Friendships Change View For Big 12 Coaching Matchups
West Virginia head coach Dana Holgorsen was happy for Kliff Kingsbury in the aftermath of Texas Tech’s 41-17 win at Oklahoma State this past Saturday, but noted that facing people who are longtime friends is a difficult assignment. The Mountaineers play their first true road game of the 2018 season this week when they travel to Lubbock. Kickoff is slated for noon, and the Big 12 clash will be televised by ESPN2.
“We have known each other a long time, and go way back,” he said of his association with the Red Raider head coach, which began when Holgorsen coached him while Kingsbury was a player at Tech. “The hard thing about going into these situations is that you don’t think about it [them being friends]. Maybe we’ll think about it after we’re retired. Maybe we’ll like each other and go on vacation again.”
Of course, it’s not as if Holgorsen and Kingsbury dislike each other now. It’s just that their status as competitors in the Big 12 Conference causes separation in relationships. Some of that is due to public perception of too much fraternization, but some might also be rooted in the fear of inadvertently helping the opposition in some manner. At the top, there’s the simple fact that each is coaching for wins, and by extension, job security.
“I know most of those guys over there on that staff,” Holgorsen said. “That’s the hard thing about this profession. You develop a lot of friendships. They are doing a good job and got a good win last week. I wish them well in every game but one, and this is the one.”
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After being shredded by Mississippi, 47-27, in the opener, Texas Tech bounced back with an excellent performance against a very good Oklahoma State offense, holding the Cowboys to 17 points this past weekend in Stillwater.
“They are doing a heck of a job,” Holgorsen complimented. “I have known (defensive coordinator) David Gibbs and (linebackers coach) Zac Spavital (whose brother Jake is WVU’s offensive coordinator) a long time. They are going into their fourth year, and I know from first-hand experience that you don’t fix a defense overnight. They have worked their tail off, recruited better and their players are buying into it. That is paying off, and you have to give Kliff some credit there, too. He recognized the problem and put a plan in place to fix it.”
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Offensively, the Red Raiders have replaced departed star Keke Coutee with a cadre of receivers, which Holgorsen sees as the norm for a Big 12 team. He views that every day on his own squad, where David Sills, Gary Jennings, Marcus Simms and T.J. Simmons have all proved their worth.
“That’s nothing new in this league,” he said of the waves of wideouts. “Everyone has a deep receiving corps. You can only play a few at a time, and we’ll do our best at identifying what they are in and do our best to defend them.”
Triggering that effectiveness for Tech has been freshman quarterback Alan Bowman, who has played more like a veteran. His early rise goes back to coaching, according to Holgorsen.
“He is being coached by one of the best who has ever done it,” the eighth-year Mountaineer head coach said of his counterpart. “Kliff played as a freshman, so he knows how to talk to young kids. It’s not the first young kid that he has had to work with. If you get coached up by Kliff, you are going to be ready to go. It’s not surprising to me.”
His own quarterback certainly not surprisingly, has also been quite efficient.
“I am pretty satisfied with where the offense is right now,” he summarized, while noting that Tech’s resurgent defense will give Will Grier and company a new challenge. “Will’s job is to distribute the ball as he sees fit and as he’s coached, and he’s doing a great job with it. We have some ‘star power’ at wide receiver and we’re taking advantage of that. We are getting more people involved, which wasn’t a strong point last year.”
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On the flip side of the match-up, Kingsbury sees a better WVU team than the one that outscored his squad 46-35 a year ago in Morgantown.
“I think WVU is improved in all three phases. Coach (Tony) Gibson has developed a culture there, is very aggressive, and gives you multiple looks,” said Kingsbury, whose club is currently 3-1. “Offensively they have dynamic skills across the board, as good as anybody in the country.”
Noting that Gibbs executed a complete teardown and rebuild of Tech’s defense, from scheme to personnel, Kingsbury offers the usual caution about still having a great deal of distance to go. He did acknowledge an improvement in fundamentals and experience as two of the building blocks in the process.
“Just assignment football,” he said of the reason the Red Raiders are 14th nationally in third down defense so far. “They are doing their job and making people earn it. Some of those guys that were freshmen and sophomores are now juniors and seniors. They are making strides and that’s encouraging. We know we still have a ways to go, but hopefully we can build off each conference game and get a little better each week.”
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Oklahoma State was upset by Texas Tech, but Cowboy head coach Mike Gundy didn’t seen any issues that pointed to systemic problems, or “back to the drawing board” scenarios.
“We blocked pretty average, we dropped some passes and got out of some gaps on the counter,” Gundy said, detailing some of the mistakes that led to a surprising 41-17 home loss. “We busted some coverages. There are just a lot of fundamental errors that we have to correct.”
The loss was due to the fast pace and relentless pressure of offenses that Gundy sees as a differing characteristic of the Big 12 versus other leagues.
Oklahoma head coach Lincoln Riley was not about to put his team’s 28-21 overtime win over Army in the “forget about it” box. In response to a question asking about that process, which referenced the “gimmicky nature” of Army’s triple-option offense, he indicated there were good things about his team’s performance, while noting it did provide a basis for areas to work on.
“I don’t dismiss it at all,” the second-year head man said of his approach to a game that was much closer than many expected. “We gave up 21 points and made big stops at the end to win the game and move to 4-0.”
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Immediately following his team’s 35-6 loss to West Virginia, head coach Bill Snyder indicated that backup quarterback Alex Delton played better than starter Skylar Thompson. Perhaps with an eye toward tamping down a flareup of the starting QB discussion, Snyder said Monday that after reviewing the game that both played about the same.
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With Week 4 of the college football season coming up, several coaches were questioned about their experience so far with the new redshirt rule, and how they are working with players who figure to be reaching the limit of playing in four games while still maintaining a redshirt.
Most of the coaches queried said that it still comes down to individual evaluations, and that they are still working through all of the ins and outs of the process. Ensuring good communications with players to verify where they stand, and what they might need to do to avoid a redshirt, were mentioned as some of the items that coaches are paying particular attention to.
“It’s very, very positive for student-athletes,” Holgorsen. “We are probably going to have to play some [more] guys, but we want to be cautious and not burn a redshirt when we don’t need to. I have nothing but good things to say [about the rule] at this point.”