CLEMSON -- Just as Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris rose from humble origins to become one of the most successful franchisees of the Gus Malzahn football philosophy, West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen similarly ascended from obscurity to become a productive protege of football innovator Mike Leach.
While Morris was successfully implementing the up-tempo, no-huddle offensive philosophy in one season at Clemson, Holgorsen successfully adapted his own version of the Leach and Hal Mumme "Air Raid" offense in his first year at West Virginia.
Clemson fans will watch another cutting-edge offensive attack perfected by a coach who rose from the football wilderness when No. 14 Clemson meets No. 22 West Virginia and its prolific passing game at 8 p.m. Jan. 4 in the Orange Bowl.
"Playing fast, with tempo and having a good rhythm and making it very exciting is kind of what we are about," Holgorsen said. "If you can do those three things, you can win and have fun."
West Virginia is ranked seventh in the country in passing (341.83 yards per game).
In 2010, Holgorsen led Oklahoma State to the nation's No. 2 passing offense as the Cowboys' offensive coordinator, and he guided Houston's offense to the nation's No. 1 passing game and offense in 2009 as its coordinator.
It's not a bad track record for the native of small Iowa farming community whose 4.8-second 40-yard dash time limited his college playing opportunities to a couple of small in-state schools. But it was who Holgorsen caught 150 passes for at Iowa Wesleyan that was important in his ascension up the coaching ladder. At Iowa Wesleyan, Holgorsen played under head coach Hal Mumme -- who would later bring his "Air Raid" passing attack to the SEC at Kentucky -- and offensive coordinator Mike Leach.
Holgorsen followed Mumme and Leach to Valdosta State in the early 1990s to begin his coaching career. He joined Leach's staff at Texas Tech from 2000-07 when he coached a couple of receivers named Wes Welker and Michael Crabtree. At Texas Tech, Holgorsen watched Leach take the Mumme philosophy to even greater heights.
"X-and-O wise, as far as being a clear-minded person under fire, (Holgorsen is) the best I've ever worked with," Leach recently told reporters. "You'd be hard-pressed to find two people whose offensive philosophies are more closely aligned than ours."
Clemson defensive coordinator Kevin Steele said Holgorsen has added his own wrinkles to the Leach-Mumme offense but said "you'll see a package of this or that and say 'that's Leach.' "
Mumme has said the basic premise of his "Air-Raid" offense was to "throw the ball short to people who score," and that principle is apparent in the Leach and Holgorsen schemes. Steele noted West Virginia has thrown 83 screen passes in its last six games.
Holgorsen has playmakers at West Virginia who can turn a short pass into a long gain.
West Virginia receivers Stedman Bailey and Tavon Austin each went over 1,000 yards this season. Holgorsen also has a quality trigger man in quarterback Geno Smith.
"(Smith) scrambles to throw," Steele said. "They are not a zone-read (quarterback run) team. Smith is almost like an NFL-style quarterback. He gets the ball out pretty quick."
Steele's defense has seen just about every scheme imaginable this season: Gus Malzahn's hurry-up, Paul Johnson's option game, Florida State's pro-style offense, South Carolina's zone-read, and on Jan. 4 in Miami, Clemson will face something new: one of the nation's most prolific passing attacks.
Passing offenses under Dana Holgorsen
Year/Rank/School/Passing yard per game2008 - 2 Houston | 413.622009 - 1 Houston | 433.212010 - 2 Oklahoma State | 345.852011 - 7 West Virginia | 341.83