WVU football: Holgorsen is thankful for Big 12
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - His third season as West Virginia's football coach hasn't given Dana Holgorsen a lot to celebrate, but he's nevertheless thankful for many of the things he has and that he believes are still heading his way.
"I'm thankful for the Big 12," he said. "I really am. It's challenging, but we're relevant. We're learning a lot about ourselves as far as being in a power conference. It seems like I'm always complaining about it as far as where we're at, but that's not true.
"I think we're going to be extremely competitive. We have a lot of the right pieces in place. I think we're a lot better football team this year than last year, minus maybe one or two guys. Just on all three sides of the ball, direction of the program, coaches, schemes, all that stuff, I'm thankful to be where we're at and I'm looking forward to moving forward."
* * *
WVU's SCHEDULE gave the team a beneficial break last week. A season that has no bowl game had a pause between the 11th and 12th games, which let Holgorsen use two days of practice in an off week to work out players who are on the scout team and who don't play much, if at all.
For the first time since 2001, the Mountaineers (4-7, 2-6 Big 12) won't play in a bowl game, which means there won't be the handful of extra practices between the end of the season and the bowl, where coaches often devote a few to advancement of the undeveloped players.
It seemed plausible the schedule would afford another opportunity. Saturday's game against Iowa State (2-9, 1-7) is one without a payoff. It simply ends a season earlier the Mountaineers wanted and sends them into the winter earlier than expected. Might Holgorsen use the 4 p.m. game (Fox Sports 1) to give some of those unknown players a chance or to audition for spring practice?
"We won't take that approach," he said. "You only get a certain amount of games and they're all important. It wouldn't be fair to our seniors, fair to the fan base or any of that if we don't put our best foot forward and try to win the game."
Holgorsen pointed out his team is in a bit of a trial stage with 10 freshmen redshirting, eight defensive players out for the season and three other starters questionable for Saturday. Offensively, right tackle Curtis Feigt also is questionable. Holgorsen said he'll have about 50 players available for the Cyclones.
"A lot of young guys already need to step up and play ball, so whoever deserves to play, whether in practice or preparing to be the next guy up, needs to get in there and play," Holgorsen said. "It's just like it was against Kansas, just like it was against Texas the week before that. We'll come up with what we feel like gives us the best chance to win do whatever we can to win the game."
* * *
LINEBACKER DOUG Rigg, who suffered concussions against Oklahoma and Texas Tech and was thought to be out for the season, could play Saturday in the senior's final game. Rigg recovered the fumble late in the fourth quarter against USF in 2011 that set up the game-winning score that clinched the Orange Bowl bid. In the bowl, Rigg forced the fumble safety Darwin Cook returned 99 yards for a momentous touchdown.
"I feel pretty good right now," he said. "I think people have been scared for me the most, just talking about possible things that could go wrong. I haven't been afraid, though, and I'm not afraid right now.
"I told them I'm going to be honest with them. If I felt something, I was going to tell them immediately. It wasn't something I was going to play around with.
"It's my last game here, so it would mean a lot for me to play."
* * *
FIELD POSITION and perhaps even the mood of the game will be determined by the two punters Saturday. The Mountaineers have sophomore Nick O'Toole, a junior college transfer who is averaging 43.6 yards on 70 punts. WVU is No. 7 nationally in net punting (40.6 yards).
Iowa State's Kirby Van Der Kamp is known as one of nation's best, despite averaging just 41.8 yards on 80 punts as a senior. He averaged 41 yards last year, 42.66 as a sophomore and 45.17 as a freshman. His career average of 42.5 yards is No. 21 in NCAA history.
He's also 5-for-5 on fake punts in his career. Van Der Kamp has run for a first down four times - one last season against WVU and at the expense of would-be tackler Jordan Thompson - and this season passed once on fourth down.
"We offered him a scholarship he accepted when he hadn't even punted yet for his high school team," Coach Paul Rhoads said. "He was going to be a senior that year and he wasn't the punter. He hadn't been their guy. His high school coach to this day says, 'I never would have expected he would have accomplished the things he's accomplished.'"
* * *
THE CYCLONES have the Big 12's worst run defense, allowing the most yards per game (225.09), yards per carry (5.31) and touchdowns (31). They've also given up 23 runs of at least 20 yards - one shy of what Kansas has allowed this season.
Iowa State has also allowed the quarterbacks at Oklahoma State, Kansas State and Oklahoma 89, 95 and 149 yards on the ground.
"They've given up big runs, but it's not like teams have consistently run the ball on them," offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson said. "They stop them, stop them, stop them and then they have a big run that kind of skews the stats a little bit. A lot of the time they have that one big run it's because of one mishap. I don't sit there and view it - because I've watched so much of them - that they have a weak run defense. They really are gap sound and they play well, but there are instances in a game where they break down and give up a big run or somebody just makes a big play."
Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at email@example.com or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/wvu.