WVU’s Holgorsen keeps Alabama’s strength in perspective

AP photo
Jacob Coker is competing with teammate Blake Sims for Alabama’s starting quarterback job.

MORGANTOWN — From Tony Gibson’s vantage point, preparing for Alabama in 10 more days presents all sorts of challenges, not the least of which is simply figuring out what the Tide offense will look like.

“Yeah, a lot of it is guesswork,’’ West Virginia’s defensive coordinator said of a team with a new (and as yet unknown) quarterback, a new offensive coordinator (Lane Kiffin) and perhaps a mindset to shake things up a bit. “We have to be prepared for a lot of different scenarios.’’

For Shannon Dawson, the X’s and O’s probably aren’t that mystifying, but the challenge is no less daunting.

“It’s not like they’re going to throw a bunch of stuff at us that we’ve never seen,’’ WVU’s offensive coordinator said. “You just have to make plays against them and that’s hard because everything they do, they do well.’’

And then there’s Dana Holgorsen. It’s his job to be the voice of reason and, yes, even optimism. And that means putting Alabama in perspective.

“Don’t forget,’’ the Mountaineer’ fourth-year head coach said, “we play a lot of good teams in the Big 12.’’

Indeed, but have any of them been of the class of Alabama of late? Well, no, and for one simple reason. No one has been in the same class as the Tide of late.

The Alabama team that West Virginia faces a week from Saturday at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta has, in the last five years, won three national championships and been ranked No. 1 at some point (most seasons many points) in each of those five years. The Tide has spent the last 99 weekly polls ranked in the Top 25.

No other program comes close to that kind of consistent domination over that period.

Still, to go into next weekend’s season opener with that as the backdrop would certainly be counterproductive for the Mountaineers. So it is Holgorsen’s job to inject as much common sense and reality as possible. He can do that by pointing to the league in which his team plays.

“Alabama is a storied program, but so is Oklahoma. So is Texas,’’ Holgorsen said. “Oklahoma State is pretty good, TCU is pretty good and Texas Tech is pretty good. Kansas State is pretty good. The list goes on.

“Let’s face it, every game we play is big, so I don’t think our guys will be very intimidated by it. Our guys will be ready to play. They’ll go in there and they’ll be excited about the opportunity.’’

West Virginia is now approaching the mid-point of two straight weeks of what amounts to game preparation. Above all else, Holgorsen wants his team rested and ready for the opener, but still with enough work under his players’ belts that they are as sharp as possible. Toward that end he restructured practice leading up to the opener, cutting out a week of intense work that last year he said seemed to drain his players.

By doing so he also doubles the game-week preparation his team has for Alabama, which certainly can’t hurt.

There is a danger, though, of putting too much emphasis on Alabama. The fact is, that’s just one of two games in the first four weeks of the season in which West Virginia faces a team ranked as somebody’s No. 1. The Tide is No. 2 in the Associated Press poll, but No. 1 in at least a handful of others. Oklahoma, the fourth-week foe, is also No. 1 in The Sporting News rankings and No. 4 in the AP poll.

That AP poll also has Baylor ranked No. 10, meaning three of the first seven opponents are Top 10 teams. In all, eight of WVU’s 12 opponents received votes in the preseason AP poll.

Holgorsen could probably use that as a part of his argument that Alabama shouldn’t be put on too high a pedestal given the other teams on the schedule, but instead he shrugs it off as what it is.

“I don’t pay any attention to the rankings and I don’t pay any attention to what they think about us at this point either,’’ Holgorsen said. “They know what the schedule is. We play in one of the most challenging conferences in the country and arguably have the toughest schedule in the country when you add in a couple of those non-conference games. They know that and they view that as an opportunity to be able to have a pretty good year.’’

BRIEFLY: Jaylon Myers has been officially added to the WVU roster. The junior college cornerback missed all of camp before becoming eligible. ... There is still no official word on the status of fifth-year senior cornerback Ishmael Banks. A starter in all 12 games last season, Banks is reportedly dealing with academic issues.

Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or dphickman1@aol.com or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1.

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