With its first nine-win season since 2011 secured, No. 16 West Virginia faces Baylor Saturday at home in search of more. The Mountaineers haven’t won 10 games in the regular season or 11 games overall since 2007 -- both attainable figures for this team.
Offensively, West Virginia ranks 10th nationally in total offense, gaining 514.6 yards per game behind the leadership of two-time captain Tyler Orlosky. Orlosky, a senior from Cleveland and All-America candidate, is a finalist for the Senior CLASS Award.
He’s helped four West Virginia running backs top 100 yards in a game this season.
Orlosky spoke this week to ESPN.com about his experience in Morgantown and relationship with coach Dana Holgorsen:
What’s the importance for West Virginia to win 10 games in the regular season and have a chance at 11 wins in the bowl game?
Orlosky: In this program’s history, we’ve only had eight 10-win seasons, and we’ve had five 11-win teams before this year. So to put ourselves in that elite category would be huge. Our strength coaches have hammered that home to us. It would set this team up for next year. It would mean a lot to this team, the seniors, the coaches, the fans and the state of West Virginia.
How do you feel about the impact on the program of your senior class?
Orlosky: I think we’ve done a lot. This class has been a part of a lot of ups and downs. We’ve been through a lot and hopefully, we’ve taught the younger guys, no matter what you’re facing, you can always get better. I think those younger guys have taken a lot from us and can take what they’ve learned and carry it into the future.
What does it say about the offensive line that four West Virginia running backs have topped 100 yards, including freshman Martell Pettaway, who gained 181 in his debut last week at Iowa State?
Orlosky: I would hope it says something. I think it shows that we’ve done a good job blocking, especially in the run game. I think we’ve done a good job in the pass game, too, but the running game has really excelled. You can’t speak enough about [the backs], but I would like to think that the offensive line has played a big role in that. Hopefully, people understand that we’ve done a good job, and we’ll get some credit for that.
What did you think of Pettaway burning his redshirt in the 11th game of the season?
Orlosky: I don’t know how he felt, but I thought it was kind of funny. At least he made it worth it. He didn’t go in there and run the ball just once. I think he’s happy with it, and he’ll continue to get better and get more carries.
Would you have considered that in 2012?
Orlosky: Probably not, no. I don’t think I would have been ready to perform like Pettaway did.
Coach Dana Holgorsen recently said, jokingly, that he would tell you that he hates you -- and you would probably say the same to him. What does he mean by that?
Orlosky: We have a relationship that not many players and coaches have in all of college football. He’d probably say that he hates me more than I’d say I hate him, but he’s a great guy. He’s done a lot for me here. The relationship that we’ve built is something that will, hopefully, continue after I’m gone, and maybe one day I can work with him or work for him.
Can you give us an example of the way you interact with him?
Orlosky: The best way to put it is probably that he takes note more of what I have to say than a normal player. I don’t know if that has to do with my experience. I think he trusts me. He and I are able to have a conversation unlike most players and coaches can have. It’s a unique relationship. I can’t speak enough about what he’s done for me.
Has he encouraged you to get into coaching?
Orlosky: I wanted to get into coaching before I knew him, but he furthered my interest in it.
Coaching after the NFL, right?
Orlosky: Well, I don’t know about that. But if that opportunity presents itself to play in the NFL, I won’t pass it up, obviously. And then after that, my plan is to coach.
What collegiate program did you admire as a kid in Cleveland?
Orlosky: I liked Purdue, and I liked Penn State. I was never an Ohio State fan. All I heard about were the Buckeyes. My dad liked them. My mom didn’t. One thing I never got into was Ohio State. I remember listening to a Purdue game around the time Drew Brees was there when they beat Ohio State. They were an underdog program. I liked that. And with Penn State, I liked Joe Paterno, and I liked that they didn’t have their names on their jerseys.