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WVU football: Coaches ready for anything in Coal Bowl

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- The 10 national championships John Wooden won coaching UCLA's basketball team will likely shape whatever success No. 11 West Virginia has on offense in the 2012 season.

Offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson is an admirer of Wooden's famed philosophies, including the one that guides him every game.

"If things aren't going right, the first thing we change is effort, the second thing we change is personnel and the last thing we change is scheme - and we'll never get to the last thing," Dawson said. "If things aren't going good, we're going to change the effort. We're going to play harder. That's the bottom line.

"If we're getting stopped, it has more to do with us. We need to block better up front. We need to block better on the perimeter. We can't drop balls. If something's wrong, we've got to play harder to play better."

The trick of a season opener such as the one WVU will encounter Saturday against Marshall in the Coal Bowl is that one team never knows for sure what the other team planned during the weeks or months leading up to the game.

One team's designs may derail the other. When the Mountaineers play host to the Thundering Herd at noon and on FX at Mountaineer Field, they'll confront a conflict of two more Woodenisms.

"Do not let what you cannot do interfere with what you can do."

"Failure is not fatal, but failure to change might be."

WVU's offense subscribes to the first. It's made plans for what it expects from and what it has experienced against Marshall's defense, but WVU just isn't going to change a lot for this game. The Mountaineers have only a few plays, but ones that have a variety of options built within that adapt to the defense.

"We don't do much offensively," quarterbacks coach Jake Spavital said. "Say we call a certain route. We tell the kids to run to grass and that's different against every coverage. Whether it's Cover 2 or Cover 4, the routes all change and it's up to the quarterback and receivers to know what's going on and adjust to it."

The WVU defense is in a very different situation, though, and may trend toward the second principle.

The coaches know Marshall brainstormed at the University of Oregon in the offseason, but won't know what the Thundering Herd plans to do until the game gets rolling. Yet WVU has spent an entire offseason putting in a new defense and getting good at basic and advanced ideas. There will be a regular conversation among the coaches between series. Within those talks will be an urge to tinker with what the Mountaineers know and tailor it to what Marshall is doing. The changes they choose to make and the willingness to stick with what they know will be a critical part of the game.

"I don't think they're going to get very far away from what they are," defensive coordinator Joe DeForest said. "There's only so much they can do. Plus, we played our offense every day in camp. That's one extreme. Now we go play Marshall. What else can they show us that we haven't seen in practice?"

Whatever preparations WVU and Marshall have concocted on offense and defense matter, but they're not as important as the adjustments within the game.

"Nobody knows going into the first game," Coach Dana Holgorsen said. "You can assume all you want to, but the bigger thing for game one is in-game adjustments, which I'm confident our coaches are going to be very aware of and alert to what is going on on the field, to the point where they can see what's going on and then talk about how we need to attack it either offensively or defensively and get it communicated to our players so they can adjust what they're doing."

DeForest and defensive line coach Erik Slaughter will be on the sideline during the game and work with their counterparts in the coaches' box, cornerbacks coach Daron Roberts and linebackers coach/defensive co-coordinator Keith Patterson.  

Spavital is the only offensive coach in the box and will work with Dawson, Holgorsen, offensive line coach Bill Bedenbaugh and running backs coach Robert Gillespie.  

The offensive coaches won't worry as much about the plays as much as the players and what they could have done better against a coverage or a blitz. The coaches will bend the same plays around what they see from the defense and not abandon or change the things they know and have worked on for so long.

"I think the key to offensive football is sometimes things are so structured and you're so attuned to beating a specific scheme that if you do adjust you have a hard time doing what you've changed to," Dawson said.

"We kind of eliminate that adjustment part with how the offense is structured. We have enough flexibility built in that if they come out and show us a different thing, we're still able to keep running our plays."

Marshall's offense will behave similarly, even if it comes out with something the Mountaineers haven't seen, and do things it trusts will work. The first few series and game situations will be important for WVU. It will see what the Thundering Herd will do for the game or on third downs or in short-yardage spots, but also how the Mountaineers will combat those ideas. They'll deal with the problems as they come and try to fix them before trying something new.

"Why was a play unsuccessful? Was it a missed tackle? Was it technique? Was it scheme?" DeForest said. "If there's a scheme error, that's our fault as coaches. If it's human error or physical error, that's something we can correct."

Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at or 304-319-1142. His blog is at


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