The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

Latest Sports

March 29, 2014

WVU defense wants to be multiple but simple

There’s a fine line in college football between a defense being too simple and too complex.

If a defense does one thing all the time, the coaches who are paid the big bucks to come up with game plans are going to figure out a plan to attack it. But if a defense tries to do too much, it runs the risk of being a jack of all trades but a master of none.

That’s the line Dana Holgorsen has been trying to walk since arriving at West Virginia University in 2011. New defensive coordinator Tony Gibson will be Holgorsen’s fourth in as many years with the Mountaineers — Jeff Casteel was in Morgantown when he started, before leaving to join Rich Rodriguez at Arizona; Joe DeForest was hired but moved to special teams after the worst statistical season for a WVU defense in the program’s history; Keith Patterson took over and coached the defense last fall but left to take a similar position at Arizona State — but although the scheme has been slightly different with each, the philosophy has been similar, beginning with three down linemen.

“The reason I run an odd defense is because it can be very multiple,” said Holgorsen Saturday, before an open practice at Mountaineer Field. “If you’re a four-down defense, you can’t be multiple. If you’re a three-down defense, an odd defense, you can be multiple.

“I have to look at what gives us problems, because a lot of teams in the Big 12 have similar defenses. The thing that gives us the most trouble is an odd defense, so that’s what we’re going to do. It will give us a bunch of different looks.”

That variety, said junior linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski, makes the players’ jobs a little easier.

“It’s a very big thing in the Big 12, because you see so many different offenses,” he explained. “You have teams with fast quarterbacks, run games and fast games. Being multiple on defense is very important.”

Clearly, though, being a good defense takes more than variety. WVU used a three-man front with many different schemes a year ago and still gave up 33.3 points and 455 yards per game, ranking 99th and 101st among 123 Football Bowl Subdivision teams in those respective categories.

“Last year, it was too multiple,” said Holgorsen, who’s confident the 2014 version will be better. “It was still an odd defense, but we were doing too many different things. The one thing Tony (Gibson) has done a good job with is getting it a little more simplified.

“I’ve been really impressed with how quick they line up. We face so many high-tempo offenses that we need to be able to do that. I think they're doing an excellent job with that right now.”

Gibson said he’s been careful not to go too fast this spring. He’ll add on, he said, once he’s sure his players have mastered what’s already on the table.

“I think the way we line up right now and our structure as a defense, we’re putting them in the position to succeed,” he said. “We just want to get really good at what we’re doing. We’re about two weeks away from playing the spring game, and we only have about two weeks to get it cleaned up.”

Gibson, holding the keys to a defense for the first time, will benefit greatly from new associate head coach Tom Bradley. The veteran coach spent 33 years as an assistant under Joe Paterno at Penn State, 12 as the Nittany Lions’ defensive coordinator. He wa the Associated Press Defensive Coordinator of the Year in 2005 and earned the same recognition from in 2008.

Bradley, who said he’s been impressed with the talent he’s seen on defense through the first eight practices of the spring, said the key to defended spread attacks, like the ones the Mountaineers will see in the Big 12, is communication.

“Nobody huddles anymore,” he said. “Everybody has to know the signals the way the game is played now. You’re forcing everybody to limit and change the ways that they do things, because you just can’t do all of them due to the changes.”

WVU will hold practices on Tuesday and Thursday of this week before another open practice on Saturday at Laidley Field in Charleston. That practice is scheduled to begin at 1 p.m., and fans are encouraged to come watch the action from the stands.

— E-mail: chuffman@register- and follow on Twitter


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