WVU football: Holgorsen hopes to speed up the offense’s pace
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- Spring football at West Virginia may be spread across six weeks this year, but it goes fast, what with the entire offense being installed in the first three days and then repeated in order the rest of the way.
And one of the biggest goals for Coach Dana Holgorsen in his second spring with the Mountaineers and his first in charge of the entire operation is to get his offense to play with more pace and with more success all at once.
It began Sunday with the Mountaineers trying to get better not just at what they do, but in doing those things as fast as possible.
"The tempo thing, we tried several times throughout the year to do it, and it looked like crap so we quit doing it," Holgorsen said. "The better we get, the faster we can go, and that is just part of improvement."
The Mountaineers averaged about 76 snaps a game in the first six games, but then things changed. They lost 49-23 at Syracuse and had 65 snaps, went 2-for-13 on third down in the snow in a win at Rutgers with 68 snaps and lost at home to Louisville with 78 snaps.
Holgorsen and his staff decided to slow down and hope the players could use the break to make more out of the plays called on the sideline.
WVU had 75, 61 and 66 snaps in the final three games of the regular season and went 3-0.
Then, with a month of preparation, the Mountaineers blistered Clemson with a season-high 89 snaps.
"The hardest thing to do is gauge where they're at," quarterbacks coach Jake Spavital said of the offensive players. "Dana ventured off of it at the end of the year. The difference between the Clemson game and the rest of the year was our thought process coming in was to play as fast as we can.
"If they would stop us, if we were three-and-out and didn't have much success, then we'd slow the game down. The previous games, we started slow and then gauged if we could actually tempo against teams."
WVU hopes to be better after spring practice and then once preseason camp begins because of continuity. Nine starters return, including one at all of the skill positions. Left tackle Don Barclay and right guard Tyler Rader graduated. Running back Dustin Garrison, recovering from ACL surgery, will miss spring practice.
Slot receivers Tyler Urban and Devon Brown and outside receiver Brad Starks also graduated, but they were backups and situational starters.
Everyone else is back in place for WVU, including backups at the positions where WVU lost players, and there are just two true freshmen - quarterback Ford Childress and inside receiver Jordan Thompson - on the spring roster.
"It is going to make a lot more sense to us now," Holgorsen said. "Having that many starters back, it is more about developing some depth and getting the starters a year better.
"Everything that we do makes sense. We've got goals that we want to improve on obviously, but it is more about just getting these guys better at what they are doing."
Still, the goal for the Mountaineers is not to play continuously fast, but sporadically and when they choose. They want to throw a fastball when the defense is looking for the changeup. They want to burn the shot clock when they have a chance to run a fast break.
For starters, playing fast all the time doesn't make much sense.
"We think changing the tempo is probably as important as the playing fast part of the offense," receivers coach and new offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson said. "Think about this: If we play extremely fast and go three-and-out twice and they have long drives, our defense is probably gassed. It's not smart to go out and play fast and go three-and-out again."
What the Mountaineers want to do is become a team that can flip a switch, to play fast when they want to and when they need to and have no trouble with it.
"One of those times is when the other team blitzes a lot and does a lot of complicated stuff," Dawson said. "That's one way to simplify what they're doing because they have to get the calls in fast and usually they have a base call whenever you play fast. But whatever the flow is, if it's good, keep doing it. If it ain't good, you might want to change what you're doing."
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WVU WILL have three quarterbacks at spring practice in returning starter Geno Smith, sophomore Paul Millard and Childress. Michael Burchett, who transferred in from Kentucky last season and added depth in preseason practice, will play next season at Center (Ky.) College.
Spavital said he and Holgorsen will throw if they have to, but they already have more quarterbacks than last spring, when it was just Smith and Millard. Spavital said he'll add two walk-ons in the summer, including University High's Travis Maraney.
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GARRISON, SAFETY Terence Garvin (knee) and linebacker Jewone Snow (shoulder) are the only players injured and out of spring practice. The only other scholarship running backs on the roster at Garrison's position are senior Shawne Alston and sophomore Andrew Buie.
Wes Tonkery, who played for Garvin in the bowl game, is Garvin's backup.
The Bridgeport native will learn a lot about the new defense and how coordinators Joe DeForest and Keith Patterson plan to use that hybrid linebacker/safety player.
Snow would also learn a new hybrid position as a linebacker/pass rush defensive end. He's backed up by senior Josh Francis.
Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/wvu.