By Bob Hertzel
For the Times West Virginian
Doug Rigg has seen a lot in the days since he left the tradition north New Jersey power Bergen Catholic and came to West Virginia University to play football.
“I’m getting old now,” he admits.
Old being a relative term, you can say he is.
He walked in the door four years ago and played in every game as a true freshman, managing to record a season-high five tackles against LSU in a game West Virginia had a chance to win.
That 2010 edition was the last of the really good WVU defensive teams, a team that gave up no more than 23 points all season, that to North Carolina State in the Champs Sports Bowl.
Last year, West Virginia gave up 35 points by the end of the first half of its first Big 12 game.
The only coach left in sight from when Rigg arrived is Steve Dunlap, and he is no longer a coach on the field.
The offense is different and the defense, well, thank goodness, he figures, it’s going to be a whole lot different from the one he played in last year.
“Some of those games we played last year I felt like I was going to die out there,” he said.
Between the way the Big 12 teams played tempo last year, and threw the ball, and went up and down the field … well, it was head spinning.
“It had to be a tie between Oklahoma and Baylor,” Rigg said, referring to two teams who put 113 points combined on the board against WVU. “Baylor moved so fast I honestly don’t remember the game. I have to watch it on film to see what happened. That’s how fast they were moving.
“Oklahoma, when the game ended, I couldn’t remember plays.”
This year, though, Rigg is geared up to be part of the change for he believes WVU now has changed in the right direction.
Keith Patterson, who was his position coach last year, now has added defensive coordinator to his duties and has made some dramatic changes and combined them with a new-found depth that allows WVU to have a two-deep that will allow the old man to get some rest.
“That’s great for me. I’ll just play the snaps I’m going to play pretty hard. With two deep and the normal breaks during the game it will help everybody,” he said.
His role as an inside linebacker, he says, is to be “the run-stopper guy.”
“First and second down I try to get a negative-yards play and be a leader out there,” he said.
Don’t try to tell Rigg that all he can do is stop the run.
“I’m not really one-dimensional,” Rigg noted. “I had an interception and a fumble recovery for a touchdown last year. I know someone has to stop the run. In the nickel package, I’m not going to be out there, but if I couldn’t do both I wouldn’t be on the field.”
Some may believe in the Big 12, which has the image of a pass-happy conference, Rigg would play less than a significant role, but Rigg disagrees vehemently.
“That’s not really true,” he said. “The teams that finished at the top ran the ball. Oklahoma ran the ball a lot. Texas ran the ball a lot. Kansas State ran the ball against us.
“If you can’t establish a run against a defense, you have no shot,” he continued. “Pass … and stuff will happen all the time. I think we saw that last year with our offense, as great as we were. If you throw all the time, a team will get on you.”
Stopping a running game and pressuring the passer are priorities in this year’s defense, which has gone to a far more versatile style than the previous year, beginning with a base 3-4 but able to play a 3-3-5 and move players into different roles.
“All four linebacker spots are interchangeable,” Rigg said. “It makes us more versatile. It’s simplistic. and it will give offenses a different look with guys in different spots.”
In the final analysis, at least Rigg’s, the linebacking corps holds the key to this season’s defense.
“I feel if the team doesn’t play well defensively, it will come down to the linebackers. We have to be able to cover. We have to be able to rush the passer, and we have to stop the run. No one else on the field has all that responsibility,” he said. “If the defense is bad, you can yell at me.”
Email Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @bhertzel.