MORGANTOWN — Aside from buying into the coaching cliché that the most important game of the season is always the next one, there really isn’t anything special about West Virginia’s game with Towson Saturday night.
Yes, it’s the home opener, which is generally enough to stir some enthusiasm. And, yes, it’s against an FCS opponent that last year went to Hartford and dumped Connecticut.
Then again, this is also a Towson team that lost its most significant players from a group that probably overachieved in reaching the FCS championship game, so it would seem that WVU’s 14-0 mark against opponents from that level isn’t exactly in grave danger.
There is, however, something Dana Holgorsen wants to see this week — both in practice and during Saturday night’s game (7:30 p.m. kickoff, Root Sports) — that could tell a significant story as the Mountaineers move forward.
Specifically, it is the same level of enthusiasm his team showed during its 33-23 loss to No. 2 Alabama in last weekend’s opener in Atlanta. That, perhaps even more so than the actual nuts and bolts of playing the game, is vital to the Mountaineers, Holgorsen said.
“The biggest thing we were happy with from last week on all three sides of the ball was that our excitement level to play the game was off the charts,’’ Holgorsen said Tuesday. “Our energy throughout the course of the game was at an all-time high. The effort that our guys played with was exactly what we want.
“I told them Sunday that they set the standard, they set the bar, for how they need to play all year. If we can get those guys to play with that kind of effort, with that kind of energy and with that kind of excitement, we’re going to have a good year.’’
A year ago, Holgorsen said, that kind of energy and effort was rare, and that contributed to West Virginia’s demise. In some ways, last season started similarly with a close loss to a highly ranked team [Oklahoma], but it was different in that the enthusiasm Holgorsen point
-ed to from last weekend was never really there in 2013, even in that close early-season loss.
“There were other issues [last year]. That was a sloppy game,’’ Holgorsen said. “I don’t think this game was a sloppy game. You’re looking at one [Alabama] turnover, very few penalties, pretty good execution on both sides.
“Last year against Oklahoma, that was a sloppy game. We had issues with energy. We had issues with excitement. We had issues with effort during that game. And during the course of the year it was spotty. I didn’t see that on Saturday night.’’
The trick, of course, is sustaining that level of enthusiasm and effort across 12 games. That’s why the game with Towson is so significant. Not only is it the next one up, it’s also against the opponent that is as close as any on the WVU schedule to the polar opposite of Alabama.
Quite simply, from potentially the best team on its schedule West Virginia now switches focus to the worst. It is perhaps the perfect test to determine the level of sustained enthusiasm and effort with which the Mountaineers will play all season.
“There’s a lot of things that we need to correct, as everybody does, from game one. There’s a lot of assignment stuff. There’s a lot of technique stuff,’’ Holgorsen said. “But the thing that stood out which is a positive is how we played.
“It’s not necessarily what the results were. There’s a lot of things we need to work on. But how we played I was very happy with and if we can play like that all year I think we’ll win a bunch of games.’’
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1