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WVU football: Holgorsen on the offense: It's all in

MORGANTOWN -- Where Dana Holgorsen and Jeff Casteel stand today with regard to the installation process after four weeks of spring football practice at West Virginia is about as different as the offensive coordinator's obligation to score points and the defensive coordinator's duty to stop scores.

"It's all in," said Holgorsen, WVU's first-year boss of the offense. "We're just trying to get better at what's in."

Casteel has taught a lot of his base defense and focused on blending in new personnel, but he hasn't gotten around to some of the things that branch off the base. The veteran defensive coordinator admitted last week the third-down package - where WVU was one of the best in the nation last year - will probably wait until preseason camp.

"We're seeing so much throw, throw, throw that it's kind of hard to learn," said Casteel, who's about to begin his 11th season with the Mountaineers. "For us, that's really our third-down defense, but we're not working with our third-down group.

"We're working on installing our base because there are so many guys in the group who we want to get work. Sometimes kids get caught in mismatches, so it makes it tough for them."

Holgorsen's offense is a pass-first and maybe even a pass-second system. When the offense goes against the defense and Holgorsen is trying to get snaps on film, more often than not the play is a pass.

The Mountaineers have tried to address it. In the first scrimmage of the spring, the 68 play calls were split almost evenly between runs and passes, but it was by far the most work the defense has had against the run.

In Friday's second scrimmage, when the defense allowed only two touchdowns and had one of its own on an interception return by cornerback Pat Miller, the ratio leaned toward the run as WVU handed the ball off on 37 of the 71 snaps.

"It's OK if you're playing (against) pass, pass, pass," Casteel said. "Cincinnati and Pitt will be that style of offense in the league, but you'll see Rutgers and Louisville and South Florida in more of pro style and multiple offenses than what this is. Obviously Maryland and LSU and those people are going to present issues with the tight end and multiple tight end sets."

None of this has caught Casteel off guard. When he and his coaches get to work solely on defense, they manufacture some of the more traditional offensive sets.

And to be totally fair to Holgorsen, his spring hasn't been without odd obstacles, either. Casteel uses a three-player front and five defensive backs. Holgorsen won't see that very much during the season.

Holgorsen had his players watch film of his 2010 Oklahoma State offense and held meetings before the spring so everyone would begin practice with a significant advantage, but Casteel's defense does pose problems.

"You look at any program around the country and they're not getting the looks they need every day based on the fact that in college football in the spring there aren't enough bodies to go around to develop a scout team," Holgorsen said. "You've got to do what you've got to do to manufacture looks. For us, it's no different.

"We're going to face teams with four down linemen, which we've seen zero snaps of. That doesn't concern me right now. What concerns me is right now is the speed of the game, learning what to do and just playing football from a technique aspect rather than obsessing over, 'Oh, my God. If we don't get a four-down look today then we're not going to be able to function come the Marshall game (Sept. 4)."

It's beyond that, though. The offense, which managed 285 yards in the scrimmage and committed a series of penalties, including two to wipe out touchdowns, has had mixed results on varying days.

On one day, Casteel is working on zone defense and the offense isn't as successful with the vertical routes that worked on a day Casteel was working on man defense. The same goes for crossing and underneath routes that work against a zone and aren't as strong against man.

With so many pass plays in practice come so many pass rushes. No one on WVU's defense has been as impactful as defensive end Bruce Irvin, who had had three sacks and a safety Friday.

He's been so disruptive against backup tackles working in place of injured starters who are out for the spring that in a practice last week Holgorsen sarcastically predicted, "We're going to lead the nation in sacks this season."

Irvin makes for pretty good practice for those tackles, but he's also pretty good at spoiling plays the offense needs to repeat.

"You've got to take it for what it's worth," Holgorsen said. "Bruce Irvin coming off the edge is as good a pass-rusher as I've seen. When he gets sacks, what do you tell them? Get better."

There are benefits that come along with dealing with the nuances. Casteel has put his basic package of defenders, and their backups, in multiple situations they're not necessarily designed to be in, but observed and learned as they made the needed adjustments.  

"Our regular group gets put in some spots that they probably wouldn't be in if we were competing in games," Casteel said. "But it's good and you need to do that because you need to teach the base. And the tempo is really good for them and it's good for them to have to play in bad situations at times."

Holgorsen hasn't run the ball a whole lot against the 3-3-5 and the unusual gaps and lanes it creates to compromise blocking. Many teams will have to defend the Mountaineers in the regular season with five or more defensive backs, as well, and the plays and the results are on film.

"Then we go inside and look at them and make sure we're headed in the right direction," Holgorsen said. "When you get to the point you're getting ready for a game that counts, you better have your guys ready. But that's what camp is for. You have more bodies. You have a scout team. You have the ability to manufacture looks so you're prepared for a game.

"Technique and assignments are way more important right now. You're asking the wrong guy if you think I'm worried about that."

Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at mikec@dailymail.com or 304-319-1142.


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