By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
One of the things that West Virginia University has going in its favor when it plays a football game is that it is extremely difficult to prepare for because it is so unorthodox in its approach to the offensive side of the game.
It comes at you with three, four or five wide outs. It alters formations and does everything at varied pace, lining up quickly but sometimes snapping the ball in what seems like milliseconds and sometimes standing at the line and reading the defense for weaknesses.
This week, though, there is a curveball being tossed at the Mountaineers, one that some would seem to feel favors Texas, a team that has enough advantages going into Saturday’s 7 p.m. game in Austin that can be seen on the Fox network.
“This is one of the premier programs in the country,” coach Dana Holgorsen noted, even though over the past couple of years the Longhorns have struggled. “The tradition is fantastic; the facilities are fantastic; the fan support is fantastic. It is going to be a tremendous environment.
“They have everything going for them,” Holgorsen concluded.
The Longhorns play in Darrell Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium, the sixth-largest college stadium in the nation, seating more than 100,000 people. The atmosphere there is electric, right down to having Bevo, the Longhorn mascot, in the end zone.
Tradition-wise, of course, there is a history of national championships and Heisman Trophy winners, a list of star players from Vince Young to Colt McCoy to Ricky Williams to Earl Campbell that can be an outline of the history of college football.
Great teams, which this WVU team is striving to become, find a way to win games in situations like this, but they don’t come easily.
And that is especially true this week because of the other advantage Texas seems to have.
Its last game was against Oklahoma State, the school at which Holgorsen was offensive coordinator before leaving for WVU.
The Cowboys run an offense that is as similar to WVU’s as you will find, meaning Texas has played against the tempo and the formations that normally confound and confuse its opponents.
“We have some advantages from that,” Texas coach Mack Brown admitted. “But they have some advantages in that Dana coached there and he is close with that coaching staff.”
While Holgorsen wasn’t about to let on that Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy was offering him any inside information on Texas — after all, Gundy did lose at home to the Longhorns — he wasn’t so fast to write all this down as an edge on Texas’ side.
“It depends on how you look at it. We have a whole game of watching how they defended it,” Holgorsen noted.
That, in truth, may be as much of an edge as having gone against a similar offense, for the thing that Holgorsen is best at in game preparation is taking apart a defense, finding weaknesses that can be exploited and developing ways to attack it.
Last week against Baylor he showed that once again as he broke out his five-receiver set, put Stedman Bailey in a slot position where he could not be bracketed by defenders, and turned him loose, resulting in a record-shattering day for the junior receiver out of Miramar, Fla.
Texas, though, is a different animal than Baylor, not just in having a Longhorn mascot to the Bear that represents Baylor.
Texas plays big-time defense.
“Defensively, they are tremendous against the pass,” Holgorsen noted. “They also have great pass rushers and tremendous speed in the secondary. They are a little nicked up at linebacker, but as always, we expect their guys to be back and to play at a very high level. We will have our hands full with them defensively.”
This is especially true on the perimeter, where WVU likes to attack.
“Whoever wins that battle will be extremely significant in the outcome of this game,” Holgorsen said. “That is four of their best players. They also have two good safeties back there. Those six players along the outsides are pretty important to them.”
The corners will present a problem that WVU’s Bailey and J.D. Woods have not had this year.
“The corners are good. They are fast. They can get in your face,” Holgorsen said. “What they do with Kenny Vaccaro is similar to what LSU did last year. They will put him down in the slot to try and be disruptive. He does a good job of covering. Our receivers are going to have players in their grill for the first time all year — much like LSU did last year.”
WVU handled LSU’s defense well last year, running up more yardage than anyone else did against the Tigers, but four turnovers made the victory for LSU far easier than it should have been.
o o o o o o
NOTES: QB Geno Smith added the Maxwell Club Offensive Player of the Week to his awards from his record-bursting performance against Baylor last week. ... Still no word on the status of running back Shawne Alston, who has missed virtually all of the past two games with an injury.
Email Bob Hertzel at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @bhertzel.