The Times West Virginian

Bob Herzel

August 25, 2013

Holgorsen’s offense feeds on mismatches

MORGANTOWN — The general consensus as West Virginia heads into a new season is that it had best prepare itself to learn to live a life without Geno Smith, Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey, which common knowledge would tell you would be a life without the luxury of outrageous offensive figures.

Neither coach Dana Holgorsen nor his offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson necessarily deny that such an event could occur, considering the uncertainty at the quarterback position, but they also caution anyone who will listen that they always have found a way to manufacture an offense.

Knowing they’re armed with capable receivers and knee deep in experienced backs headed maybe in both areas by Houston transfer Charles Sims, there has been no one looking for pity on the offensive side of the ball.

“We’re going to do whatever it takes to win the game,” Dawson said. “If that means winning 31-28 or 14-7 we’re going to do that.”

See Dawson understands the beauty of the Holgorsen offense, based upon a rather simple principle. They look for mismatches, then attack them, trying to force mistakes.

They do it in three different ways: By playing uptempo; through changing formations; and by using personnel groupings that are capable of attacking an opponent’s weakest area.

“We’re trying to figure out the weaknesses of the defense,” Dawson said. “If they’re playing down, we’re going to take a shot.”

Most of the time they will do it while paying fast.

“We’re never going to get away from the background we have of playing fast at times,” Dawson said. “We will mix tempos up a bit more. When you play fast all the time, that’s pretty predictable too. The beauty of what we do here is we’re going to fastball and when we’re not going to fastball.”

Dawson says that most everything WVU does is standard.

“There’s one thing that fluctuates in our offense. The plays don’t change but the emphasis on the plays does,” he said. “It depends on the makeup of your team. You’re going to get in formations that are best suited for your personnel, and that’s what we’re doing.”

So, your strength is in the coverage of your safeties?

WVU will throw to its slot receivers up the middle, throw quick screens, anything to take the corners out of the game.

You don’t have a lot of speed? WVU will run to the outside, using its fastest personnel to run and to receive out there.

Mismatches lead to mistakes.

This may best be seen with the way Holgorsen is using Cody Clay, a fullback/tight end type of player who doesn’t seem to fit anything but goal line and short yardage situations in Holgorsen’s offense.

Holgorsen, however, keeps expanding his duties because he sees him as a highly talented player who is very difficult to match up with.

“We started off doing just fullback stuff, then we moved to tight end stuff. Now, they have us doing a lot of tempo stuff, where we’ll go from fullback, to tight end, to wide receiver in three plays,” he said.

The idea is when you are going up tempo, the defense does not have time to substitute nor does it have a lot of time to figure out just what Clay is doing on a certain play … fullback, tight end, wide receiver.

It’s almost a mad scramble.

Certainly WVU’s depth at running changes a lot of things from last year with Sims, Andrew Buie, Dustin Garrison, Dreamius Smith, Wendell Smallwood and Clay all offering different assets. It would be a waste not to use them.

“It doesn’t matter how you get them the ball,’’ Dawson said. “The important thing is getting it to them any way you can.’’

And that goes back to creatively setting up what you need to take advantage of mismatches.

  “Obviously there’s a difference between Dreamius running in between the tackles and Dustin. The body types are different and the skill sets are different,’’ Dawson said. “But if you get Dustin in the open field he’s pretty good. That’s our job being smart on how to utilize people.

  “Still, if Garrison is in the game, we can’t do just this with him because it’s not going to take long for those guys to know that he’s either running this play or that play. They’ll do it all.’’

But on the plays that can make a difference, he will do the play he does best against what the defense has the most trouble defending.

Email Bob Hertzel at bhertzel@hotmail.com. Follow on Twitter @bhertzel.

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