By Bob Hertzel
For the Times West Virginian
Following this past weekend’s parade of upsets, it seemed almost absurd to try and figure out who might be Nos. 1 and 2 after the following week, let alone try to predict who might wind up in this year’s national championship game.
That, however, in this Internet era where all sanity is cast aside in favor of immediacy, Jerry Palm of CBSSports.com picked No. 1 Alabama to survive into that game against this upstart group of underdogs from West Virginia.
Certainly, no one gives any stock to that other than it being as possible and as plausible as anything else, but what it does do is create some conversation as to what West Virginia’s high-powered offense could do against the Crimson Tide’s immovable defense.
Taken in that context, this week’s football engagement between the No. 4/5 Mountaineers and Texas Tech in the west Texas football fortress at Lubbock takes on an interesting look.
The Red Raiders, back in the days when Mike Leach was running his Air Raid offense with a young and upcoming offensive coordinator named Dana Holgorsen, the team was known as one of the great offensive powers in the game.
Today, that has changed, Tommy Tuberville running the show as Leach left under a dark cloud and Holgorsen just left and eventually found his way to West Virginia. Tuberville has SEC roots, coming out of Arkansas and having coached at Auburn, has turned Tech into the nation’s second ranked defense to Alabama’s, giving up just 19 more yards a game at 210.
And, to make the challenge even greater, the Red Raiders are the No. 1 pass defending team in the nation, allowing only 117 yards a game and just 52 percent completions.
WVU and Geno Smith and Co. will present an offense that gains 571 yards a game, 407 of them through the air.
Holgorsen has begun his study of their defense, one that really can only be judged this year as they have changed defensive coordinators often in the past few years.
“They’re not very tricky,” Holgorsen said, meaning they are different from many of today’s defenses that are creative in the way they defend and blitz.
“They’re very, very sound and are never out of position. They blitz 8 percent of the time. They’re not a gimmick defense — they’re a sound, effort defense,” Holgorsen continued.
The statement that they blitz only 8 percent of the time raised an eyebrow or two.
“When you blitz, you are taking chances,” Holgorsen said, trying to explain the philosophy. “Blitzing means taking chances, and pressuring means taking chances. You are taking people out of position to help prevent the score if you put the ball in play.
“By not doing that they are covering more ground. They have more people in coverage, and if you happen to complete the ball they have more people going to it. They’re in position to make plays.”
And making plays is something they do.
“They play hard, and their guys are in position. That poses problems when you don’t know what they’re going to do and that aggravates you from a game-plan standpoint. We can come up with a bunch of plays, but it’s hard to execute against them.”
Across the country, Tuberville was also meeting with his media and the subject was the pass rush, too, for he has to try to do something to bother Smith and just 8 percent blitzes may not be the answer there.
Tuberville, however, is reluctant to radically change.
“We’ll go in with the same type of game plan. We’ll bring four. We’ll bring five. We have just got to make sure that whatever we do, that we tackle at the point of attack. We can’t give up 150 yards after the catch or after we’ve made contact on the run. We can’t do that,” he said.
“In this league, you’re not going to win many games (doing that). So we’ve got to get back to making sure that we play the way we played in the first four games on defense.”
Oklahoma beat Texas Tech soundly last week and did it with an offense similar to what WVU will run.
“It wasn’t anything other than the fact that we just got there and didn’t make plays,” Tuberville said. “They hit us on the screen play the other night early. They ran a couple of formations that we hadn’t seen, open date formations that they came in and got us outflanked.
“We adjusted well to them, but it took us a while to do that. Once we did, we started making plays, but we got hurt by the short pass early last week. This team can do the same thing. We’ve just got to make sure when we get there — they’re going to catch their balls; you’ve just got to make sure you make tackles.”
NOTES: No news on the availability of former starting running back Shawne Alston, but Holgorsen denied it was anything more than a thigh bruise that has cost him three games to date. ... Holgorsen on whether Saturday night’s riots bothered him: “I honestly don’t know what happened. I heard there were riots and Mace. I’m pretty focused in on what we’re supposed to be doing. Even if I know about it, what am I going to do about it? It’s not my responsibility.”
Email Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @bhertzel.