The Times West Virginian

WVU Sports

September 9, 2012

HERTZEL COLUMN: Keep-away could be way to slow offenses

MORGANTOWN — It is a basketball ploy from the fertile mind of Dean Smith at North Carolina, a plague upon what was a great game that forced the adoption of the shot clock in the college game.

They called it the “Four Corners Delay” offense, and while it had practical application at the end of a game to run clock or to wait for a final shot, it was also used as a game strategy by an inferior team to slow a game to a crawl and keep the ball away from a powerful offense.

The problem was that this often worked. I covered an NIT game at Rupp Arena on March 7, 1979, between Clemson and a high-scoring Kentucky team led by Kyle Macy where the Tigers held the ball through much of the first half as the crowd roared its disapproval.

The half ended at 18-18, regulation finishing at 55-55 as the teams played normal basketball in the second half and Clemson wound up winning, 68-67, in overtime … not scoring as many points in this overtime basketball game as it allowed to West Virginia in last year’s Orange Bowl football matchup.

And this gets us to the point of today’s discussion.

West Virginia University averaged almost a point a play against Marshall coming off that 70-point outburst, and it is playing in a conference where teams run up point totals the way the Bush and Obama administrations ran up the national debt.

This weekend past Oklahoma State scored 84 points (albeit against Savannah State), Baylor went from scoring 67 in its Alamo Bowl game a year ago to 59 against SMU, Kansas State scored 51 against Missouri State and there’s no reason to believe that Oklahoma isn’t going to score more than the 27 points it put up at El Paso.

The teams that don’t score like that, headed by a magnificent defensive outfit at Texas, are going to have to devise some way to deal with Dana Holgorsen’s WVU offense and those of the other conference mega-offenses if they are to be competitive.

And that may mean a football version of the four-corners offense.

The way the schools in the Big 12 are playing now, they are all based on tempo, never huddling, often trying to catch the defense in a situation where it is a. tired and b. unprepared or uncertain of its assignments.

So how do you stop this? You don’t give them the ball.

How do you take time off the clock in football. First, it begins with this old-fashioned invention called a huddle.

You gather in a circle behind the line of scrimmage and talk about the weather, the cheerleaders, the post-game meal and, oh, yeah, what the next play is going to be.

And rest assured, that will be a run or a pass aimed at being of high percentage and keeping the ball inbounds.

The ultimate goal, of course, is still to score … but as important is to have the clock go tick, tick, tick.

You can’t score from the bench, and that is why the WVU new defense’s emphasis is on causing turnovers, maybe even over getting three-and outs.

Holgorsen talked about the importance of this following the Marshall game, a game that showed how important it is to take time off the clock against teams like WVU in that Marshall held the ball for an amazing 101 plays and ran up 545 yards while converting third downs.

But Marshall did this while running a no-huddle, high-tempo offense. The Herd registered yards, recorded first downs, even 34 points, but did not take enough time off the clock to frustrate or slow WVU.

“Defensively, we’ve got to tackle better; we’ve got to be better on third down,” Holgorsen said. “If you tackle better on third down, you’re probably getting off the field, which reduces the snaps, which reduces the yards.”

And, unsaid, it allows your offense back on the field, which usually adds to the point total.

Make no doubt teams like Texas and some of the others who feel they can’t keep up scoring are aware of the situation they are in. The Longhorns’ defensive coordinator Manny Diaz said to the Austin (Texas) Statesman on Wednesday that he watches the scores from the other teams.

“It’s hard not to look at it,’’ he said. “Sometimes you guys have to get bigger newspapers to print out some of those numbers they’re coming up with.”

That paper went so far as to suggest Texas go into a version of the four-corners.

“Texas’ offense is not going to be as dynamic as some other teams’, but this is one of those rare cases where time of possession becomes a relevant statistic,” wrote Cedric Golden. “The running backs give UT the ability to suck the air out of the ball and keep the clock running. The Horns aren’t built for shootouts, but they have the potential to be one of the best keepaway teams in college football.”

Don’t bet that ploy won’t be tried on West Virginia somewhere before the season is over, and you can almost expect it at Texas, with 100,000 plus fans not urging the Longhorns to play fast.

This is especially true after what happened to Marshall in the opener when it went uptempo. This was what defensive co-coordinator Keith Patterson thought of it.

“I kept thinking, ‘If they go tempo, we might score 100. They better not tempo us,’” Patterson said. “Our system is built to play tempo. We’re a field and boundary team, so we should be able to get deployed and lined up pretty quickly. Plus, working against Dana’s tempo all spring and then during camp helps.”

So look for some slowdowns in games that figure to be blowouts.

Email Bob Hertzel at or follow him on Twitter @bhertzel.


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