By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
A week ago, Maryland ran its offense at the speed of ... well, not to be too corny, a tortoise.
This week’s challenge for the West Virginia University Mountaineers in their historic first Big 12 game against Baylor at noon Saturday at Mountaineer Field at Milan Puskar Stadium is to get ready for the hare.
It wasn’t that the Terrapin players weren’t fast runners; it was just the pace of the offense was to run a play about every two or three days, or so it seemed. The philosophy was that WVU couldn’t score if it didn’t have the ball.
“We ran seven plays in the first quarter,” West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen noted. “What they did in their three drives was that they were huddling and getting under the ball and then waiting 30 seconds. How they do that, I don’t know. That is hard to watch. I got impatient. They scored a couple of times, and it was 14-14.”
This week it’s Big 12 football, and Baylor is going to come at West Virginia with the speed and fury of a NASCAR racer.
They play like they have a cold beer waiting down at the local brewery.
The coaching staff has timed it out, and from tackle to snap it is usually 11 to 13 seconds ... that’s unpiling, lining up and snapping the ball.
“It was ridiculous,” linebacker Isaiah Bruce said after viewing film of the Bears. “Get to the ball, make the tackle, get back to where the ball is spotted, and make the call quick. Think smart, think quick.”
What does this do?
First of all, it limits substitutions on defense. Teams have packages for down and distance ... five defensive backs, six defensive backs.
“The rule is that if the offense subs, then the defense matches,” Holgorsen said. “If Baylor doesn’t sub, then we better be careful about subbing because they are going to snap it. We do the same thing offensively because if I don’t sub, and they feel like they need to sub, we are going to go ahead and snap it.”
This pressures the coaches, who must watch the sidelines to keep tabs on the offense’s personnel groups so they can match up.
And, Holgorsen notes, Baylor is not above a little trickery, too.
“I know one thing that happens, and they are tricky about it and I have known this for a long time, but the ball will go off on their sidelines and you have a big cluster of people there. That’s when they sub,” Holgorsen said.
“It doesn’t look like they subbed, and then they snap it. That is against the rules, and we talked to the officials about that prior to the game. Bottom line — if they sub people, we have to sub people. That allows you to match it to the point you can get yourself lined up before you snap it.”
If you just try getting it onto the field between plays and the ball’s snapped there’s either a penalty for too many men on the field or, worse yet, a bubble screen when no one is ready and it’s a guaranteed 10-yard gain, if anyone can stop it at all.
That leads to this paradox — you can’t substitute, so you have to substitute more.
How so? Well, players on the field get tired and in the end, throughout the Big 12, where this style of ball is prevalent, you have to use more players because there are more snaps.
“You can go into a Big East game and plan on playing about 40 kids, which happened last year and has happened here for a long time,” Holgorsen said. “That is hard to do when you are taking that many snaps.”
Baylor averages 90 snaps a game, but they also wind up facing 87 or 88 snaps a game because of it.
That sets up the second result of going so fast ... a lot of points will be scored.
The over-under on the WVU-Baylor matchup is at 82 points ... and there aren’t many who would dare take the under.
“If you think we’re going to shut them down,” Holgorsen said, “you’re nuts.”
And vice versa.
WVU, after crawling its way through the Maryland game, is eager to turn its offense loose in a fast-paced game against a team that believes in outscoring your offense rather than stopping your offense.
“If we get 80 plays, that would be fun,” WVU quarterback Geno Smith admitted. “However many we get, we are going to make sure we take advantage of it better than we did last week.”
Email Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @bhertzel.