By Cam Huffman
Shannon Dawson never saw himself as an accountant, but there was a time in his life when he was obsessed with numbers.
When the West Virginia University offensive coordinator began his coaching career at Wingate in 2002 — and especially when he became an offensive coordinator for the first time in 2006 at Milsaps College — his goal was to turn heads with the numbers his offenses produced.
His goal was achieved when Division III Milsaps recorded more than 4,000 yards of offense in back-to-back seasons, and Dawson took it to another level at his next stop, Stephen F. Austin.
There, his team led the nation in passing offense in 2010 and was No. 6 in total offense, averaging nearly 450 yards per game on its way to the NCAA FCS playoffs.
Reunited with his old coach, WVU head coach Dana Holgorsen, who coached Dawson at Wingate, Dawson is learning that numbers don’t always win games. College football, he’s found out, isn’t an EASports video game where a team can drop back and throw downfield on every play.
“I threw the football 89 times one game,” said Dawson, reflecting on his development as a play caller. “But what I didn’t do is make the defense play honest. They knew when they went into a game that I was going to throw it. I wasn’t going to make you consistently stop the run.
“What we’ve done is learned to understand that what matters is who wins the game. (Holgorsen’s) kind of put my ego to the side a little bit. That doesn’t mean we can’t go a ton of yards. It’s an evolution of the offense that occurred, and I’ll give him the credit for that. Because it definitely wasn’t me.”
When the Mountaineers take the field for the first time on Aug. 31 at home against William & Mary, they’ll be breaking in a first-time quarterback, and they’ll have to find replacements for two of the top receivers in WVU history — Stedman Bailey and Tavon Austin.
What it will have, however, is a stable full of running backs. Dustin Garrison and Andrew Buie have both gone over 200 yards in a game wearing a WVU uniform, and Houston transfer Charles Sims was selected as the Big 12’s Newcomer of the Year.
Junior college transfer Dreamius Smith rushed for nearly 1,000 yards last year at Butler Community College, and freshman Wendell Smallwood averaged more than eight yards per carry in high school.
Dawson said the Mountaineers will take advantage of their strengths.
“There’s one thing that fluctuates in our offense,” he said. “The plays don’t change, but the emphasis on the plays do. It depends on the makeup of your team. You’re going to get in formations that are best suited for your personnel, and that’s what we’re doing.”
The ultimate goal now, Dawson promised, is improving just one number — the seven that WVU posted in the win column in 2012.
“We’re going to do whatever it takes to win the game,” said the Louisiana native. “If that means winning 31-28 or 14-7, we’re going to do that. We’re trying to figure out the weaknesses of the defense. If they’re playing down, we’re going to take a shot.”
One thing that won’t change is the tempo.
“We’re never going to get away from the background we have of playing fast at times,” said Dawson. “We will mix tempos up a bit more. When you play fast all the time, that’s pretty predictable too.”
— E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org and follow on Twitter @CamHuffmanRH.