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Clemson coordinator finds WVU offense foreign

By Jack Bogaczyk

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - The offense that West Virginia brings to its first Orange Bowl appearance is very foreign.

Or, at least as Clemson defensive coordinator Kevin Steele said, the Dana Holgorsen-designed spread reminds him of football in a foreign country.

Steele should know. He's been around. His stops in a 30-year coaching career include the NFL (Carolina), plus his alma mater, Tennessee, Nebraska, Florida State and Alabama.

"You know, the best way to describe it for the person who doesn't have to defend it is it's in some ways like playing in Canada," Steele said at Clemson's media session here Monday. "There are 12 men, two guys in motion.

"That's not the way we play American football, but it almost looks like that sometimes because it goes very fast. They're spread out. They lead two open edges all the time.

"There are football coaches that I've coached with that say you can't play a football and lead two open edges all the time and throw the football, but they do and they do it very effectively."

Steele said Holgorsen's mentors have schooled him well.

"I think the big thing is when you've got a quarterback that gets the ball out of his hand, is accurate with his throws and the route-runners are quick, catch the ball on the run and then get yardage after the catch, it can be very effective.

"It's been very effective for (Hal) Mumme, (Mike) Leach, those guys, and it's a tough offense to defend. Now, just like, hopefully for us, it's harder to defend in a week (during the regular season) than it is in 30 days (of bowl preparation), I'll tell you that."

* * *

TAVON AUSTIN and Stedman Bailey have combined to catch 55.3 percent of West Virginia's total offense this football season.

With an Orange Bowl to play against Clemson on Wednesday night, Austin (1,197 yards) and Bailey (1,063) rank 1-2 in reception yardage in WVU single-season history. Austin's 89 catches are a record, and Bailey's 67 ranks seventh in a single season.

And while it figured their numbers would mushroom in Coach Dana Holgorsen's air-first attack, are Austin and Bailey superior players to what the new WVU coaches expected when they arrived in Morgantown a year ago?

Shannon Dawson, the Mountaineers' inside receivers coach (Daron Roberts works with the outside receivers) tackled that one.

"I mean, I think you can tell pretty quick that they're special player," Dawson said at an Orange Bowl media session Monday morning. "You never know how a kid's attitude is going to be, and I think that's the most important thing.

"A lot of times when you're dealing with kids that have been good their whole life, then they have a little bit of sense of entitlement to them, and that's one thing as coaches, you've got to either get it out of them or hope and pray that they don't have it.

"So that's one thing that I would say that I've been more surprised with more than their ability. I could tell they had ability on Day 1. But I was pleased with the fact that they're selfless.

"I was pleased with the fact that they continue to go out and work every day just like they're trying to prove themselves, and so that's the best part about those guys."

* * *

IT IS interesting how some coaching bonds are formed and sustained, like the one between WVU's Dana Holgorsen and Dawson.

Dawson played for Holgorsen in 1999 at Wingate (N.C.), where the WVU coach was the quarterbacks and receivers coach for one season (Dawson's senior year).

From 2000-10, however, they were never on the same staff - until Holgorsen hired Dawson away from FCS member Stephen F. Austin, where he was offensive coordinator from 2008-10.

"Well, for some reason we hit it off right at the beginning, and I don't know what that is," Dawson said. "Maybe we have similar personalities. I don't really know, but my relationship with him was the reason I got into coaching, and so ... I didn't want to coach in any other offense than the one I played in because that was fun for me.

"So just when I graduated college, he helped me get on with a coach, Hal Mumme (a Holgorsen mentor, then at Southeastern Louisiana), and I just stayed in contact, and I went and visited him out at Texas Tech a lot.  

"Like I said, I mean, the only reason I got into coaching was because when I played for him, I had fun, and I had fun in the offense, practice was fun, the way it was structured was fun, it was laid back, and so with that being the case, I chose to do that from that point.

"And then me making an effort to stay in contact and go visit throughout the course of the years, just wanting to learn more about the offense basically is what it was."

* * *

WEST VIRGINIA coaches have been sporting T-shirts with slogans. One of those is "Insanity." Another is "Play Fast." Dawson was asked what was up with the shirts.

Predictably, the colorful Louisiana native had a wry and insightful take on the issue, eliciting laughter from the media gathering at one point.

"Well, I hadn't really paid too much attention to it to be honest with you," Dawson said of the shirts. "I just think that - I don't really know - to answer your question, I don't know.  I wear the shirt like everybody else does, but I wear a lot of shirts that I don't know what the hell they mean.

"But in my opinion, I just think it has to do with just being a little bit crazy.  To play this game and to play it the right way, a little reckless abandonment type deal, you've got to be a little bit insane.  You've got to think outside the box a little bit.  

"Heck, if it was easy, everybody would be doing it and everybody would be good at it. So you've got to have a little bit of insanity to go out there and do the things they're doing, full speed and just let it go.  That's my guess ..."

* * *

BOTH ORANGE Bowl teams trimmed practice intensity Monday, prior to today's Sun Life Stadium walk-throughs, with Holgorsen and Clemson Coach Dabo Swinney proclaiming their teams are antsy to play the game.

WVU has 99 bowl appearances among its coaches - including 70 in four coaches on the defensive side. Scheduling what to do and when - and how much - can be an issue for some programs that don't have that much experience in the postseason.

"You know what, I think if anybody had a perfect way of doing it, everybody would have copied it," WVU defensive coordinator said about bowl planning earlier this week. "This is a copycat profession. Everybody would be doing the same thing.  

"Nobody would lose a bowl game. But I think it depends upon the kids. I don't know that there's any perfect way of doing it.  But you have to have ... No. 1, you have to have really good football players, you have to have really focused football players, and you have to have some strong leadership from your football team.

"I think those will matter more, those things matter more probably than what a schedule does."

* * *

AFTER WARM weather that greeted the Orange Bowl teams, the cold blast that brought snow to West Virginia on Monday is going to deliver a relatively chilly night for the game to south Florida.

The Wednesday high is forecast at 68 degrees, with temperatures for the kickoff expected to be in the low to mid-50s. The overnight low early Thursday is predicted at 48.

Night-time temperatures since the WVU and Clemson team arrivals were averaging around 70, until Tuesday night's forecast for upper 40s.

Contact Sports Editor Jack Bogaczyk at or 304-348-7949.


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