STILLWATER — Dana Holgorsen stood there, arms crossed, swaying back and forth, hardly looking at ease behind the podium during his weekly press conference.
Then came a question from a reporter probing his stress level, playing off Holgorsen's repeated statements that his West Virginia team needed to learn to relax and not play so uptight.
So, is Holgorsen himself relaxed?
“Well, do I look uptight right now?” Holgorsen responded.
The reporter: “Yeah, a little bit.”
Well, these are stressful times in Morgantown, where the Mountaineers are 2-2 and coming off a 37-0 loss to Maryland, the program's first shutout in 12 years and the worst shutout loss in 38 seasons — all just in time for a visit from Big 12 favorite Oklahoma State on Saturday.
The ugly numbers continue: seven points combined in the two losses; six turnovers and six first downs against Maryland; two games without a passing touchdown; one pass to a wide receiver in the last game; and two wins against teams either still at the FCS level, or having just moved up.
And this is the Air Raid attack of a coach widely recognized as an offensive guru.
So, how's Holgorsen?
“It's a challenge. It is,” said the third-year head coach who rode his offensive accomplishments at Oklahoma State and previous stops to the top job at West Virginia. “But we sit there and I've watched that (Maryland) film probably eight times since we got back Saturday night and there's some things that resemble football. Trust me, I know it's hard to believe, but there's things that resemble football. Our guys are trying …
“You've got to believe it's going to happen. If you don't believe it's going to happen, it's not going to happen.”
Outside the program, belief — at least in this season — has been either suspended or called off altogether.
A sampling of topics from a popular WVU fan message board site:
“I think this OSU game will be pivotal in Holgorsen's … coaching career at WVU.”
“There is no excuse for not having an offense ready this year.”
“If you don't believe our program has turned in a downward …”
Someone also posted a poll: “How bad does Oklahoma State beat us Saturday?” The tone of the question bothered some who were upset with the give-up mentality. Still, the results were telling, with 21-30 points the leading poll punch among the multiple-choice options, followed by 31-40 points, then 11-20 points. The option of 0-10 points finished last, trailing 41-50 and 50-plus points.
“There's a lot of people, a lot of fans, that are frustrated,” said Jeff Culhane, who leads the pregame, halftime and postgame shows for Mountaineer Sports Network, “especially after what happened last week in the Maryland game.”
The frustration consists of some carry-over, after West Virginia crashed at the end of last season, losing six of their last eight games to finish 7-6.
Even then, a falloff was expected, after the Mountaineers lost offensive stars Geno Smith, Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey to the NFL.
“Considering the way they face-planted at the end of last season, the expectations weren't too high,” said Stephen Nesbitt, a WVU beat writer for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “I think folks knew it was going to be another difficult season.”
They never imagined, however, that their Mountaineers wouldn't score.
But that can happen when you have the second-most turnovers (12) in the country, receivers who haven't consistently caught the ball and no quarterback clearly showing to direct the offense.
“I'm sick to my stomach with what happened offensively Saturday,” Holgorsen said.
Among fans, the feeling is contagious.
That's not to suggest that Holgorsen's job isn't secure. Only in his third season as head coach, he's led WVU to an Orange Bowl rout of Clemson and an overall record of 19-11. He's still in the process of recruiting his style of players on offense, while trying to add the needed speed on defense that the Big 12 demands.
“No, I don't think he's on the hot seat,” Culhane said. “I don't believe that at all. This is his third year. He went to a BCS Bowl game in Year 1. No. He's not on the hot seat.
“But I think people are surprised. I don't think anybody really expected to get shut out by Maryland or lose the way they did to Maryland Saturday. That was tough.
“But expectations for this year, if this group can rally and make a run through the Big 12 and find themselves in a bowl game, I think that would be a tremendous season, I really do.”
Holgorsen may have critical help on the way, with folks in Morgantown buzzing about the commitment of quarterback William Crest of Baltimore, whom Rivals.com ranks as the No. 7 dual-threat quarterback nationally and a four-star prospect. Scout.com gives Crest a three-star rating, but has wide receiver commit Ricky Rogers of Pennsylvania as a four-star, meaning Holgorsen could be gaining the pass-catch combo he craves.
Still, West Virginia's 13-man class so far ranks just 45th overall by Rivals.com and 50th by Scout.com.
More immediate, Holgorsen isn't giving up on this season.
Cowboys coaches know firsthand what he can do in an offensive planning room. And they expect something special, maybe even something drastically different this week.
“They're going to have some new wrinkles for us …” said Cowboys defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer. “I think they're going to respond great. I think they're going to come out and play the best game that they've played all year.
“That's the only way I can approach it. They're good coaches. They've been wounded a little bit, but they're going to come out fighting. It's going to be a dogfight, and that's what we're expecting.”
So, how's Holgorsen?
Stressed. And searching for answers.
“Until this offense comes along, which we're going to eventually,” Holgorsen said. “Obviously, the challenge is to make it happen quicker. And right now, my challenge is to make it happen this week.”