The Times West Virginian

WVU Sports

September 29, 2011

Coach-quarterback bond helps WVU keep teams guessing

MORGANTOWN — Back not long after man became erect and started playing a game known as football, it became obvious that a coach on the sideline had to find a way to let his quarterback know what play he wanted run.

That was when that football genius, Paul Brown, came along and invented the “messenger guards,” alternating guards on each play, the guard carrying in the coach’s instructions. This later evolved into wide receivers, who were changed often anyway, as the messengers.

One season Army developed a system where they sent a wide receiver far out on the flank and never had him return to the huddle — yes, teams actually once gathered in a circle behind the line of scrimmage to call a play — and to get the play the quarterback would signal him.

Seeing that, some wise coach thought it might be a good idea for the coach to signal in the play to the quarterback with hand signals, thereby allowing him to speed up the time between plays.

Hand signals, however, can be deciphered by the opponent and stolen, and so it came to be that two or three people would be signaling to confuse the prying eyes of the spies.

Dana Holgorsen, West Virginia University’s inventive young head coach, has taken the signal calling to new heights and all one has to do is keep a sharp eye on him and quarterback Geno Smith during a game to get an idea of how it works.

But before we get into the silent communications between coach and quarterback at West Virginia, let us revert back two years to when Oklahoma State was playing the powerhouse that was Oregon.

The Cowboys, for whom Holgorsen would become offensive coordinator the next season, took play signals to a new height by holding up strange signs, as Oregon offensive lineman Mark Asper explained this year to The Oregonian.

“I remember looking across the field from our sideline, looking at their sign and thinking, ‘Is that Jon Gruden? Who’s on there?’” offensive lineman Mark Asper said. “It was crazy, trying to dissect what they were doing.”

Indeed, Oklahoma State had signaled in the plays with signs, including a blown-up head shot of coach-turned-TV-commentator Jon Gruden.

It so impressed the Oregon team that after Ohio State slowed the Ducks’ offense in the Rose Bowl last year, amidst talk that perhaps the Buckeyes were stealing their signals, they changed to the sign system, holding up rather peculiar placards. One was of the planet Earth, another a shamrock, another the face of Shaquille O’Neal, another a sprinting wild animal.

“To the untrained eye, there is no rhyme or reason to the images, but to the Ducks, they are signals that are easier to see and harder for opponents to decipher,” wrote The Oregonian.

Holgorsen has not yet gone to the flash cards, but his is a secretive mix of ... well, let’s let him tell it.

“It’s a bunch of hand signals, body language, stares and stuff. If I’m aggravated, he (quarterback Geno Smith) probably needs to figure out why I’m aggravated.”

This system is based on a familiarity among the participants.

“It’s not something you just take a class on; it’s a lot like the non-verbal communication that goes on between him, Stedman (Bailey) and Ivan (McCartney) due to the fact they’ve been playing together a long time.”

There seems to be as much interpretation in this as anything else, as much reading minds as reading signs.

“It takes time. I signal to him every day. It’s the same way every day,” Holgorsen said. “Sometimes I do something different and he won’t understand it and sits there and stares, so then I do it again and he’ll say, ‘Oh, yeah, yeah, I’ve got it.’

“If I make it cut and dry, plain as day, then everyone in the stands can figure out what the play is. We’ve got a lot of ways of communicating, a lot of different signals, but that’s between him and me and nobody else.”

Well, not really nobody.

“You gotta know him,” Smith said. “We spend a lot of time with one another, even if we are not talking about football. We hang out with each other — me, him, Jake (Spivital, QB coach) and Paul (Millard, backup QB).”

Smith reads his face, his mind, his body and his hands. The more he does it, the better the communication gets.

“Just from practicing hundreds of times, you know, him yelling at me, just knowing what he wants and expects from me I can tell how he’s feeling and what he wants me to do.”

The thing is once you know what to look for, it isn’t really confusing.

“It’s not hard. That’s the key to it. It’s simple. It’s something going on for 10 years. It works. My job is to get the right signals and make sure everyone is communicating,” Smith said.

The day may come when they go to the placard thing and if it does, let’s only hope they are smart enough to make one of the signals a big picture of Erin Andrews, because that will be a sure touchdown if they snap the ball while the entire defense has its head turned looking that way.

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

1
Text Only
WVU Sports
  • HERTZEL COLUMN: WVU depth chart sends messages

    Perhaps the most impressive thing about the depth chart West Virginia University put out at the end of spring practice was that the coaches were able to put out a depth chart, which certainly is an improvement over a year ago when the Mountaineers were really short on quality players.

    April 25, 2014

  • WVU baseball hosts K-State in Big 12 clash

    The West Virginia University baseball team will host Kansas State in a key Big 12 Conference series thisweekend at Hawley Field.
     Game one begins at 6 p.m. on Friday, game two begins at 4 p.m. on Saturday and the first pitch for game three is set for noon on Sunday.

    April 25, 2014

  • HERTZEL COLUMN: NCAA football is thriving in the digital age

    The other day Baylor football coach Art Briles walked into his graduate assistants’ office and had to laugh at what he saw.
    “There’s five guys sitting in there — a couple of GA’s and some office personnel — and they all are within a foot and a half of each other and not a one of them is talking to each other,” Briles said, describing the scene “Every one of them is on the phone.”

    April 24, 2014

  • O’Brien leads WVU baseball past Marshall

    Catcher Cam O’Brien made a bid at becoming only the second West Virginia University player to hit for the cycle as the Mountaineers jumped on Marshall early and routed their in-state rival, 10-3, behind strong pitching from Corey Walter and a pair of relievers.

    April 24, 2014

  • HERTZEL COLUMN- WVU faithful again have a reason to root against Vick

    It would be one final indignation, that’s what it would be if Michael Vick were to beat out Geno Smith and win the starting quarterback job with the New York Jets.

    April 23, 2014

  • FURFARI COLUMN- West Liberty’s Crutchfield not interested in Division I

    You would think Jim Crutchfield would be a great candidate for a head basketball coaching job at an NCAA Division I university.

    April 23, 2014

  • HERTZEL COLUMN- Luck open to WVU fans’ suggestions

    West Virginia’s fans have spoken, perhaps not verbally but nonetheless have had their voices heard, over the past few years as attendance has fallen at the Mountaineers’ football and basketball games.

    April 22, 2014

  • WVU athletic department to form Fan Experience Committee

    The West Virginia University Department of Intercollegiate Athletics is forming a fan experience committee to discuss the needs of Mountaineer fans with the hopes of enhancing the fan experience at its events.

    April 22, 2014

  • FURFARI COLUMN- Popovich, now 73, wishes he were playing baseball today

    If you’re a long-time baseball fan, you may recall Morgantown’s Paul Popovich.

    April 22, 2014

  • Mountaineers ready for slate of rivalry games

    Looking to put together a late-season run to get into the NCAA championships, West Virginia faces a pair of midweek rivalry games in a crucial five-game week coming off winning two of three games at Oklahoma.

    April 22, 2014

Featured Ads
WVU Sports Highlights
NDN Sports
House Ads
NCAA Breaking News
NCAA Photos