Gold-Blue Game will have fast pace, coach says
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - If all goes according to Coach Dana Holgorsen's plans, Saturday's Gold-Blue Game will go fast - and not just because he's indifferent toward the whole spring game experience.
"I would challenge you to find one coach across the country that gets a kick out of the spring game," the West Virginia coach said.
No, Holgorsen, who will be in charge of his first spring game before his second season, wants to see his offense go quickly and challenge the defense to keep pace.
He also wants to see his offense slow it down.
And to change speeds to keep the defense off balance and keep personnel on the field that would be at a disadvantage against the hurrying offense.
"The good ones can do that," Holgorsen said. "The ones that just go fast all the time probably hurt themselves more than they help themselves."
The 6 p.m. structured scrimmage at Mountaineer Field will see the offense go against the defense and the first teams go against the second teams before those lineups become quickly distorted.
No matter who is on the field, Holgorsen and his defensive coaches want to see the offense and defenses go fast and slow and mix things up without any side effects. That means keeping packages on the field and substituting players on both sides of the ball, but also working hard to create advantages on offense and avoiding those dilemmas on defense.
As fast as WVU's offense wants to play to be successful, the defense has to be up to speed. It begins Saturday and will be a key going forward into the school's first season in the quick Big 12 Conference.
"If you look at the Big 12 offenses and how many snaps you play a game, there were times last year we played 100 snaps in a game," said WVU first-year defensive coordinator Joe DeForest, who was a defensive assistant the previous 11 seasons in the Big 12 at Oklahoma State.
The ordinary pace of a game, especially with the recent clock rules designed to make the game faster, doesn't accommodate 100 snaps per game. The offenses push and try to hurry from the end of one play to the beginning of the next.
"You've got to be cognizant of when the offenses is subbing and when they're not. Are they on their hash or our hash?" DeForest said. "You do what you have to do."
But they also pick their spots and try to preserve their energy or to catch the defense off guard, as well.
"People who just go fast all the time, that really doesn't work in my mind," said first-year linebackers coach and co-defensive coordinator Keith Patterson, who was the coordinator at Pitt last year. "What's more difficult is when people change the tempo and go at a moderate pace and all of a sudden speed it up. To me, that's more effective.
"You look at the game last year between West Virginia and Pitt, West Virginia's successful plays came right after they'd been going at a moderate rate and they changed the tempo."
Many offenses change their tempos and push to go faster, but they also choose places on the field and situations in the game change their personnel and packages. That also stresses the defense to pay close attention and not get stuck in a bad spot.
"You've got to have someone in the box that can identify personnel quickly so you can get that communication to the field," Patterson said. "To get the right call with the right personnel before the play begins, that has to happen extremely quick. You have to have people with attention to detail to pay attention and you've got to trust them to communicate it properly."
The officials give defenses time to adapt and no offense can go fast enough to keep the opponent from changing personnel. Defenses substitute to keep players fresh, which helps in the games with 100 or so snaps, but also to keep offenses honest.
Like the offenses, defenses have packages and ways to attack that will take things away from what happens on the other side of the ball.
"One thing I never wanted to do on defense is allow the offense to dictate to me what I'm going to do," Patterson said. "We try to dictate what the offense will do. We try to force the issue at times with pressure and to get them into a negative yardage situation. Now they want to tempo and hurry up, but you better make sure you made the right call in a second-and-long situation or all of a sudden they're off the field."
Above all else, the defense's job is to get off the field, whether by turnover or by punt, and to let WVU's offense go to work. How fast that happens can change and it's up to the defense to do everything it can to change with the offenses.
"You have to do it within the framework of your defense and you have to play what you have out there," DeForest said. "That's the part of it where college football has become so fast all across the country and not just here. It's a way of life and it's why it's so hard to play defense now."
Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at email@example.com or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/wvu.