Festive Atmosphere Expected for Big 12 Opener

MORGANTOWN – West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen felt the energy level last weekend at Mountaineer Field, from his players to the coaching staff to the overall environment, was fairly against Maryland.

”I expect that to be totally different this week,” he said, as the Mountaineers play host to Baylor in what will be the program’s long-awaited first league game as a member of the Big 12 conference.

”There’s been a lot of anticipation,” Holgorsen added. ”There will be a lot of eyes on us. We’ve had that situation. We’ve got a program that’s pretty established, used to being in the national spotlight, used to winning … We’re looking forward to a very festive and fun Saturday.”

They’ve been playing football at Baylor since 1896. West Virginia started playing with the pigskin five years prior to that. This will be the first meeting between the two schools.

Still, that doesn’t mean there won’t be some familiarity.

Not only did Holgorsen work with Baylor coach Art Briles, a long-time success in the high school ranks who has translated that to big-time college football, at Texas Tech from 2003, but so did offensive line coach Bill Bedenbaugh (as a grad assistant). WVU defensive line coach Erik Slaughter worked with Briles from 2003-05 at Houston.

”There are connections all the way through,” Briles said. ”All of those guys, with Dana leading the way, have always done a great job where they’ve been. It’s no exception now.”

Will that familiarity help the Mountaineers?

”It certainly can’t hurt,” Holgorsen said. ”We know them very well. With that said, they know a lot of things we do on all three sides of the ball. They’ve never been to Morgantown, but that happens all of the time (going on the road to a play you haven’t been).”

With all of the big offenses in the Big 12 – and you can count the Bears among those -the potential for a shootout exists each weekend.

”The mentality on defense is to have a short memory,” Holgorsen said, ”and line up and execute your job on the next play or the next series.”

In looking at the Bears, they lost last year’s Heisman Trophy winner, Robert Griffin III, to the NFL’s Washington Redskins, but they’re still playing offense at a breakneck pace. In has stepped Nick Florence who has kept the ship sailing, as he has completed 71 of 110 passes for 1,004 yards, 11 touchdowns and four interceptions.

”His actions speak louder than my words,” Briles said. ”Statistically, he’s been very productive. At this stage of the season, we’re right where we thought we’d be with him. We think there’s still more out there.”

Having followed Briles’ career and his ability to build – and sustain – a program, Holgorsen is surprised by none of this.

”They lose the Heisman Trophy winner and not miss a beat,” Holgorsen said.

The Bears have rushed for 621 yards with Jarred Salubi leading the way with 46 carries for 221 yards and a score.

The leading receivers are Terrance Williams (17 catches, 353 yards, four TDs) and Tevin Reese (15-304-3).

All of those players are upperclassmen.

”They’re experienced and been in same system for four years so it’s going to pose some problems,” Holgorsen said.

Holgorsen said his knowledge of the way the game’s played in the Big 12, along with that of his staff’s, will only take the Mountaineers so far Saturday.

”Every year is different,” he said. ”You can try to take some things and learn from it, but ultimately it’s preparing the team you have this year and putting those guys in position to make plays.”

Briles has never been to Morgantown, but he knows what he’s up against.

”Just West Virginia football in general, it’s safe to say over last decade, has been a pretty dominant football program,” he said.

”And it has not fallen off the last couple of years since Dana got there. His attention to detail is very strong. He has a good grasp of defenses and his own personnel. He’s always been around quality programs, and he’s helped elevate wherever he’s been.”