talk surrounding West Virginia's football team concerned slow starts.Dana Holgorsen always maintained - and still does - that the issue seemed more of a concern to fans and the media than to him, but the facts were undeniable. The Mountaineers had scored a total of just three points in the first quarter of the first two games combined and trailed at halftime to, among all teams, Norfolk State.Well, fast-forward a year and starts are certainly not an issue, not after scoring on 10 of the first 12 possessions against Marshall and then four times in the first 17 minutes against James Madison.Ah, but now there seems to be another problem, albeit merely a nuisance given the way WVU has handled its first two opponents. But even Holgorsen acknowledges it.
"We've done a good job of starting fast. Now we need to start faster in the second half and we need to finish people,'' Holgorsen said Tuesday. "We haven't done a good job of that. We let Marshall keep playing and we let James Madison keep playing and score late.''OK, so perhaps it hasn't been an issue that has had any real repercussions. After all, WVU led Marshall 35-10 at the half and it got worse before it got better for the Herd, which at one point trailed 69-20 with most of the fourth quarter to play.And the score was 28-3 at halftime against James Madison and the WVU defense then put up a couple of goal line stands that were pretty impressive regardless of the level of competition.But Marshall also ended the game by scoring two more touchdowns and piling up 545 yards of total offense, and James Madison averted a touchdown shutout (the earlier scores were a field goal and a safety) with a last-minute touchdown and gained 201 yards in the second half after getting just 99 in the first.Some would call criticizing that to be just picky, but Holgorsen doesn't want to see a pattern develop.
He has a good historical basis for that concern, too. On Saturday the No. 8 Mountaineers (2-0) face Maryland (2-1) in a noon game at Mountaineer Field. It's the last game before starting Big 12 play, but just as significantly it is against a team that followed that late-game formula to give WVU fits last season."Last year against Maryland we let them keep playing and they scored a bunch in the second half and almost beat us in the end,'' Holgorsen recalled. "I'm pleased with how we're starting. I'm pleased with our tempo. But we need to do a better job of starting fast in the second half and do a better job of finishing people off.''Indeed, last season the Mountaineers ditched that slow-start pattern and nearly ran the Terps out of their own stadium. West Virginia led 24-3 in the second quarter and 34-10 early in the third, but Maryland then scored three touchdowns and pulled to within 34-31. It took an Eain Smith interception with 73 seconds to play to finally seal a 37-31 win.Of course, the biggest difference between that comeback and any lulls the Mountaineers have gone through this season are obvious. With such large leads, those giving up late yards and scores have been largely non-starters.Still, Holgorsen doesn't care about who is playing, just that they play hard and well, and that hasn't been the case."We played 59 guys this past week and a lot of people, even myself, have been guilty of saying, 'Well, it's just the young kids in the fourth quarter,' '' Holgorsen said. "But we're not doing a good job of finishing games. We gave up the touchdown in the fourth quarter last week. There were six missed tackles. And offensively, for the second game in a row, we didn't score in the fourth quarter with our young guys.
"But it's not all just young guys. There are some experienced guys out there as well, guys who play on special teams and guys who are backups who need to be able to go in and play. I don't care who they are, their job is to move the ball or tackle people. It's great to play those guys in situations, but it needs to look better than it has the past two fourth quarters.''Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org
or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1.