Dawson will unleash WVU offense
MORGANTOWN - West Virginia's defense may have controlled a majority of Saturday's spring football game, and even won it thanks to stops and turnovers, but that overshadows the way things started.
The Mountaineers' offense scored touchdowns on its first two possessions for a 14-0 lead. The drives went nine plays for 75 yards and 13 plays for 80 yards. The offense was 3-for-4 on third down and 1-for-1 on fourth down and scored two touchdowns on four snaps in the red one.
This was with the first-team offense against the second-team defense and then the second-team offense against the first-team defense and, perhaps most significantly, this was with Shannon Dawson in control really for the first time as the unencumbered offensive coordinator.
"He's more fast pace, spread-it-out, throw-it-every-down than I am," said Coach Dana Holgorsen, who doubled as the coordinator last season, but handed off to Dawson in the offseason. "I'm a little more conservative as the head coach. He doesn't really care."
One guy who's known and admired the other for many years can say that in jest, but there's a lot of truth in that, too.
"I think that's pretty accurate - I call it a little bit more reckless than he does," Dawson said. "He's a lot more conservative than I am, but everyone's got their own personality, their own way of doing things."
Dawson and Holgorsen will still cooperate as they run the offense. Dawson will be in the box above the field and talk to Holgorsen before every play, as was the case last year, but the plan is for Dawson to call the plays and set the tempo on offense.
He'll yield to Holgorsen when the man in charge exercises his veto power, but Dawson is no less important to WVU in 2012 than quarterback Geno Smith or receivers Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey.
He has experience, though, and he's done it with great success. Dawson was the coordinator in 2006-07 at Millsaps and then at Stephen F. Austin from 2008-10, where the Lumberjacks threw and scored like crazy and led or ranked near the top of Division I-AA in key categories.
Along for the ride was Erik Slaughter, WVU's first-year defensive line coach who did that job at SFA from 2009-11.
"I was impressed with his ability during the game to make adjustments and notice what needs to be done and notice what works and does not work," Slaughter said. "Having the ability to call plays in this offense is one thing. To do it at a fast pace the way they do is another.
"He's a quick thinker. The plays they run with the momentum he calls them, it's fluid and fast. He doesn't panic. There are some guys who know the offense and can call plays in a perfect setting, but when things start to go fast in the game, can you go fast? He can."
Dawson's opening drives Saturday lasted 3 minutes, 19 seconds and 2:31. The Mountaineers weren't on the field for long, there wasn't much time between snaps and just about everything worked.
The Mountaineers had only two negative yardage plays, averaged 7 yards per snaps and, indicative of the rhythm Dawson seeks to establish, completed all 13 pass attempts.
"He's as big of a competitor as I've ever seen," Slaughter said. "The thing I like about our offense is you have to be somewhat of a guy who takes chances and not play close to the vest because you want your guys out there to be aggressive. That's what he is going to do. He's going to go out there and call plays aggressively."
Dawson called 13 pass plays on the first two drives, including one on fourth-and-1 at the offense's 42-yard line and one on third-and-2 at the defense's 11. He called a pass on three first downs and three red-zone snaps. WVU converted the third and fourth downs and connected on all three red-zone passes, which is something the team didn't do nearly as well as it wanted to last season.
There was one red-zone passing touchdown and it would have been two if not for a sharp tackle by cornerback Avery Williams that kept slippery inside receiver Jordan Thompson out of the end zone on the second drive.
That was a success, though, because the offense got what it wanted and had an able one-on-one player matched up with a defender in an open space. Williams simply won the down, but Shawne Alston scored on a 1-yard run on the next play.
"Even though what they do is so simple, it has its own identity," cornerback Brodrick Jenkins said. "They look for matchups. You may be in one thing, but they focus on something and find it, like a linebacker not going out, and then they hit something.
"They have so many ways to get somebody the ball. They just want you to play the man in front of you and they try to beat you by being a better athlete."
Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/wvu.