MORGANTOWN — If there is any real positive to come out of a loss such as the one West Virginia suffered against Alabama in its opener, other than the national respect it may have gained, it is that it sends the Mountaineers into their second game with a sense of urgency and purpose.
Not that WVU would overlook Towson. Being a team that is coming off a 4-8 season, the Mountaineers can ill afford to overlook anyone (Can you say Kansas and Iowa State?), but Towson did spend its last Saturday losing to a team light years below the competition WVU faced — falling to Central Connecticut State, 31-27, in its opener after reaching the FCS national championship game last year.
Coach Dana Holgorsen believes the narrow loss to Alabama added confidence, but not cockiness to his team.
“Our guys are in a good place right now. We felt like we could play with those guys, went into the game in a good frame of mind as far as expecting that would happen and it did. We went into the fourth quarter with ample opportunities to make plays in critical situations,” Holgorsen said on the Big 12 coaches’ conference call Monday morning.
“I think we learned we’re going to be in a lot of those games. We were in a lot of those games last year against a lot of good teams. We have to make plays and we have to make play calls in critical situations in order to beat good teams.”
Perhaps the best thing that came out of the 33-23 loss was that no one suffered a serious injury in the physical confrontation with Alabama, leaving WVU at full strength to move forward against Towson and beyond … and that “beyond” is important for Maryland and Oklahoma loom the following weeks.
Towson is an intriguing matchup, a team that likes to run the ball as much as it can and with the contest coming after Alabama exposed some rather startling weaknesses in the run defense, this could prove to be a problem, especially since the Tigers’ pass defense is suspect.
Knowing that, the Tigers will do all they can to keep it off the field and away from Clint Trickett, who emerged as the real deal at quarterback against Alabama, along with WVU receivers Kevin White and Mario Alford.
It was Rob Ambrose, a former Towson player, who built the Tigers from the ground up into a contender for the national championship, going 1-10 and 2-9 his first two seasons before last year’s 13-3 run to the FCS title game.
Ambrose understands he’s in a building mode again, but one in which his players now hunger for the success they once tasted.
“We have to find a way to regroup, get refocused. For whatever that was, we are probably out of the frying pan and into the fire, facing one of the best West Virginia teams, at least on paper, in the last couple of years,” Ambrose noted on the Colonial Athletic Association coaches’ call.
When Ambrose gathered his players on Sunday to discuss the team’s situation with an unexpected opening loss and a major college opponent staring him in the face, he delivered this message:
“It’s still football. No matter who you are playing, as many great players as West Virginia has on their roster, they can only put 11 on the field at a time.”
Now, Ambrose has to find a way to deal with the 11 Holgorsen will put out there.
“We had some success with a rather veteran team against some FBS programs the last couple of years, but I don’t know if we played anyone of the caliber and with the talent West Virginia has right now,” Ambrose said, offering platitudes to the Mountaineers.
“Offensively, they are dynamic, as usual. It seems whenever one graduates and goes to the NFL, they replace them with someone just as fast, just big and just as strong.”
Ambrose said he knows what he’s getting into.
“I saw them play William & Mary (from the same conference, a hard-fought, 24-17 WVU victory) last year. I saw what they were and what they have been becoming,” Ambrose said. “It’s been a building process. I’m not surprised at all. I knew they were going to give Alabama a run for their money and almost pulled that out.”
And don’t expect Ambrose to take any solace out of WVU being ranked No. 8 in the Big 12’s preseason poll.
“You can put it on paper. I don’t care about preseason rankings. I think by the end of the season you will find out that West Virginia is an extremely good football team. With them and with us, you will find out we are not what we were last year. Every year is a new year.”
Certainly, West Virginia hopes he’s right.
Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel