WVU football: WVU must get familiar with more than a map
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - By now what we know of the Big 12 is that it's going to offer West Virginia a variety of reminders that it is no longer in the Big East.
There's the trouble in getting to Lubbock, Texas, and Texas Tech, a location so remote that it's actually five hours west of Dallas. Know what's five hours east of Dallas? Vicksburg, Miss. All of Louisiana is between it and Dallas.
If the University of Texas wasn't enough, there's the heat on an autumn afternoon in Austin, and then a while later the chance of snow in Ames, Iowa, for the tricky trip to Iowa State. There's fervent fan support of even middling teams like Kansas State and the threat of an inspired fan base like the one at TCU, which has never sold tickets like it has this summer.
Everyone warns about the style of play and how you'll find more touchdowns in the Big 12 than at Hartsfield-Jackson. Nobody plays faster than Oklahoma. No offense is as craftily designed as Oklahoma State's. No one makes use of the length and the width of the field quite like Baylor. No one knows what to expect from Kansas, except that it will feature the best of Charlie Weis' experiences with the New England Patriots and Kansas City Chiefs as well as Notre Dame and Florida.
It's been hard to see exactly what this will look like, to put a picture to the words and explain just how different life will be and how much offenses will challenge the defense when the Mountaineers begin the experience Sept. 29 at home against Baylor.
Until now. Joe DeForest was hired as WVU's defensive coordinator after 11 years at Oklahoma State and has the best background to illustrate what awaits. He also has the best visual to describe the way his players will be tested.
"Teams are going to run vertical routes three times in a row and just run their offense and put another receiver in there that's fresh," DeForest said. "They're going to try to gas your guys as much as possible and then put their best receiver on your tired guy and throw at him again."
To review, an offense, and to hear DeForest tell it, any offense, will put a few receivers on the field and have them run deep routes a few times in a row. The ball may never go deep, but the cornerback has to cover, which creates a separate set of problems underneath that coverage.
Still, when everyone is jogging back to the line of scrimmage for the third or fourth snap in the sequence, the receivers will run off the field and new ones, sometimes better ones, will jog onto the field. They'll then run a deep route and, ideally, get past a wheezing cornerback.
It sounds diabolical. It is all that and more.
"It's definitely on purpose," DeForest said, "and it's smart."
How does one defend against that? You could ask DeForest, but why not seek help from one of the people responsible for popularizing this tactic in the Big 12?
"You don't," WVU Coach Dana Holgorsen said. "You just have to deal with it."
Holgorsen was on the Texas Tech staff that thought the idea was equal parts silly and sensible. The Red Raiders thought about it and finally did it. They found it worked and they kept doing it. The Mountaineers would like to do it more than they have, provided they have the necessary depth at receiver. Figure Washington State will seek the same circumstances under Holgorsen's old boss, Mike Leach.
The play just exists as something a defense can merely guard and not guard against. The receivers are going to run deep routes, though perhaps cornerbacks can jam them at the line of scrimmage. Say the routes manage to go deep into the secondary a few plays in a row. Maybe the defense can swap in new cornerbacks
"Can't sub," Holgorsen said. "Then teams go tempo."
That's the clever counter the offenses have built into the problematic plan. The receivers try to exhaust the cornerbacks to the point they need a break. When the offense sees the defense seeking relief, the offense decides to hurry up and snap the ball, which makes it impossible to substitute.
"It's a lot easier to tell a receiver to run deep a few times in a row," DeForest said. "It can be a guy who's just a guy and you don't have to throw him the ball. But we have to cover him.
"Say we can roll in new corners and say your second guy falls down. Then it's wide open and it's a touchdown. Defenses don't have the ability to play a second string like the offense. That's why depth is so important now."
With rare exceptions granted for the truly elite defenses, the difference between the starter and his backup is greater on defense than it is on offense. Teams play multiple running backs. They start three or four receivers and play three or four others. Those same teams would sell their goalposts for third and fourth cornerbacks that were as capable as the third and fourth receivers.
Maybe senior Cecil Level and sophomore Avery Williams have significant roles as the likely second-team cornerbacks. Perhaps freshmen Nana Kyeremeh and Ricky Rumph have a duty to join that conversation. The keys remain the starters, senior Pat Miller and junior Brodrick Jenkins, neither who has earned or held a starting spot for an entire season.
Neither has seen what they're about to see.
"It's a tough life as a defensive player in general, but for a cornerback in particular in the Big 12," cornerbacks coach and Texas graduate Daron Roberts said. "People want to throw the ball and they want to wear your secondary players out and take shots down the field.
"You have to be very deep at the cornerback position because it's so hard to run down the field 40 yards two plays in a row and stay in for the third, but your top guys have to be strong physically and mentally to deal with it."
Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/wvu.