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WVU football: Offense may alter defense's pace, too

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- As difficult as it was for Jeff Casteel's defense to be as good as it was last season with an offense that frequently put the defense in bad situations, West Virginia's defensive coordinator knows it will be harder to replicate that success in the 2011 season.

Oh, he'll try. He might even pull it off, given his resume that was last updated to

include a defense that was No. 3 overall last season, No. 3 in points allowed and No. 2 against the run.

Yet having to replace seven starters is about as easy as it sounds.

Supporting an offense that is going to play with a tenacious tempo and try to ring up touchdowns and first downs at an alarming rate is far more demanding.

"Our challenge will be to play a good, solid defense around that," Casteel said, "and if you go and look at the numbers on the other side of the ball with some of the high-tempo offenses, usually ..."

He trailed off, but the point was clear. Elite offenses are oftentimes exclusive.

Of the 20 best - or is it worst? - in time of possession last year, only one team had a top 20 defense (Syracuse, No. 7).

That group included Oklahoma State and Houston, where Holgorsen recently worked as the offensive

coordinator (2010 at OSU and 2008 and '09 at UH), and where he left an influence those teams still follow today.

Texas Tech is in there, too, and while those Red Raiders are not the ones who gained fame with Holgorsen and former Coach Mike Leach, it's still a fast-paced spread offense.

Of last season's top 20 in scoring offense, which again included Oklahoma State (No. 3) and Houston (No. 14) and barely excluded Texas Tech (No. 23), only four had to top-20 defenses - Boise State, Nos. 2 and 2; TCU, Nos. 4 and 1; Wisconsin, Nos. 5 and 20 and Ohio State, Nos. 11 and 3.

And remember, Boise State and TCU played in non-BCS leagues and Wisconsin and Ohio State are not tempo teams.

Offenses that play fast can score fast or punt fast or turn it over fast, too. Whatever the outcome, the quicker the offense moves the sooner it's off the field and the defense is back on it.

"We're going to have to make sure we're able to get off the field on third down and able to create turnovers to get off the field," Casteel said, knowing full well his defense was tremendous on third down last year, but quite the opposite in creating turnovers.

Ever the grounded realist, Casteel is "as happy as you can be after three practices in the spring," but also aware of what Holgorsen's offense is going to try to do and what that might mean for his defense.

"They really spread the ball around and they're going to get rid of it quickly," he said. "I think the thing that's going to be difficult is once they're able to start controlling the down and distance situations, you better get off the field.

"When you have to go play eight, 10, 11 snaps that quick, that's where they're going to start gaining an advantage because kids start to make mistakes on defense."

Casteel is pretty familiar with that and likens Holgorsen's offense to parts of the two he's seen precede it at WVU. It's a shotgun offense and does some things Jeff Mullen did the previous three years, but it's playing with the pace former Coach Rich Rodriguez riddled teams with before him.

However, Casteel is working with a number of new and young players who are being tested physically and mentally every time the offense lines up to snap the ball.

No one has seen anything much like this - the tempo, the tight end out in space every down, the other nuances - and Casteel is watching his players pretty much operate on their own out on the field.

"I think once we start to see a normal tempo offense, whether that's in September or whenever, the guys are liable to get bored between plays," Casteel said.

These Mountaineers do a lot on offense during practice and Holgorsen wants to cram as much football into the available practice time as possible. There's not much of a gap between a whistle that ends one play and the silent count that begins the next. The defense has to ready itself fast and make sure it's not making any mistakes of mind or body.

For now, that's actually a good problem and gives Casteel a pretty clear look at who can handle himself best on defense, and under duress.

"It's a tough situation in terms of having to communicate," the WVU defensive coordinator  said. "A lot of them are still trying to learn what's going on and they're doing a pretty good job with that because what we're trying to coach and teach right now is maybe different than what they're seeing when they get into team situations and skeleton drills.

"We're just trying to get them to understand the front and coverage and pressure and execute that even though that's maybe not the best call against what they're seeing. We're not matching up anything right now. We just want to see the kids play."

Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at or 304-319-1142. His blog is at


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