MORGANTOWN — West Virginia head football coach Dana Holgorsen will talk about anything these days — well, almost anything.
Asked about using the Big 12 Conference championship game as a carrot to motivate his No. 9 (CFP) Mountaineers (7-1, 5-1 Big 12) as they prepare to take on an unranked Texas Christian University (4-5, 2-4 Big 12) squad at noon on Saturday in the friendly confines of Milan Puskar Stadium, WVU’s head man came right to the point.
“We don’t talk about playoff stuff,” Holgorsen said with a smirk. “I don’t know if you’re referring to the CFP stuff, which we pay no attention to, or the Big 12 championship, which that’s our goal. You can say that’s a lofty goal if you want to, but that’s everybody’s goal in the Big 12 is to play in that game, so that’s what we’re striving for.
“The only way you remain in that conversation is if you play well the next week. The only thing we talk about is TCU, that’s it. We don’t talk about scenarios, we don’t talk about who would be in that game, we certainly don’t talk about what happens after that game. It’s 100 percent TCU and what we can do to be able to win that game.”
Not a bad thing. Especially when you look back at the history of these two programs that joined the Big 12 in 2012.
“Well, actually, we were both in the Big East for a couple of months,” laughed Holgorsen. “Then they left for the Big 12 and we followed right behind them.”
TCU makes its fourth trip to Morgantown holding a 2-1 advantage in games played at Mountaineer Field. A fact that Holgorsen was quick to point out.
“They have had better success against us here than we have against them,” he said. “It seems like every time we play them it is a physical, hard-fought game that comes down to whoever has the ball last.”
That wasn’t the case two years ago when then-No. 12 WVU blasted the Horned Frogs by a 34-10 margin. The game was West Virginia’s most complete of the season. Then-starting quarterback Skyler Howard completed 70 percent (16-of-23) of his passes for 231 yards and touchdowns of 10, 22, 11 and 16 yards.
The Mountaineers’ special teams forced two fumbles, with one leading to a touchdown, while the defense held the visitors scoreless in the second half and well below their more than 40-point scoring average.
“TCU is still first or second in every dang defensive category that exists in the Big 12,” added WVU’s coach. “It’s always been hard to move the ball on them. Gary Patterson is the best defensive coach in the country.”
Patterson’s 2018 prevent unit is no different.
Heading into their first real road trip of the season, the Frogs are surrendering a mere 335 yards per game on defense (27th nationally) while opposing quarterbacks have seen their receivers held to only 190.7 yards per contest.
They are third in scoring defense at 23.7 points per game.
Holgorsen and offensive coordinator Jake Spavital may have developed a new weapon to attack the Frogs’ 4-2-5 base set — tight ends Trevon Wesco and Jovani Haskins.
“Having two tight ends makes us more multiple and harder to defend,” explained Holgorsen. “I don’t care which of our five skill guys are on the field at any time, they are all threats to get the ball. They have to cover all of them.”
A newly revised running attack should allow WVU’s Will Grier to have time to find and get the ball to that pair as well as a plethora of talented pass catchers.
“(Wesco and Haskins) certainly help,” said Spavital. “We can line them up in multiple places and it allows us to take advantage of possible mis-matches that we may discover as the game progresses.”
Conversely, TCU’s offensive attack has been hampered by a season-ending injury to starting quarterback Shawn Robinson and the loss of Kavonte Turpin for disciplinary reasons.
¯ The noon start will be televised nationally by FS1 with Justin Kutcher providing the play-by-play, DeMarco Murray and Petros Papadakis doing the analysis and Holly Sonders roaming the sidelines.
¯ TCU leads the all-time series over WVU by a 4-3 margin. Patterson is 4-2 facing the Dana Holgorsen-led Mountaineers.
¯ The game is listed as a sellout and is the Mountaineers’ True Blue game, so fans planning on attending are asked to wear blue.
“I’ll be wearing blue as well,” Holgorsen joked.
¯ St. Clairsville native Brendan Ferns is expected to dress and could see action according to defensive coordinator Tony Gibson.
“That’s the plan,” said Gibson. “Both (Ferns and Quondarius Qualls) practiced last week but we didn’t dress them out for the Texas game. But they are both in the plans for this week. It’s nice to finally get some players back.”
¯Bridgeport’s Dylan Tonkery is also expected to return to the field against the Horned Frogs.