By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
In today’s game of football there is an information overload.
Every tendency is charted, every player dissected to the point that a defense knows a quarterback is going to throw the ball 61 percent of the time when he had oatmeal for breakfast and just 53 percent when he eats ham and eggs.
With so much at a coach’s disposal, the tendency is to over coach and that is something West Virginia is trying to avoid this year as it puts in a new defense, a 3-3-5, a defense head coach Dana Holgorsen says is what he’s wanted all along.
“It’s what I’ve wanted to do since I’ve been here,” he said before a wet, but public Saturday spring practice was held at Milan Puskar Stadium, the time pushed up an hour to try and avoid much of the rain. “The reason I run an odd defense is because it can be very multiple. If you’re a four-down defense, you can’t be multiple. If you’re a three-down defense, an odd defense, you can be multiple.
“I have to look at what gives us problems, because a lot of teams in the Big 12 have similar defenses. The thing that gives us the most trouble is an odd defense, so that’s what we’re going to do. It will give us a bunch of different looks.”
But multiple does not necessarily mean complicated.
“You have to remain simple and sound with it. We don’t want to trick anybody with what we’re doing, but we want to be able to line up quick and bring a lot of different looks to the table,” Holgorsen continued.
A year ago, you may recall, there were a number of defensive problems, many of them the result of injuries but many because players were confused about where to go, what to do.
“Last year, it was too multiple. It was still an odd defense, but we were doing too many different things,” Holgorsen said. “The one thing (defensive coordinator) Tony (Gibson) has done a good job with is getting it a little more simplified.
“When we run offensive plays, watch the defense line up. I’ve been really impressed with how quick they line up. We face so many high-tempo offenses that we need to be able to do that. I think they’re doing an excellent job with that right now.”
Just how has Gibson, a first-time defensive coordinator and the fourth in four years at WVU, approached the dilemma of being multiple yet simple?
“The key for any defense is to get lined up and get your eyes on your keys, seeing what you need to be seeing and being able to react to it. That was our goal coming into the spring,” Gibson said. “We wanted to get our kids lined and let them play fast. We’ve done a great job of that up to this point.”
The idea behind simplifying things is that it eliminates a lot of mistakes and it allows players to perform rather than slow down thinking about what they are supposed to do and worrying if they are doing the right thing.
“I tell the kids if we play fast and play hard with great effort, we are going to cover up a lot of mistakes,” Gibson said. “The offensive line is going to get a little push with three down guys. They’ll get some people up on our backers, but as long as we’re playing hard and seeing the right stuff and filling the right gaps that will cover up a lot of mistakes.”
And this isn’t just a spring thing. Gibson expects to be simple going into the season.
“Right now we have a couple of base fronts in and a couple of coverages and few blitzes. I don’t how much more we’re going to add to the package because I want us to master what we are doing,” he said. “If we throw 15 different coverages, five different fronts, a bunch of different blitzes we’re not going to be good at anything.
“We want to just get really good at what we’re doing. We’re about two installs away from having everything in.”
One wonders in as advanced an offensive league as the Big 12 is, with Baylor and Oklahoma and Texas and Texas Tech can you get away with being simple or will these teams simply take you apart.
“It’s a two-way street,” Gibson said. “If we are lined up and know what we’re doing and are able to play fast, I think it gives us the competitive advantage. Offenses want to go high tempo to get you on your heels and keep you simple, anyway.
“If you can’t lineup, you can’t get the right calls in, you handcuff your guys. If you study the high tempo offenses, they can’t do a whole lot either. They want to run zone and bubbles and different things like that. We’ll be able to react to that because we’ll be lined up and have our eyes on the right thing.”
Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel.