The Times West Virginian


April 7, 2013

HERTZEL COLUMN: Dawson set for potent WVU offense

MORGANTOWN — Shannon Dawson was put in charge of Dana Holgorsen’s quarterbacks and his offense this year after serving a couple of seasons as West Virginia University’s wide receiver coach, which is sort of like going from doing junkyard graffiti to work that hangs in the Louvre in Paris.

See, the Holgorsen offense is thing of beauty when it is operating at its best, the evidence being 70-point outbursts against Clemson and Baylor, two rather major football programs, 69 against Marshall and 59 against Kansas.

But there are times, too, when it looks like it belongs on that junkyard wall, scoring 14 points three times last year alone against Texas Tech, Kansas State and Syracuse.

So it was that we approached Dawson to see why there is such a wide variance.

Here was his reasoning.

“You are dealing with kids who are unpredictable because they are 18 and 22 years old,” he said. “I’m 35, and I’m unpredictable.”

There are sports writers who are double that 35 and unpredictable.

They call it human nature.

“We have to deal with 20 offensive players who play in a game. How will they perform on Saturday? We’re trying to prepare them as good as we can prepare them during the week. Sometimes it clicks; sometimes it doesn’t,” Dawson said. “Think about all the factors that go in. You’ve also got to deal with that defensive coach preparing his team. Sometimes it has a lot to do with what defense does; sometimes it has a lot to do with what we do.”

The problem is that you score 70 points once … or three times in two years (OK, once was 69 points, but let’s not quibble) and your fans begin to expect it to become a regular thing and have a hard time understanding how a Texas Tech can hold WVU to 14 points and then give up 53 and 55 the next two weeks to TCU and Kansas State.

Or how about scoring 70 on Clemson in a bowl game?

How does that happen?

Dawson says it’s an aberration, really, and that “I wish everyone would forget about it. We don’t score 70 points a lot, maybe three times in my coordinating career … and most of the time it’s against a really inferior opponent where you can’t help but score sometimes. You just keep scoring against a paid opponent.”

Clemson was hardly Norfolk State.

“This was different because it was obviously an evenly matched game. Some would even argue it was not an evenly matched game because they were ranked higher, but it was a perfect storm,” Dawson said.

Indeed it was, the defense clicking with the offense, even putting its own points on the board to turn the game around against Clemson.

Dawson believes if you want to see what the WVU offense really is, you have to throw out the Clemson game.

“It’s like statistics. You throw out the top and you throw out the bottom and average,” he said.

Well, maybe not throw it out.

“I don’t really wish they would throw that game out,” he admitted. “I just wish they’d forget about it.”

See, an occasional 70-point game is a byproduct of the offense and the philosophy that Holgorsen carries with him.

“You think about different offenses prospectus. Some offenses have the mindset that believes a punt is a great play. They play a field-position game with the idea of let’s get to the end of the game and win it there,” Dawson said.

WVU does not follow that philosophy.

“We try to score on every possession, no matter if we are backed up on our own 1 or get a turnover. Our mindset is always the same. We want to attack,” he explained. “With that mindset, if you do get someone on his heels, you are going to have a good day.”

Neither system is right or wrong. It just depends upon your belief.

“Some of those offenses that are — quote-unquote — conventional slower offenses which average 28 or 29 points a game, but they win eight or nine games a year. It works in their system,” Dawson said.

They play like Wisconsin, possessing the ball, running it, playing defense … and winning.

Teams like that possess the ball 36 minutes a game and dominate by wearing you down with power, riding their offensive line in 10-, 12-, 14-play drives, while Holgorsen’s offense is built on speed and putting skilled players in one-on-one situations where the offensive players have the advantage.

If the advantage is huge or if, for whatever reason, the quarterback is having one of those days that come along every so often, any score is possible.

Email Bob Hertzel at or follow him on Twitter @bhertzel.

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