Holgorsen looking toward next season
MORGANTOWN - Dana Holgorsen's final postgame press conference of 2013 Saturday night seemed equal parts postmortem and prelude.
And why not? After one of the most anguishing seasons in West Virginia football history, the next one can't come soon enough.
The Mountaineers stayed true to form in Saturday's finale against Iowa State, perhaps proving once and for all that the quality of the opposition didn't really matter this season. Be it one of the Big 12's power brokers (Oklahoma, Texas) or also-rans (Kansas, Iowa State), West Virginia more often than not found a way to come up short.
This time it was losing leads of 31-7 in the first half and 38-21 in the final 10 minutes. A 52-44, three-overtime loss to Iowa State was the third time in the final four games the Mountaineers went to overtime.
It was also the sixth time in the last six games West Virginia lost a second-half lead and the fifth time it cost them a game.
First, the postmortem:
"We've talked about finishing all year long,'' Holgorsen said. "And obviously that's something that's going to be addressed in the offseason when it comes to issues we've had this year not being able to close games.
"Why can't you close games? Obviously it comes down to execution. It's a burning desire to win, a collection of guys that don't want to let each other down, coaches and players. Obviously we're not at that point right now.''
But then there was the prelude. After the way West Virginia's season ended - a 4-8 record, 2-7 in Big 12 play, the first losing season since 2001 and the absence of a bowl game for the first time since that same season - 2014 can't begin soon enough.
"Besides thanking the seniors, the other thing we talked about [with the players after the loss] was that 2014 starts tomorrow,'' Holgorsen said. "We'll be out on the road recruiting and, obviously, recruiting is something that needs to improve. And then just getting the returning guys to buy into what we're doing.''
What, though, will 2014 bring? Holgorsen's first WVU team finished 10-3 and won the Orange Bowl in record fashion. His second started the season 5-0, making his 18-game mark 15-3. Since then, though, the Mountaineers have gone just 6-14, finishing 7-6 in 2012 and now 4-8. The decline has been precipitous and obvious.
Yet Holgorsen insists that this is not the time to chart a new course. Instead he will drive forward with essentially the same plan, one that he obviously feels won't pay dividends until it is completed.
"We're not going to change a whole bunch,'' Holgorsen said. "I thought we made progress in the last year. The record doesn't show it and ultimately that's what I'm going to be judged on. I understand that. But what we've done in the last year, we're going to crank it up and do it a little bit harder.''
Indeed, there are what seem to be legitimate reasons not to divert from the plan, at least in Holgorsen's way of thinking. Both offensively and defensively, a case can be made that West Virginia showed improvement, either from last year to this or from the beginning of this season to the end.
Defensively, the Mountaineers were statistically nearly as poor this year as last, but injuries decimated a lineup that seemed to be making progress.
"I'm not going to make excuses for why we gave up 575 yards,'' Holgorsen said of the yardage that Iowa State amassed in the finale, which was 120 yards more than even the norm for the season. "But there were a lot of kids out there that hadn't played a whole lot of football.''
And offensively, which is where Holgorsen butters his coaching bread, West Virginia was essentially starting from scratch with an entirely new group of skill position players.
"We talked about this earlier. The lack of continuity that existed with us offensively is something I don't anticipate happening again,'' Holgorsen said. "You get guys like Mario [Alford, who caught eight passes for 215 yards in the finale] that get comfortable making plays. That's just one example. You'll have guys that understand what we're trying to do a little bit better, which means that we can coach them on technique a little bit harder. And the more continuity that exists, the better we're going to be offensively.''
Alford, indeed, was a perfect example of Holgorsen's theory that the offense simply needs more time. He and others weren't even part of the program a year ago.
"You take a guy who just joined us in August, it's going to take some time,'' Holgorsen said. "I'm glad he got it this year. Kevin [White has] shown some signs of being a guy that's going to be pretty good for us. Daikiel [Shorts] is another.
"There are a lot of examples out there of guys that are just now figuring out what we're doing, and it makes a little more sense to them. I look forward to coaching those guys in the offseason.''
Which, like it or not, for WVU began early this year.
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at twitter.com/dphickman1.