West Virginia head coach Dana Holgorsen has been vigorously reviewing tape of Texas over the last couple of days and, while much was made of the Longhorns' defensive struggles early in the season, Holgorsen says he is focused on their improvement in recent weeks.
Holgorsen sees improvement for WVU offense as well as Texas defense.
"They’ve simplified some things," he said. "They would get pretty crazy on third downs and get in different fronts (early in the year). When it comes right down to it, it’s about getting off blocks, holding your gaps and playing with effort and being physical and making tackles. They’ve improved on all of those things."
The tipping point for the Longhorns was the firing of long-time defensive coordinator Manny Diaz, and the hiring of his replacement, Greg Robinson. Due to the in-season nature of the change, Holgorsen says there has not been a complete change in defensive scheme - "kids would get confused" - but he has noticed a difference in philosophy.
"They’ve reduced what they’ve done," he said, referring to simplifying the defensive playbook. "They’ve changed some things that (Greg Robinson) likes. They do a little more man coverage stuff."
Still, he was not ready to give too much credit to the "X's and O's" for the turnaround in Austin.
"The biggest thing is getting your guys out there and there just play without having to think too much, which is something every coach tries to accomplish."
Just as Texas has improved every week on defense, Holgorsen says his team is attempting to do on offense.
"We’re just trying to show improvement," he said. "There’s just so many guys that haven’t played, you got to just keep trying to show improvement."
The Mountaineer head coach does feel his offense is heading in the right direction, but says he has warned his players that if they don't work hard, regression is just as possible.
"Things are starting to come together, but you can easily take a step back, just like you took a step forward," said Holgorsen. "So we got to get out there and practice all week; we got to keep building unity, keep building continuity and trust, and just try to show improvement. That’s what’s important to me."
One aspect of the offense that has helped the unit improve is the running game, led by senior Charles Sims.
"Our struggles last year were mainly because we couldn’t run the ball," he said. "(This year) we’re running the ball pretty good."
While he believes the run game and the battle of the trenches will play the biggest roles on Saturday ("If you do win the game up front, you have the chance to win the game"), Holgorsen does not feel it will come down to a dueling quarterback battle.
"I don’t think either one of us have a quarterback in the mindset that you can sit in the pocket for four seconds and go through five different reads," he said. "We can’t do that right now and I don’t think they’re equipped to do it, (either)."
There was also plenty of discussion about availability for several key players, starting with sophomore receiver Ronald Carswell.
"He's suspended indefinitely," Holgorsen said. "We'll revisit (his situation) after the season."
Senior linebacker Doug Rigg is also likely done for the season after suffering his second concussion in three weeks.
"Doug Rigg’s head is preventing him from playing so he’s probably done (for the year)," said Holgorsen. "I know he’s on the shelf for a couple weeks which, last time I checked, a couple weeks means the season’s over. It’s unfortunate. He was playing pretty good. He says he’s not able to play. He went in for a couple snaps last week and was in ‘la-la’ land. It’s a serious subject, obviously, so he’s out."
As of today, those are the only two who will definitely not play this weekend, but Holgorsen says several other contributors are on watch.
"Ford (Childress) is making progress, but not ready to play," he said. "Everyone else is day-to-day. We’ll see how they practice this week to determine how many reps they can take – guys like (Daryl) Worley, Ricky Rumph, Dontrill Hyman. Kevin White went down with a little bit of an ankle (against TCU), that’s why he didn’t finish the game."