The biggest storyline for the West Virginia University football team heading into spring practice is the new coaches on defense.
First, as fans, we need to understand that there is a reason head coach Dana Holgorsen made the choices he made when he hired these coaches. Holgorsen has faith in their ability to coach the defense and produce a superior defensive football team.
If Holgorsen believed the new coaches could not do the job, he would not have hired them. Holgorsen did not hire bodies to fill positions, simply put it is not the way Holgorsen operates.
The coaches that chose to sign on in Morgantown demonstrated their faith and belief in Mountaineer Nation. To a man, they are excited to be a part of Mountaineer football and believe in the potential that exists in the players on the team.
With change comes uncertainty; with uncertainty comes anxiety about the future. To counter that anxiety, Mountaineer football fans are going to need to demonstrate some faith of their own.
Co-defensive coordinator Keith Patterson spent eight years at Tulsa, one of the few schools that also used the 3-3-5 stack defense that has been a staple in Morgantown for almost a decade.
Patterson molded his defense after former Mountaineer defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel’s 3-3-5. If there was a coach outside of Morgantown that understood Casteel’s defensive philosophy, Patterson is that coach.
Now, he is in Morgantown and along with Steve Dunlap provides the players with a tremendous resource to smooth the transition to WVU’s new defensive schemes.
Co-defensive coordinator Joe Deforest stated when he was hired that WVU would switch from the 3-3-5 to a 3-4 scheme on defense, and sometimes would even line up in a 4-3 set.
In a recent interview, new cornerbacks coach Daron Roberts quoted Gunther Cunningham, a long time NFL defensive coach,
“Regardless of the scheme, you need to get eleven guys running to the football to make the tackle”.
(Video inerview provided by WVMetro News)
Roberts also stated,
“A cornerback lining up in man-to-man coverage this year is still going to be covering the same guy he covered last year.”
In essence, the players on the field are not gong to forget how to play defense just because the scheme is different.
Originally, former Mountaineer head coach Rich Rodriguez employed the 3-3-5 to help offset a lack of depth on the defensive side of his football team. Eventually, Casteel molded the defensive scheme into a staple in Morgantown.
Rodriguez stated at the time, he fashioned the 3-3-5 because as an offensive coach he felt it created the most problems for his offense. Additionally, Rodriguez felt it would aide recruiting efforts, the thought being that it was easier to recruit safeties than defensive lineman and linebackers.
At the time of the decision, and on-field performance proves that it was an excellent move.
Today those same recruiting obstacles are not as prevalent as they were 10 years ago, and the ability of the Mountaineer recruiting staff to sign recruits is vastly superior.
Recruiting will always be challenging for any coach at any school at any level.
By choosing to change the defensive philosophy at WVU, Holgorsen is demonstrating a belief, or faith, in his coach’s ability to recruit the players necessary to deploy his new scheme.
Holgorsen is also demonstrating his faith in the players already on the team and their ability to flourish in a more traditional defensive set.
With the advent of the spread passing offenses in college football, the ability to rush the passer has become a necessity. The Big XII, the Mountaineer’s new home, is full of spread passing teams.
One of the problems employing the 3-3-5 stack is an inability to generate a consistent pass rush. The basic premise of the 3-3-5 is to force a team to drive the field and playing the percentages that a team will make a mistake before it generates a 10 or 11-play scoring drive.
Instead of waiting and hoping the opponent makes a mistake, the Mountaineers defensive staff is coaching the players to force the opponent to make a mistake. The Mountaineers will employ a proactive not reactive defensive philosophy.
The new defensive scheme is predicated on creating turnovers, or more opportunities for Holgorsen’s offense.
The offenses that WVU will face in the Big XII can score at any time from anywhere on the field. The same reason that Luck hired Holgorsen and his offense in Morgantown is precisely the reason it was time for a change in defensive philosophy
Had Holgorsen decided to stay with the 3-3-5 set, he would be choosing to counter those spread passing offenses with safety blitzes. The 3-3-5 had fulfilled its mandate in Morgantown; the time for change was now.
The same obstacles that Rodriguez faced a decade ago do not exist in Morgantown today; the Mountaineers field one of the fastest defenses in all of college football. Along the way, the Mountaineers have also recruited size to go with that speed.
The overall depth of talent on the football team today is superior to the overall depth of talent when Rodriguez made his decision and Casteel built his reputation.
Will next year’s version of the Mountaineer defense supplant Alabama and Louisiana State as the dominant defenses in college football? No!
Has Holgorsen, through his new defensive coaches, improved the stock of Mountaineer football and its future? Yes!
In essence, Holgorsen is stating his belief in the ability of the players on his team to line up and go toe-to-toe with anybody the Big XII has to offer. The need for fancy alignments and smoke and mirrors is over in Morgantown.
WVU no longer needs special schemes to compete with the best teams in college football.
As card carrying members of Mountaineer Nation, we simply need faith in Holgorsen’s mandate.