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WVU football: Offensive changes in order for Mountaineers

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- Their days of running 40s and preparing for playing a regular season's worth of games may be over, but don't think West Virginia Coach Dana Holgorsen and offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson weren't exorcising things during winter conditioning.

While the Mountaineers were lifting weights and working out to add pounds or drop weight, the WVU coaches were tailoring their offense.

"Trimming the loose fat, so to speak," Dawson said.

For two years together and with Geno Smith playing quarterback, Holgorsen and Dawson watched the offense work wonders and do so in very different conferences. When their first Big 12 season ended with a bowl loss to former Big East adversary Syracuse, the two coaches decided changes were in order.

"It was just me and Dana just brainstorming about where we needed to go as an offense," Dawson said. "We wanted to get back to the nuts and bolts of what made it what it was. We kind of got away from it a little. Having a guy like Geno, you tend to give him a little more leeway than some guys we've had in the past."

Smith was too good to keep strictly within the parameters of the offense. He was allowed limited liberties when he saw something or when he thought he could do something, so long as it didn't stray too far from what Holgorsen and Dawson designed. It was still the same offense and the statistics looked familiar, too.

Things are going to be different in 2013 when either junior Paul Millard or redshirt freshman Ford Childress replaces Smith in the offense that asks so much from the starting quarterback. Whoever starts will be working with new starters at center, both guard spots and at least three of the four receiver positions.

"We're getting back to the bread and butter of what we do, and it's probably the right time because of the inexperienced guys and everything," Dawson said. "That probably had something to do with it. It's just something that needed to be done."

The blueprint of the offense hasn't been edited and the game plans will be built the same as they have been in the past.

Practices may be slower and more detailed this spring, but they have the same lessons and are progressing toward the same outcome.

Truth be told, there might be nothing visually different about the offense apart from all the new jerseys on the field.

"We packaged it differently, that's all," Dawson said. "You're probably not going to be able to see it just looking at it, but the internal organization of the offense has changed. We grouped things together and simplified it. There's not as much now. It was about cutting things out as much as making it make sense all the time."

A large part of that can be directed back to the new players, but Dawson said he and Holgorsen would have done the same review no matter who was graduating or returning. The offense doesn't have a lot of plays or parts, but it's easy to add or adjust here and there and add layers that don't always need to exist.

"When you're dealing with a system without too many moving parts, you can get to thinking you can do more than you actually can," Dawson said.

Plays, formations and player groupings aren't going to change - and they haven't changed for a long time, anyway - but Dawson said the outcome saw WVU removing complexities and adding clarity. There are fewer options now and better terminology.

"It's just the inner workings of communication on the offensive line, just little tweaks on the offensive line," Dawson said. "A lot of the communication as far as sideline to the quarterback, quarterback to the line, quarterback to the receivers, just things where we got together and made it make sense and made it work in such a way that it'll roll a lot better during the course of the fall."

If it's a simpler offense for the players, the same must be said of the coaching staff and the new offensive assistants. Holgorsen lost three assistants in the offseason that he'd worked with for many years and at different schools.

"Terminology is huge," Dawson said. "We changed some terminology to make it make sense. And when you add new coaches, it has to make sense. Our offense didn't always make sense in the past, but when you grow up in it, it makes sense because it's always what you did."

Jake Spavital, Bill Bedenbaugh and Robert Gillespie knew the offense before they got to WVU, but they're no longer a part of it after leaving this offseason for new schools. They were replaced by Lonnie Galloway, Ron Crook and JaJuan Seider, who helped Dawson and Holgorsen address things by simply arriving and getting to know the offense.

"To have people come in look at it, it didn't make a whole lot of sense," Dawson said. "It got to the point where protections and everything and the way we call it, a guy can look at it and say, 'Yeah, I understand why you call that 'six,' because it's six-man protection.' Before, we might have called it 'nine' or something and a guy would be like, 'Why would you call it that?' "

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


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