WVU not underestimating weaker Big 12 opponents
West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen remains mindful of the unrelenting October competition that's now in the Mountaineers' wake.
“I believe that record is 30-1 after this past weekend,” Holgorsen said of the combined marks of Baylor (7-0), Oklahoma State (8-0), TCU (8-0) and Oklahoma (7-1) after a reporter on Monday's Big 12 conference call suggested the win total sat at 28.
What's left in the Mountaineers' Big 12 schedule lacks rankings relevance but still demands the team's full attention.
Ahead of each game last month, Holgorsen cast West Virginia (3-4, 0-4 in Big 12) as an underdog while he heaped praise on the Bearcats, Cowboys, Horned Frogs and Sooners, all of whom entered this week ranked in the Associated Press' top 14. With a slate of November matchups against less celebrated Big 12 foes, Holgorsen must reframe the Mountaineers' collective mindset.
“It doesn't get any easier for us,” said Holgorsen, whose team will host Texas Tech (5-4, 2-4) at noon Saturday. “The one thing we've got to be cautious of is thinking that way. Just because we're not playing a quote-unquote top-15 team, we've still got our hands full this week.”
November went poorly for West Virginia each of the past three seasons, as the Mountaineers finished 1-3 in the month each time. Games against the Red Raiders, Texas (3-5, 2-3), Kansas (0-8, 0-5) and Iowa State (3-5, 2-3) this November plus Kansas State (3-4, 0-4) in December certainly give West Virginia the opportunity to break from the trend.
Finishing with a whimper would leave Holgorsen and his staff with many questions about how a team, promising in the preseason, fell so far. While the Big 12's frontrunners continue to uphold the conference's reputation as the home of high-scoring offenses, West Virginia finds itself first in the FBS in less enviable categories. No program averages more penalty yards per game (90.14) than the Mountaineers, and only eight commit more infractions per game.
“I haven't seen any penalties with guys being malicious in any form or fashion, so it's probably a little more technique than anything,” Holgorsen said of the penalties.
He and his staff studied the film of last Thursday's 40-10 loss at TCU to determine how many of West Virginia's nine penalties, which yielded 114 yards, translated to teachable moments. Three pass interference calls and one personal foul on the Mountaineers allowed TCU to convert third downs.
Such errors, costly against TCU, are no more affordable against a Red Raiders offense that averages 413.4 passing yards and 47.3 points.
“(Texas Tech) is going to be a challenge, and the remaining four games after that are going to be a challenge,” Holgorsen said. “It's what's great about being in the Big 12, is you've got good quality teams each and every week, and you should be excited about playing whoever is next on your schedule.”
Each of Texas Tech's losses also came against the Big 12's four ranked teams, so the Red Raiders are just as eager to see where they stand among the conference's also-rans.
Holgorsen and Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury are doing their parts to tout the merits of the Big 12's best in order to give the conference a contender in the four-team NCAA playoff. But no matter how much they champion TCU or Baylor's case, Holgorsen and Kingsbury's careers remain tied to their programs' progress.
“Those are all quality teams,” Kingsbury said. “But we have enough on our plate to worry about.”