The Times West Virginian

WVU Sports

October 26, 2011

Rutgers hopes to duplicate ’Cuse success against WVU

MORGANTOWN — You’ve all seen it happen. Elvis Presley comes along wearing long sideburns and before you know it there isn’t a kid in America who doesn’t have long sideburns.

The Beatles come along with their mop-top hair and teenagers are all mop-tops.

Twiggy shows up in magazines waif thin and America becomes anorexic.

It really isn’t any different in football. Something shows up on film and before you know it, it is catching on everywhere ... the wishbone, the spread, whatever the flavor of the day is.

Not a bad thing, you say?

Well, something went on film last week that I have a hunch is about to catch on as soon as the film makes the rounds, and that is teams blitzing West Virginia the way Syracuse did.

Dana Holgorsen, the Mountaineer coach, said Syracuse blitzed 75 percent of the time, which was more than he had ever experienced from an opposing team as a coach, and they got away with it, overpowering the Mountaineers to win, 49-23.

The film from that has made its way into the football offices at Rutgers and rest assured the Scarlet Knights, a quick, hard-hitting defensive team that leads the nation in takeaways, will be coming out of the stands to blitz the Mountaineers this weekend when the two teams meet in Piscataway, N.J., at 3:30 p.m.

Rutgers’ coach Greg Schiano is something of a defensive specialist, which makes this matchup intriguing as he goes against the offensive guru in Holgorsen. Asked how Syracuse was able to stop WVU’s high-flying offense, Schiano didn’t hesitate to point out what was obvious to anyone who saw the game or the film.

“They effectively put pressure on Smith,” he said, referring to quarterback Geno Smith. “They hit him a lot.”

It was a bloody mess, and that’s not using the term bloody like an Englishman.

Holgorsen and his staff spent 16 hours Monday analyzing what happened, although it really wasn’t any different than what they knew when they got on the plane in Syracuse to head home.

“They were smart about how they did it,” Holgorsen explained at his weekly press conference Tuesday. “They keep a lid on it over the top, which means our job is just to put the ball in play. We didn’t do a good job. Some of it was so unsound that we could have seen it.”

It came down to three things, really.

First, WVU did not attack it with the run.

“Geno could have done a better job attacking it with the ground game. We’ll put that on our shoulders as offensive coaches.”

Second, the receivers didn’t effectively cut short their routes so that Smith could get rid of the ball quickly or make plays on fade routes designed to burn the blitz.

“We didn’t sight adjust routes well and we didn’t win on fade routes. Just because they put a lid on it didn’t mean we couldn’t get behind them, but we were pushed out of bounds 90 percent of the time.”

And finally, West Virginia did not block the blitz.

“If you’re not able to attack the blitz with runs, if we’re not able to sight adjust, you have to be able to hold up when they bring people. That always ends up in a one-on-one matchup with an O-lineman and a D-lineman, and we weren’t able to handle that very well and we weren’t able to win on the outside, which causes some serious problems offensively,” Holgorsen said.

To be honest, the first two aspects would seem to be correctable. Remember, WVU had played only six games in this offense up to the Syracuse encounter.

The third, though, is troubling. The linemen had seen blitzes before. What they do isn’t terribly different and they didn’t get beat because they were technically doing things wrong.

They were beat because they weren’t tough enough.

“One of the biggest problems was when they brought pressure our O-line just got whipped. It was evident to me on tape that they were playing much, much harder than our O-line, which is disturbing,” Holgorsen admitted.

Rest assured they will be tested again this week. But there is something of a bright side to this picture, for the Mountaineers have some tape of their own to view. See Rutgers, which had been racking up the sacks, did not get one against Louisville.

“They got rid of the ball, a lot of 3-step drops and fades; they connected on a few of them. They were not going to allow themselves to get sacked. I thought it was an excellent plan,” Schiano said.

Good enough that WVU can learn from it?

If they are willing to.

But Holgorsen remains sold on his offense as it is, to the point that he honestly believes his team could have won that game by outscoring the 49 put up by Syracuse.

“If we do a good job handling the blitz, we could have very easily scored more than 49 points,” he said. “We sat in here as an offense and went through every play and said here’s how you attack it, if you guys would have done that you guys would have scored more than 49 points and won the game.”

And he isn’t kidding about that. In fact, he says he’s been on teams that handle the blitz and that blitzing is exactly what they want to face.

“I’ve been on a lot of teams that handle blitzes better and you make them pay for it,” he said. “That’s our goal offensively, to make them blitz. That means there’s less space behind the line of scrimmage. You handle the blitz, they stop blitzing.”

And so the gauntlet has been laid down. Stopping the blitz is going to be crucial this week.

Email Bob Hertzel at bhertzel@hotmail.com.

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