Better-equipped West Virginia heads to Texas Tech

West Virginia was rolling to start the 2012 season.

In the Mountaineers' rearview mirror sat the corpses of Baylor, Texas and Maryland who were among the teams the Geno Smith-led WVU offense ran over during a five-game winning streak to start the season.

A trip to Lubbock, Texas, ended everything.

In a game in which they were expected to cruise to victory, the Mountaineers looked out of their element and out of rhythm in a 49-14 upset loss to a Texas Tech team that had gotten throttled by Oklahoma the week before. Just over a month later, WVU sat at 5-5 after their lethargy in Lubbock snowballed into a five-game losing streak.

"We don't like to think about that," said safety Karl Joseph, who was a true freshman in 2012. "It's a new year, and it's a new opportunity for us to go down there and get a win against them. That is all we are focused on."

Dana Holgorsen's squad heads back to Lubbock this weekend, once again as the favorite, with the hope that Saturday's meeting with the Red Raiders will have the opposite result and spark a Mountaineers run toward the top of the Big 12 standings.

While the 2012 version of the Mountaineers offense was led by NFL talent in Smith along with receivers Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey, that defense will full of inexperienced youngsters including Joseph and fellow freshman Isaiah Bruce as that duo finished the season 1-2 in tackles on that squad.

When Holgorsen returns to Lubbock -- a place where spent seven seasons as a assistant coach -- he brings a different defensive coaching staff and a more experienced team overall.

"We're expecting a rowdy environment," Holgorsen said. "Obviously, I've been there a bunch and know what to expect. It's going to be loud, it's going to be full, there will be a bunch of people there with a bunch of energy and we need to go in there, and we need to handle it."

Most importantly, he brings a team that understands, like he does, what playing at Jones AT&T Stadium will be like. He no longer finds himself as one of few voices that can share a first-hand experience of what is is like to play a game at Tech. It is a key for Holgorsen, and the major difference this time around. WVU's roster features plenty of players who have experienced a road game in Lubbock first-hand and remember the distaste of heading back to Morgantown, West Virginia after being handed a defeat by the Red Raiders.

"We have a lot of guys on our roster who have been to Lubbock, Texas, before. That's step number one," Holgorsen said. "I specifically remember trying to explain to them what the Big 12 is like, what specific venues are like, but if you don't have guys who have been there and done that, it makes it tough."

There remain several key playmakers, including quarterback Clint Trickett and receiver Kevin White, who will be making their first foray into West Texas. But that's not an unusual scenario as every player in the conference will have their first trip to Lubbock at some point.

Guys like Joseph, linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski and safety K.J. Dillon, WVU's leading tacklers in that 2012 contest, can let teammates like Trickett and White know what to expect, so that task no longer falls on the shoulders of Holgorsen and the coaching staff. The added experience could be a critical asset on Saturday, allowing the bulk of the team to feel comfortable and confident from the outset.

"We have 30, 40 guys that made that trip a couple years ago," Holgorsen said. "We were young, inexperienced and we just didn't understand what the situation was.

"We're in a much better spot now."