Coach Mike Gundy brought in offensive guru Dana Holgorsen to be his play-caller after the Oklahoma State offense fell off a table at the end of the 2009 season.
The immediate results were immaculate.
With Holgorsen calling plays between chugging sideline Red Bulls, the 2010 Cowboys featured college football’s third-best offense with an average of 520 yards and 44 points per game.
Oklahoma State finished with a record of 11-2, too, and after just one season, Holgorsen got a new job as the head-coach-in-waiting at West Virginia.
Holgorsen’s system continues to serve as the bedrock of the Oklahoma State attack, which remains one of the most prolific in the country.
But as the Cowboys and Mountaineers prepare to meet Saturday in Morgantown, it’s Holgorsen’s West Virginia offense that has now fallen flat.
“Everybody sees the obvious, which is they’ve struggled in a couple games,” said Oklahoma State defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer, who was on the staff with Holgorsen in Stillwater. “Knowing him, I’m sure he would say the same thing if you asked him, but it all comes down to execution.”
The Mountaineers haven’t been executing well all season. After scoring seven touchdowns against Oklahoma last year, West Virginia managed just one in a loss in Norman earlier this season.
The Mountaineers also struggled offensively in sluggish wins over William & Mary and Georgia State.
Then last weekend, West Virginia was shut out for the first time in a dozen years in a 37-0 loss to Maryland, which also became the first school to shut out Holgorsen since he began calling plays at the FBS level.
Afterward, Holgorsen claimed his offense was as inept as one could possibly be.
“We're not clicking,” he said earlier this week, “and that falls 100 percent on me."
The Cowboys, however, aren’t taking the West Virginia offense lightly. If, for no other reason, than they’ve seen firsthand how quickly Holgorsen can turn an offense around.
For the Cowboys, the 2009 season began as well as possible, then ended about as badly as possible, too.
After beating Georgia by two touchdowns in its opener, Oklahoma State ascended all the way to No. 5 in the polls.
The following week, however, the Cowboys lost star receiver Dez Bryant to an NCAA suspension, then lost 45-35 to Houston in Stillwater.
By the end of the season, the offense had become a shell of its former self, as the Cowboys got shut out 27-0 at Oklahoma, then managed to score just once in a Cotton Bowl defeat to Ole Miss.
Gundy elected to rescind his play-calling duties, and hired Holgorsen away from Houston after his offense had given OSU such fits earlier in the season.
With Holgorsen’s offense, Oklahoma State bounced back with its first 11-win in school history. The scheme was such a hit in Stillwater that when Holgorsen left for West Virginia, Gundy had quarterback Brandon Weeden teach new coordinator Todd Monken the scheme so the Cowboys could keep running it.
“The offense that we still run is the offense that he brought here,” Oklahoma State quarterback J.W. Walsh said of Holgorsen, who recruited Walsh to Stillwater.
Now, Holgorsen finds himself trying to turn around his own offense. Given how ugly the Maryland performance was, that won't be easy, either. The Mountaineers finished with just as many turnovers as first downs. They almost had more penalty yards than total yards in the first half. And quarterback Ford Childress completed just one pass to a wide receiver the entire game.
“If we want to win, the defense has to set up scores or make plays, that’s just the situation we are in until the offense comes along, which eventually, it will,” Holgorsen said. “My challenge is to make it happen sooner, and make it happen this week."
However it’s going to happen, it won’t be with Childress at the controls. Holgorsen announced Thursday that Childress had suffered a torn pectoral muscle and that Florida State transfer Clint Trickett would get the start against the Cowboys.
But even though West Virginia will be starting its third different quarterback already this season, and even though the Mountaineers have the Big 12’s lowest scoring attack so far, the Cowboys know well enough to not underestimate Holgorsen.
“He has a great mind, and if we take something away, he will try to find another way to attack us,” Spencer said. “I have a lot of respect for him and what they do offensively.
“It will be a challenge for us.”