Joe Madsen is in his fourth year as the starting center at West Virginia, and he’s never had as much fun as he’s having now.
“We are definitely on a high right now,” said the Mohawk-sporting snapper. “We’re having a good time.”
It’s easy to be living it up when you’re anchoring the line of the nation’s No. 3 offense, a unit that seems to score at will. The Mountaineers are averaging 571 yards and 52 points per game, led by early Heisman hopeful quarterback Geno Smith and a stable of speedy receivers.
It also helps, Madsen said, to play for a coach like Dana Holgorsen, the former Texas Tech assistant who has brought No. 5 West Virginia into the national spotlight during its first season of Big 12 Conference membership.
“He’s one of my favorite coaches I’ve ever played for,” Madsen said. “He’s a total players coach. He knows when to have fun. He knows when we need to grind, when we need to be serious. We are a very loose team, and a lot of that is a direct result of him.”
West Virginia fans are having fun, too. Just two weeks into their stay in the Big 12, the Mountaineers look very much the part of league contender after a 48-45 win against Texas in Austin, which came on the heels of a 70-point output in a win against Baylor the week before.
After that game, the stadium remained full even after the scoreboard hit zeroes, as fans belted out their traditional “Country Roads” anthem. The celebrations gathered steam — couches burning and the like — after a win against the Longhorns that vaulted West Virginia into the top five.
It’s not totally unexpected. Big 12 media picked the newcomers to finish second in the preseason conference poll.
With all the excitement and emotion surrounding West Virginia, one of Holgorsen’s biggest tasks has been insulating his team and reminding it of the rigors that lie ahead in one of the nation’s top conferences.
“From a mental standpoint, you need to stay focused,” Holgorsen told reporters this week. “You need to handle all your business away from here, but when you come in (to the football facility) you have to be focused and ready to go. If you think you can take anything for granted, you will get beat.”
Madsen added: “He lets us know there will be plenty of people telling us we are the greatest thing since sliced bread. We just have to keep our heads down and go to work.”
Given his team’s success, it is somewhat hard to believe Holgorsen, 41, is in just his second season as a head coach. Then again, his resume as an offensive guru is extensive, as Tech followers can attest. Holgorsen served as an inside receivers coach and later offensive coordinator under Mike Leach from 2000 to 2007, a period during which the Red Raiders went 65-37.
Following his stint with Tech, Holgorsen served for two seasons as the offensive coordinator at Houston before leaving for the same job at Oklahoma State in 2010. That led to the opportunity at West Virginia, where he has gone 15-3 as head coach.
One common theme along the way for Holgorsen has been great quarterback play. He helped tutor Graham Harrell, who went on to become Tech’s all-time leading passer. At Houston, he spent two seasons coaching Case Keenum, the NCAA’s all-time leading passer. He helped utilize the talents of NFL quarterback Brandon Weeden while at Oklahoma State, and now he’s drawing up plays for college football’s most talked-about signal caller in Smith, who is completing more than 80 percent of his passes this season.
“He’s had some good quarterbacks,” Tech coach Tommy Tuberville said, “and, obviously, he’s been a good quarterback coach everywhere he’s been.”
Holgorsen said he cherished his time in Lubbock, but he doesn’t expect any rush of emotions when he steps onto the visitors sideline Saturday at Jones AT&T Stadium.
“I had eight great years there,” he said, “but I faced Texas Tech when I was at Houston and then played a road game at Texas Tech when I was at Oklahoma State, so it’s nothing new to me. I’m five years removed and have been at three different places since then, so all those feelings and emotions went away a long time ago.”
To comment on this story:
firstname.lastname@example.org • 766-8735
email@example.com • 766-2166