One game at a time
MORGANTOWN - West Virginia has suddenly gone from a curiosity to a contender, and all it took was one game.
The Mountaineers were largely a curiosity through four games of the season because Geno Smith and the passing game seemed bent on breaking records every week, but had done so largely against second-tier opposition.
Then on Saturday night they not only beat No. 11 Texas, they did so on the road, in front of the largest and loudest crowd in Texas history. They also did it not so much with an overwhelming passing game but an overwhelming offense that ran the ball more often than it passed it. West Virginia actually played at least a little bit of defense, too, although the 48-45 final might not bear that out.
With that win, Dana Holgorsen's team has gone largely from a carnival sideshow to a legitimate contender for the Big 12 championship, if not more. How might the Mountaineers handle that?
Well, like another day at the office, according to Holgorsen. It's already started to look like that.
"I think they're handling it well, based on how we traveled and how we acted in the locker room before the game and really played with a sense of urgency,'' Holgorsen said. "We had to drag those guys off the field in warm-ups because they wanted to get out there. And then we didn't sub much because the guys that were out there didn't want to come out of the game.''
Holgorsen, of course, is not looking at the big picture of national rankings - the Mountaineers are now in the top five of every major poll - or what might be out there down the road. Nor is he terribly concerned about the rising perception of his team as a contender.
"You know me pretty well. I don't really care what people think, to be honest,'' Holgorsen said. "We're going to coach hard and we're going to come up with a game plan and we're going to try to go out there and execute it. What the outside looking thinks doesn't affect what we do.''
That was late Saturday night in Austin in the aftermath of the win over Texas. By Monday, naturally, the tone was still pretty much on an even keel.
"We set a goal at the beginning of the season to win the conference and we're two games into that,'' Holgorsen said. "The next challenge is Texas Tech, so that's what we talk about.''
The No. 5 Mountaineers (5-0, 2-0 Big 12) face Texas Tech (4-1, 1-1) at 3: 30 p.m. Saturday in Lubbock. The game will be televised as one of a handful in that time slot by ABC.
Still, even in the midst of that one-at-a-time mantra, Holgorsen admits that he can see perhaps a special quality in this team.
"I've got some guys that believe,'' Holgorsen said. "I said it last week heading into [the Texas] game that I liked the way this team plays together. We had to play well on all three sides of the ball, which we did. We had to overcome some adversity on all three sides, which we did.
"Those are some qualities of a good team, there's no question. But we've got to continue playing like that. Each and every game is going to be competitive. Each and every team in the conference brings something different to the table. So you've got to take them one at a time and keep playing together as a team.''
The spotlight will continue to shine as long as the Mountaineers continue to win. Last weekend's game was a national broadcast on Fox. After this week's regional telecast in Lubbock, it's back home to face Kansas State in a game that could - if WVU beats Tech and Kansas State wins at Iowa State - be between two top five teams. Regardless, it will be another prime-time game on national television, Fox having picked it up Monday and set the kickoff for 7 p.m.
All that is just fine with Holgorsen, just as it was last week with all the hype surrounding the game at Texas.
"One of the things I was excited about in joining the Big 12 Conference was that type of environment,'' Holgorsen said. "Texas is one of the premier programs in the country and the environment was fantastic. That stadium's never been more alive than it was on Saturday and our guys fed off of that. And it was a national television game with high ratings, which means we played in front of a whole bunch of people and had some success.
"So that has to be a positive. That's one of the reasons we were excited about going to the Big 12 Conference.''
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1.