The Times West Virginian

September 21, 2011

LSU, WVU a contrast in styles

By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian

MORGANTOWN — It has been 60 years since the release of the sci-fi thriller “When Worlds Collide,” the story of a new star and planet hurtling toward a doomed Earth while a small group of survivalists frantically work to complete the rocket that will take them to a new home.

It is fitting it should be an anniversary year of that flick, for if one had to put a title upon West Virginia University’s Saturday night showdown with LSU on ABC-TV at 8 p.m. in a sold-out Mountaineer Field, that would be the most fitting of titles.

Indeed, these are teams from two different planets, or so it seems. LSU is from the Southeastern Conference, a conglomeration of teams who represent the strength of college football, while WVU must play the role of the survivalists, trying to escape the doomed Big East before total destruction comes down upon them.

But this isn’t only about the haves and have nots, for it is also a matchup of teams that play as if they were from different planets.

When asked if there were any similarities between the two teams, the leader of the WVU Survivalists, Dana Holgorsen, answered succinctly.

“None whatsoever,” he said. “Our offense is 100 percent different from their offense and our defense is 100 percent different from their defense. All around, we’re a different football team.”

If one were to categorize the offenses, LSU would be running yesterday’s offense and WVU today’s offense in a game where there may not be a tomorrow for the loser.

We have come to know in recent weeks Holgorsen’s offense, high tempo, spread out, throw first, get someone in space and let them run.

It is almost straight off a video game, so modern and high-tech it is.

LSU, on the other hand, comes out of another era, updates to be sure, but still with roots that reach back into coach Les Miles’ past. It is an offense that makes use of fullbacks and tight ends, positions Holgorsen finds obsolete.

Holgorsen’s offense is built on finesse, Miles’ on power.

It’s easy to tell where it comes from.

Former WVU coach Don Nehlen ran the same kind of offense because he had the same roots, having come out of the Bo Schembechler school of coaching at Michigan.

“Les Miles was a graduate assistant at Michigan for Bo when I was there. He’s a good friend of mine. I’ve known him since ’78,” Nehlen said. “He’s from Ohio. In fact, Bo tried to talk him out of coaching. Les had graduated from Michigan. He had a job making about $40,000 a year at that time, which was a good job. Bo said, ‘Are you crazy?’ I mean, you get your school paid for and a few bucks, but not like he would make at a real job.

“Well, Les told him, ‘I want to coach. I’m not happy doing this; I want to coach.’ So Bo said, ‘OK, you’re the guy who has to eat the hot dogs.’ I knew right then he’d be a good coach if he was willing to give up a pretty good job to be a graduate assistant and learn how to coach football.”

And so it was Miles learned the power game.

“He’s an offensive line coach,” Holgorsen noted. “He’s where their physical style of play comes from. When he was at Oklahoma State back when I was at Texas Tech, they were one of the more physical teams we faced. He brings a physical nature to the offense.”

That’s fine with West Virginia, whose defense over the years has been able to handle that type of attack. This year’s team, though, is a bit undersized and actually got pushed around last week at times by Maryland, a team nowhere near the quality LSU has.

“I’m aware of what he brings to the table,” Holgorsen said. “It’s of a physical nature. They are going to put a fullback and a tight end in, and they’re going to get after you. If you put too many people in there, then they’re going to go one-on-one on the outside with their talented wide receivers.”

The LSU strength, though, is in a defense that is big and strong and agile and fast.

“When facing their defense, you’ve got to take advantage of the little space that you have,” Holgorsen said. “They’re good, talented and rarely out of position. We’re going to have to throw to receivers that are covered and run into people that are filling gaps.

“We’re going to sustain blocks for a little bit longer. If they’re playing zone and we’ve got a guy open, then that hole is going to close relatively quick. The speed of the game is going to have to increase a bit more than it did last week. The tight space that we’re going to have offensively, we’ll have to take advantage of it.”

Perhaps the most intriguing part of it all is that dramatic differences between the two philosophies aside, like every football game that has ever been played, this one will come down to blocking and tackling.

Email Bob Hertzel at Follow on Twitter @bhertzel.