Holgorsen Succinct, Cites TCU As “Huge Test”

Holgorsen Succinct, Cites TCU As “Huge Test”

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Dana Holgorsen was to the point when doling out his weekly pregame report.

“Huge test,” he said.

That’s the truth, as No. 23 West Virginia goes on the road to face No. 8 TCU in Fort Worth. But what, exactly, has made this version of the Horned Frogs (4-0, 1-0 Big 12) arguably as dangerous as the 2015 team which went 11-2 overall and finished seventh in the nation?

First, TCU can run it. Back-up Darius Anderson has more than replaced veteran Kyle Hicks, and paced a ground game which is averaging more than 232 yards per game – first in the conference. Second, quarterback Kenny Hill has settled into a game manager role, and isn’t forcing passes as he did last season. Third, and perhaps most importantly, TCU has quality depth at nearly every position, and a wealth of experience with 16 senior starters. Add in the always-solid special teams and a defense which is allowing just 18.5 points per game – 26th nationally – and this is the most difficult game thus far for the Mountaineers.

“Gary has been there 20 years, won almost 75 percent of his games,” Holgorsen said. “That’s almost unheard of in college football. Ton of respect for him. Good football team. Starts with 16 senior starters. That’s impressive. They have quality second and third team guys. That means you have a really good football team.”

It was similar to the situation WVU enjoyed a year ago, when it had a plethora of upperclassmen on defense, a quarterback who was asked to simply oversee the offense and a stable of running backs and receivers. The two programs, in fact, have followed similar patterns swapping close victories each of the first three season in the league before a pair of blowouts over the last two years, with No. 4 TCU winning 40-10 in 2015 before 12th-ranked West Virginia steamrolled the Frogs 34-10 last year in Morgantown.

“The similarities in the programs builds a lot of interest,” Holgorsen said. “Won a ton of games, were in the BCS discussions and all that. They go into the Big 12 and we follow them a couple months later. You’ve seen both programs go through the process of building their teams similarly. Early struggles with some big wins and then building depth to the point where both teams are pretty good.”

Of now, the two are among four ranked conference teams, led by No. 3 Oklahoma. Oklahoma State was rated sixth until TCU upset them 44-31 in Stillwater on Sept. 23 by limiting arguably the nation’s most explosive offense to 23 points below their season average. TCU forced three turnovers, including two interceptions, and rode that and the running game to a key victory.

“They look the same defensively as they did years ago,” Holgorsen said of Patterson’s 4-2-5 set. “That’s his stamp on the program and his stamp on college football. They got guys I have been looking at for three years. They rarely have to outnumber you in the box, which is a different type of situation than what we are used to seeing. They just do a really good job with teaching technique and getting guys to play with high motors. Their coverage, they read routes better than anybody. They know the positions they need to be in and are rarely out of position.”

On the flip side, and this story will be played out all week, WVU coordinator Jake Spavital coached TCU’s Hill when both were at Texas A&M in 2014. The Mountaineers also faced Hill a season ago, when the then-junior completed 18-of-31 passes for 184 yards, one touchdown and one interception. Hill has matured in his second season as a TCU starter, however, and is considerably more savvy now than when he took three sacks in last year’s match-up.

“Offensively, know their quarterback well,” Holgorsen said. “Lot of similarities between him and the quarterback we got. Both had great high school careers, played early at their respective universities and transferred and are now having success where they are at. Running the ball extremely well. O-line is big and covering people up and I can’t tell the difference in 10-12 receivers. They have guys who look the same and who are all capable of making plays.

“Huge test. Their coverage unit leads the Big 12. They have given up zero punt return yardage. They are perfect on PAT and field goal, they place kicks. We better cover and do a great job blocking up front. Deserving of their top 10 ranking.”