MORGANTOWN — Dana Holgorsen was hyped, almost as hyped as was his team when it hit the field to face Alabama in the opening game of the 2014 season in Atlanta.
True, WVU failed to win that game, losing 33-23 to the then No. 2 team in the nation, a team that was a three to four touchdown favorite, but what he saw and, more importantly, what he felt got his blood flowing for this week’s home opener against Towson and beyond.
In fact, Holgorsen said if his Mountaineers can maintain the excitement and energy levels it had in that game throughout the season “we will win a lot of games.”
“The biggest thing from last week that we were happy with on all three sides of the ball was our excitement level to play the game. It was off the charts,” said Holgorsen. “Our energy throughout the course of the game was at an all-time high.”
Think about that statement for a moment … “an all-time high.”
This was a coach who brought his team into the Orange Bowl during his first season and upset a good Clemson team, scoring 70 points and winning by 37, and he didn’t feel the energy level there was any higher than it was in this Alabama game.
“The effort that our guys played with was exactly what we wanted,” Holgorsen said. “I told them Sunday that they set the standard of how they are going to play all year. If they can keep up the effort, energy and that excitement, then we will have a good year.”
Offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson sensed before the game that something good was brewing.
“There’s a different energy with this team,” Dawson said. “We had a great off season and our kids believe. They believe we are good.”
That, of course, does not address some of the mistakes that were made on the field or the fact that, in reality, they were playing a superior team.
Holgorsen understands that, as does his team.
“There are a lot of things that we need to correct after Game 1, as everyone does. The one thing that stood out was how we played, not necessarily the result of the game. If we can play like that all year, then we will win a lot of games,” he said.
There were numerous reasons why the approach to the Alabama game was so strong.
To begin with, WVU is a proud program that was embarrassed a year ago by going 4-8 and losing its final three games, two of them to conference doormats Kansas and Iowa State.
They came out to erase the memory.
Then optimism had been stressed all through the summer and the preseason camp, emphasis being put on the positive nature of the team. They came out confident that they could put on a good performance.
Add to that a quarterback who was distressed by his performance a year, Clint Trickett having played through pain from an injury that would require postseason surgery.
He was a fifth-year senior, back home in West Virginia, trying to prove that the player his home state saw last year was not the same player that went out there this year.
Trickett completed a career-high 29 passes out of 45 attempts while also setting a career high for yardage at 365, one of his passes being a masterpiece to the resurgent wide receiver Kevin White for a touchdown while not throwing an interception.
And while third down plagued the Mountaineers, and that often falls squarely on the quarterback’s shoulders, Holgorsen’s evaluation of his quarterback was that ”he was great on third down”, dropped passes being the culprit and not his reads or technique.
There were a few other surprising things that came out of Holgorsen’s analysis of the Alabama game.
Take, for instance, the defense. It gave up 33 points, 538 yards, 288 of which came on the ground. Alabama possessed the football 37 minutes and 47 seconds to just 22 minutes and 13 seconds for West Virginia.
Most head coaches would be ready to fire their defensive coordinator but Holgorsen saw good things in what Tony Gibson did in his first game as the defensive coordinator, understanding that stopping Alabama’s power game is not an easy chore for anyone.
“I thought coach Gibson called a good game, I really do,” Holgorsen said.
He noted that while Amari Cooper caught 12 passes for 130 yards and a touchdown, most of it against young Daryl Worley, that was something you can only shrug your shoulders at.
“No. 9 (Cooper) for Alabama (wide receiver Amari Cooper) might be the first overall pick in the draft. He was a really good player. He got his. He caught the ball, and he got open. Daryl held his own. Daryl is going to be a great player for us.”
Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel