WVU football: Mountaineers back at it
MORGANTOWN - A couple of weeks ago Dana Holgorsen was asked about his West Virginia football team's schedule to date, specifically about the run of unbeaten and nationally ranked opponents the Mountaineers were playing.
It was the week before WVU was to take on Baylor and ahead of the team's first bye week of the season.
"Hey, we don't face one next week,'' Holgorsen said with a combination of attempted humor and perhaps relief.
Well, that by week is in the rear-view mirror now, which means it's back to the grind.
On Saturday, West Virginia (3-3, 1-2 Big 12) faces its sixth unbeaten team of the season. This time it is Texas Tech (6-0, 3-0), which is not only ranked No. 16, but already bowl eligible. The noon game at Mountaineer Field will be televised by Fox Sports 1.
The Red Raiders beat Iowa State, 42-35, Saturday in Lubbock. It certainly wasn't the Red Raiders' most impressive performance of the season, but it was another win - something West Virginia's opponents to date have done with regularity.
With the exception of winless and hapless Georgia State, every other team WVU has played this season was unbeaten when it face the Mountaineers. Including Texas Tech, all five of the FBS unbeatens WVU has or will play have been ranked in the Top 25 at some point this season. Four are still in the rankings.
And including Texas Tech and excluding Georgia State, those teams are now a combined 29-5 overall and 26-3 in their games against teams other than the Mountaineers.
Holgorsen keeps insisting that West Virginia's offense is a work in progress. And that includes more than just the skill positions and the philosophy.
The offensive line seems to go through weekly changes.
"They've played like our whole offense has - inconsistently,'' Holgorsen said. "I think we need some continuity.''
Continuity, though, has been hard to come by. Already the Mountaineers have changed their center, going from redshirt freshman Tyler Orlosky to fifth-year senior Pat Eger, and moved Quinton Spain from left tackle to left guard. Nick Kindler is now the starting left tackle and in last week's game at Baylor redshirt freshman Adam Pankey made his debut.
Only right tackle Curtis Feigt and right guard Mark Glowinski have started all six games at the same spot, and even they are frequently replaced.
"I like our lineup. Those guys will become better at what we asked them to do,'' Holgorsen said. "Pat Eger will become a better center. Quinton Spain will become a better guard. Curtis Feigt and Kindler are still getting better. Feigt probably played his best game the other day. Nick gets a little overmatched at times, but he tries hard.
"And the three young guys will continue to get better. They struggled in the game [at Baylor], but they'll get better. They're not at the point where they can be overly productive. It's hard to play that position that young. We're inconsistent, but we need them to keep pushing.''
One of those linemen won't be pushing during the first half of Saturday's game with Texas Tech. Pankey won't be playing.
That's a result of the first instance this season of the NCA's new targeting-ejection rule affecting West Virginia. Pankey was tossed from the second half of the Baylor game for cracking back on a defensive lineman who was chasing the quarterback and leading with his helmet.
"He was peeling back and it was a defenseless defender, so I agree [with the call],'' Holgorsen said. "He's a large guy. He wasn't malicious about it, but he hit him. He hit him head-to-head and couldn't stop himself. You have to turn your shoulder.''
Safety Darwin Cook was also flagged for what was deemed targeting, but the ejection was overturned by the replay official. Holgorsen called the initial ruling "horrendous'' and 'the worst call ever.''
The ejection rule calls for a player ejected in the first half of a game to sit out the rest of that game. A player ejected in the second half, as was Pankey, sits out the rest of that game and the first half of the next.
When West Virginia was pummeled 37-0 at Maryland and then came back a week later to upset then-No. 11 Oklahoma State, Holgorsen praised the seniors for keeping things together.
After a 73-42 loss to Baylor, it's no less critical now.
"I made reference to how well they were doing when we came back from Maryland embarrassed and disappointed,'' Holgorsen said. "Cook, Shaq Rowell and Will Clarke, Doug Rigg, Pat Eger, Curtis Feigt, Nick Kindler, Charles Sims, they all did a great job. Those seniors did a great job.
"But the leadership doesn't have to come from seniors. They can be juniors, sophomores and even freshmen for all I care. We did a great job coming back from Oklahoma State. Then we took a step back going and playing in a very difficult situation and we weren't up for the challenge.''
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1