The Times West Virginian

WVU Sports

October 15, 2012

HERTZEL COLUMN-Offense tips plays prior to snap

MORGANTOWN — \It was, in many ways, the ultimate insult in an afternoon filled with them.

West Virginia University’s offense came to the line of scrimmage in Lubbock, Texas, and lined up to run a play, something they proved quite inept at doing in what was a shocking 49-14 loss to Texas Tech that carried huge national implications.

Sean McDonough was ABC-TVs play-by-play announcer on the game, and his color man was someone who knows a good bit about the game of football in Chris Spielman, a one-time Ohio State linebacker who some considered Heisman Trophy worthy.

Certainly, the people in West Virginia did for on Sept. 12, 1987, the Mountaineers of Don Nehlen had gone into the horseshoe stadium in Columbus and suffered through a 24-3 beating in which Spielman intercepted two of the six passes the Buckeyes would intercept among eight turnovers that day and added 19 tackles and forced a fumble.

It was so bad that this paragraph appeared in Bob Logan’s game story in the Chicago Tribune:

“That`s the way it was all 10 times the Mountaineers had the ball in the first half. They got two first downs by rushing, two more on penalties and none by passing. Nehlen yanked starting quarterback Major Harris after two interceptions, but Mike Timko tossed two more before the intermission.”

That’s right, the man many consider the greatest quarterback of all time at WVU, a College Football Hall of Fame inductee, was lifted in the first half of his second college game just a year before he would lead the Mountaineers to the national championship game.

This is noted to highlight the credentials Spielman possesses that make him one of the best in the business at his job. Certainly he was at the top of his game when he pointed out that WVU’s sophomore left tackle, Quinton Spain, a player destined to play in the National Football League, was tipping the offense’s plays.

He noted that when Spain’s left foot was up a bit, a run had been called, and that when it was back a bit, a pass had been called. He then proceeded to call correctly three or four plays in succession.

Later in the game, he added yet another tip Spain was unconsciously giving on each play, noting that on running plays he was always looking inside, and on passing plays he would look outside at the guy he was assigned to block.

Now, to be honest, I’m not certain that someone in the broadcast booth isn’t overstepping some moral boundaries by possibly inserting himself in the outcome of the game, but it was fascinating stuff and right enough that it was reported that during the game WVU head coach Dana Holgorsen went to Spain and told him to be careful about tipping off the plays.

Understandably, it wasn’t long after Spielman came forth with this bit of inside football that a strand of posts showed up on one of the WVU fan sites under the heading “Hire Chris Spielman as D.C.”

One suspects Spielman, who is active in charity work, running the fund to raise money to fight breast cancer, which took his wife, Stefanie, from him three years ago, raising four children and fighting a battle against fees for extracurricular activities such as sports at the high school level, doesn’t need the problems that Joe DeForest has these days.

Certainly, you could not blame anyone who were to call for a change in that position or who would be critical of Holgorsen for failing to find a way to work things out with Jeff Casteel before he bolted to join Rich Rodriguez at Arizona.

West Virginia’s defense is bad.

It is so bad that this was what McDonough had to ask Spielman during his telecast play-by-play this question:

“Can you be a championship team, nationally or in the Big 12, with a defense this weak?”

The answer is a resounding “No!”

West Virginia ranks 118th in pass defense in the nation. Only Baylor and Louisiana Tech give up more than the 364 yards a game the Mountaineers allow. They allow 9.60 yards per attempt — double what No. 1 Alabama allows.

In total defense they are No. 114 out of 120, giving up nearly 500 yards per game.

It normally would be difficult to decipher whether this is a lack of talent or something to be blamed on the coaches, but considering that no improvement is being seen as the season reaches the halfway point, it would lean toward the job being done by DeForest, a first-year defensive coordinator, and his staff.

After all, if Spain’s giveaways in his stance are to be corrected only after being pointed out to a national television audience by a color commentator, then one can assume that even worse things are going uncorrected on a defense that is giving up 37.4 points a game and that has allowed only 106 fewer passing yards than WVU’s high-flying passing offense has thrown for.

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

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