The Times West Virginian

WVU Sports

April 6, 2011

HERTZEL COLUMN: There must be help on practice field

MORGANTOWN — It is new. It is proven. It is dynamic. It is fun.

It is West Virginia University’s new offense, brought to us all courtesy of a bright, inventive coach named Dana Holgorsen, who has baffled defenses with it at Texas Tech, Houston and Oklahoma State.

After the Mountaineers spent last year sleepwalking through a season on offense, it promises to bring back those rollicking, riotous days when Patrick White, Steve Slaton, Noel Devine, Darius Reynaud and Owen Schmidt ran wild for the Mountaineers.

There is only one reason for concern, one that is a legitimate concern. It is generally accepted that offense wins fans; defense wins championships. A year ago, as lethargic as was the offense, the Mountaineers managed to share the Big East title by fielding the nation’s No. 3-ranked defense.

Now it’s true, in recent times, thanks in part to rule changes, offense has become exaggerated in its importance as evidenced by schools such as TCU, Oregon and Boise State. Certainly, if you average 35 or 40 points per game you aren’t going to lose a lot.

Still, at least in one fragile mind, some doubt exists as to how this will work here because of an area that has mostly been overlooked — the practice field.

Holgorsen’s offense is unlike any the Mountaineers are going to see during the season, both in tempo and in the way it operates. It is a passing offense facing a team on the practice field that is geared first to stop the run.

What’s more, while Holgorsen is putting in an entirely new offense, defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel is putting in seven new starters on his defense. Due to the tempo that is run during scrimmage-like drills, there is no time for individual on-field instruction, that being done somewhat during group work and in the classroom, but anyone who has watched Casteel or his rather vocal defensive line coach Bill Kirelawich work, they are not averse to being heard the moment a mistake is made.

The truth is, seeing Holgorsen’s offense isn’t necessarily at all what the defense needs.

“We’re trying to coach and teach now, and that’s different than what they are seeing as far as getting into team situations,” Casteel said. “We’re trying to get them to understand the front, the cover and the pressure and execute that, even though it’s not the best call against what they’re seeing.”

At present, in the spring, it is not a critical problem, for they are still learning basics while the coaches are compiling film and impressions of who can play, who can’t, and where they are best suited to play.

“We’re trying to get our kids coached up right now. We don’t talk to them about what they are seeing now,” Casteel said.

But here’s the deal. This is overwhelmingly a passing offense, which might help the pass defense improve over the year, but what of the run defense that was among the nation’s best last year?

Casteel says he’s not concerned about it at present.

“It’s about winning. We’re not concerned are we the second- or third-best defense in the country. I’ll bet if you asked the kids last year they didn’t know about it until everyone else started talking about,” he said. “It would be nice to be second- or third-ranked, but our goal is to limit people running the football and trying to control the throwing game and get people into predictable situations and get off the field on third down.”

See, here’s the concern. The top five passing teams last year were Hawaii, Oklahoma State, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Houston. None ranked better than 51st in the nation on defense, and two of them, Houston and Arkansas, were 103 and 105, respectively.

Once the season gets going, Casteel knows that things are going to have to be a little bit different.

“We’ll have to manufacture some of the things we’re going to see. Our challenge will be to play good solid defense around that,” he said. “If you look at the numbers on the other side of the ball with some of the high-tempo offenses, your emphasis has to be making sure you get off the field on third down and create turnovers.”

There will be a premium on scout team play, getting the defense ready, and the WVU offense is going to have to help some, too.

“Dana will card some things for us in the run game to help us. We’ll need to see a tight end on the line; we’ll need to see gap football, some of the things they don’t do,” Casteel admitted.

In a way, though, it’s a two-way street because WVU used an odd, three-man front while it’s expected most teams will defend Holgorsen with an even four-man front.

“They need to see some even front, and we are giving them an odd front. They’re looking at a look they won’t see a lot. They need to help us and we need to help them,” Casteel said.

One thing is certain, if Holgorsen’s offense operates as it has in the Southwest to date, no one will complain if the defense bends a little. No one except Casteel, Kirelawich and company, that is.

Email Bob Hertzel at bhertzel@hotmail.com.

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