By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
It’s time to let loose a dirty little bit of news that the Big 12 has tried very hard to keep a secret.
Come close and I’ll whisper it to you.
They run the ball in the Big 12, too.
Got that? Now don’t tell anyone, but they run it so well that there actually are coaches here at West Virginia University, defensive coaches, who are trying to devise ways of stopping the run as well as the pass.
“We have put a heavy emphasis on stopping the run,” co-defensive coordinator Gary Patterson said at interviews the other day. “To win the Big 12 and be a champion anywhere you have to stop the run.”
When he said that, those around him went dead silent.
It was as if he said “There’s life on Mars” or Kim Kardashian looks the way she does due to Photoshopping pictures of her.
Honestly, though, that’s the way things are being taught at Mountaineer Field.
Listen to Sam linebacker Isaiah Bruce.
“If we can stop the run and make them one-dimensional, that will help our chances to win the game,” Bruce said.
Run? In the Big 12?
Isn’t that the league that has had the Heisman winner last year in quarterback Robert Griffin III of Baylor and the Biletnikoff Award winner the past two years in Justin Blackmon of Oklahoma State?
Isn’t this a passing league, one in which last year Griffin, the Heisman Trophy winner, finished fourth in average passing yards per game.
Run? The league ran for 23,729 yards last year.
It threw for 34,292 yards.
So how can anyone say that stopping the run is crucial?
“If you make them think that they can’t run the ball, then you know they are going to throw it,” Patterson said. “Now you have the offense playing into your hands. Now you can pressure and do some things to attack the offense.”
Call Patterson old fashioned, if you will, which in this neck of woods is as big an insult as anyone can toss at you, but he really believes that stopping the run is crucial to defensive success.
“The one thing in football that hasn’t changed is you have to stop the run,” he said.
But do they run the ball enough in the Big 12 to make that important?
“I think it’s a little bit of misconception when you talk about the Big 12,” Patterson said. “All those teams can run the ball effectively. It’s not some pass-happy league like the Western Athletic Conference used to be. There’s a lot of spread offenses but it’s almost like an illusion, they are still running the football.”
OK, it isn’t like Gale Sayers is at Kansas or Steve Owen is at Oklahoma or Tom Osbourne is running the Nebraska offense, but they do have some good runners in the league, not the least of which is WVU’s Dustin Garrison and Shawne Alston.
True the top three rushers are gone, Baylor’s Terrance Ganaway the rushing champion with 1,547 yards and 21 touchdowns having graduated and second place Henry Josey of Missouri and third-place Cyrus Gray of Texas A&M having moved to the SEC.
But Oklahoma State’s Joseph Randle, who rushed for 1,045 yards is back as is Kansas State’s Collin Klein, who had 1,216 rushing yards.
That means it certainly isn’t a pass only league … just a pass first league.
The Mountaineers are confident, even though they have yet to try out their new defense, that they have what it takes to stop the running game they will see in the Big 12.
Francis, for example, comes into the season bubbling over with confidence.
“I think I have played against the run pretty well during my career,” he said. “I played against LSU last year and was able to make about 10 tackles against a team with a 285-pound fullback.
“My weight was lower back then. Either way that will not make a difference. I believe I can stand in there against running teams. It is up to the coaches to decide how we are going to attack that.”
Email Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @bhertzel.