West Virginia notebook: Offense’s new look pleases the boss

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MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen has questions about his offense, but they’re not so much “who” as “how” anymore. Quarterback Clint Trickett and every top skill position player return from last season except running back Charles Sims.

A year ago, West Virginia had three new assistant coaches on offense and more than a handful of first-year players, including two green quarterbacks, seeing regular action.

“It was miserable,” Holgorsen said Thursday. “Those dynamics I don’t anticipate ever happening again in the next 30 years or however long I’m fortunate enough to coach.”

Now, in Holgorsen’s fourth year at the helm, he feels the right personnel is in place and, believe it or not, fall camp feels a little more relaxed this time around as a result.

It’s a “night-and-day” difference on offense, Holgorsen said, adding that with familiar faces on the field, coaches haven’t had to deal with the basics.

“We’re not teaching [players] what to do,” he said. “We were teaching guys what to do Game 8, 9, 10, 11 last year. At this point in time offensively … they’re learning nuances of where they’re supposed to be and how they’re supposed to get there.”

The next step is to see the offense work on the fly. Holgorsen said he put Trickett and the offense into a two-minute drill recently, “and it was like we’d been doing it all along.” The tempo is cranked up as quickly as the staff wants it, and, more important, these players can handle that sort of speed.

“The worst thing to do when you kind of stink on offense is to go fast,” Holgorsen said. “Because then it just stinks real quick.”

Holgorsen said he expects the offense to improve by leaps and bounds in efficiency this season. West Virginia was “middle of the pack” in areas such as yards per game and yards per play, he said, but “dead last on the stuff that matters.”

• Third-down conversion: 31.8 percent (114th of 125 teams)

• Fourth-down conversion: 22.2 percent (125th)

• Turnover margin: minus-4 (87th)

• Red-zone touchdown rate: 27.5 percent (103rd)

“Everybody is good enough to get yards and first downs,” Holgorsen said.

“It’s the great offenses that are able to be efficient when it really matters.”

Scholarship is awarded

Holgorsen shared the news that fifth-year senior offensive lineman Michael Calicchio was placed on scholarship for his final season.

The 6-foot-9, 315-pound jack-of-all-trades lineman, one of seven children from a bustling Brooklyn, N.Y., home, started playing football as a senior in high school and went to Valley Forge Military Academy for a year of prep school.

Calicchio accepted an offer to walk on at West Virginia but transferred to LIU Post after his freshman season, only to return a year later. He played in all 12 games last season as the man in the middle in punt coverage.

“Such a good story,” Holgorsen said. “This big giant of a man who was awful five years ago when he showed up. Couldn’t walk and chew gum at the same time. Because of his hard work on the field and off the field … he’s one of our leaders on the entire team right now. When he talks, people listen.”

Injury updates

Senior linebacker Jared Barber, who tore his anterior cruciate ligament in overtime against Texas in November, “is not going to be ready” for quite some time, Holgorsen said.

If Barber cannot play this season, he’ll redshirt and return as a fifth-year senior.

“It’s unfortunate,” Holgorsen said. “He’s such a good team leader, and he’ll still have that role as team leader. He gets down there and coaches the heck out of the linebackers.”

True to form for a member of a special-teams corps Holgorsen called “a bunch of goof balls,” kicker Michael Molinari twisted his ankle doing a celebratory chest bump this week and is day-to-day.

Stephen J. Nesbitt: snesbitt@post-gazette.com and Twitter @stephenjnesbitt.

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