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April 19, 2011

Holgorsen strives for simplicity

MORGANTOWN — You have all seen the film clip, Vince Lombardi in his Green Bay cap, a whistle dangling around his neck, a chalkboard at the ready, a piece of chalk clamped firmly in his hand as he draws the famous Green Bay power sweep.

“If you look at this play, what we’re trying to do is get a seam here,” he says, drawing a line through the defense, “and a seam here,” he continues, drawing another line, “and run this back in the alley,” he says, drawing a line that represents Paul Horning or Donnie Anderson running through the defense and into the end zone.

It’s really a quite simple play. On another clip, Lombardi explains it this way:

“There’s nothing spectacular about it. It’s just a yard gainer.”

Simple, effective ... and there you have the offense Dana Holgorsen is putting in for the West Virginia Mountaineers.

Oh, Holgorsen’s offense may have all the bells and whistles of all these 21st century offenses that have evolved since Lombardi was winning Super Bowl championships the way Franklin D. Roosevelt used to win elections, one after another.

But you get past the formations and the motion and all the high-tech crapola that you get these days, it’s simple as setting up a seam and running down it.

Simplicity is Holgorsen’s goal.

Apparently, he has accomplished that goal. Take what wide receiver Ivan McCartney said about the WVU offense after Saturday’s first scrimmage when asked how it compared with the offense he and wide receiver Stedman Bailey and quarterback Geno Smith ran as teammates at Miramar High in Florida.

“The only difference,” McCartney said, “is in high school there were a lot more plays.”

Tyler Urban, who has flourished in the offense being moved from tight end to slot receiver, put it even better.

“This offense is easy to learn, but complex to defend,” he said.

That is exactly what Holgorsen is trying to achieve.

“If they feel like the offense is simple, then we can start worrying about the things we feel make them good players,” he said.  And that is what?

“That is not thinking,” he answered. “It’s more about the technique and effort and getting comfortable, timing and all the rest. We don’t want them thinking. We want them playing good. The less thinking they do, the more we can coach them to play good.”

Football coaches normally make a big deal about how many plays they have ready for a game.

How many times during an NFL season does the camera focus in on the play sheet of an offensive coordinator and it has more strategy on it than Eisenhower had on D-Day? There are plays in red and blue, runs and passes, front and back.

Holgorsen’s play sheet is not nearly that complicated.

“I think we have simplified it to the point of having a lot of different ways of doing the same thing,” he said. “Whether we have one receiver lined up, or two, or three, or four, or five ... if we call one play, they are all doing the same thing. They have the same responsibility.”

Doing the plays correctly is more important than having the correct play.

“I think we have enough plays. I could draw up twice as many more and put in twice as many more than we’ve got. I just don’t feel that’s necessary,” he said. “Besides, if it scores, you will probably call it again.”

It isn’t that the plays are so simple that they lack the ability to deceive or confuse a defense.

“We try to make it all look the same,” Holgorsen explained. “We self scout ourselves and have for years. We know what the tendencies are and try to fix them. You go into a new place or a new year, you try to fix the tendencies.”

Put in its simplest form, the offense tries to take advantage of the weaknesses in a defense and by tempo it almost forces the defense to line up the way the offense wants, unable to do situational substitutions.

Then, you have players running their routes and reading the defenders, either cutting off their routes quickly or carrying them out longer. And when a one-on-one situation presents itself, they take the route deep.

“The more they play together — and we’re talking about five more practices, all summer and 29 days in camp — and the more they do it, the more they get on the same page,” Holgorsen said. “Then it makes more sense and the quarterback knows when they are going to break a route off and when they are not going to break a route off.”

When that happens, the offense simply purrs.

“That’s when you start getting good in the offense, when they know where each other is going,” Holgorsen said.

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