WVU football: 'Diamond' scheme adds new dynamic
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- Maybe Dana Holgorsen wanted to buck the notion he was simply a Mike Leach protege who depended heavily on the passing philosophy he learned in eight years working for the former Texas Tech coach.
Perhaps it really was what Holgorsen later described as inspiration drawn from "sheer boredom" in the offseason.
Whatever the cause, when Holgorsen debuted as Oklahoma State's offensive coordinator last season, the guy everyone expected to use three, four and five receivers on every play did something unexpected.
Holgorsen showed off the "diamond" formation that featured three running backs. Oklahoma State scored 65 points and racked up 544 yards of offense.
At the end of a season that produced 11 victories, the Cowboys were No. 3 in total offense thanks to making frequent use of a formation Holgorsen had never used before his arrival in Stillwater, Okla.
The diamond made the trip to West Virginia in hopes of lifting up an offense that was No. 78 in scoring and No. 67 in total yards in 2010.
"We actually put it in last year to be able to throw the ball to a couple receivers we thought were pretty good," said Holgorsen, who said Saturday he completed his second week of spring practice with the Mountaineers ahead of schedule. "The more we did it, the better we liked it. It creates some angles and creates some gaps that you don't get with a true tight end."
Holgorsen showed up in Stillwater and quickly learned he had a pretty good group of running backs and some talented receivers, including Justin Blackmon. He wasn't a prolific player in 2009, but won the Biletnikoff Award in one season with Holgorsen as proof of how well the diamond could work.
"You don't have a lot of true tight ends running around out there," Holgorsen said. "Those other body types are easier to find, so you have to be creative and use a little motion to move them around and give them a little advantage."
As a part of Holgorsen's offensive package, the diamond put two running backs and a fullback with the quarterback behind the five offensive linemen. Two receivers split out wide and the offenses suddenly didn't need a tight end.
The formation created gaps and angles by removing the tight end's defender from near the line of scrimmage.
With three ball-carriers eligible, Holgorsen was able to design deception, prevent the defense from focusing on a single back and still run the ball the same he did in his more traditional offense.
"It's a little different," he said. "We can go inside and talk the rest of the day for, like, seven hours for me to explain the blocking stuff and schemes and all that, but what we do with one back or two backs, we can put a third one in there and do the same thing."
An offense with three backs wasn't new to college football, but it was different to see it out of the shotgun and an element in a passing offense, as opposed to a staple of a wishbone or triple-option attack.
Yet it worked and it made sense why.
"We came up with the three-back system to isolate the outside guys," Holgorsen said. "It's easier for the quarterback to see if it's man, one-on-one coverage when they're all packed in as opposed to being spread out and those guys being able to disguise a bunch of stuff."
Those guys would be the defenders and the diamond forced the defenses to play a little more transparent. By concentrating its personnel in the middle of the field and posing the possibility it can pass or run, the offense encourages the defense to make a decision.
"When you've got three backs in the backfield and the two wideouts go out, you've got to go out and cover the wideouts and take your chances stopping the three backs, or you have to drop a safety in and go one-on-one with your corners," said WVU's defensive coordinator, Jeff Casteel.
Casteel said he likes the diamond formation and believes the copycat nature of coaching will entice many college teams - even WVU opponents - to add it to their repertoire this season. The Green Bay Packers used it in the Super Bowl.
"It poses problems," Casteel said. "You have a chance to insert a tight end or a lead back to outnumber you at the point of attack. But there's a balance. It's a lot like our (3-3-5) defense. We have the three linebackers and you don't know where the overload is coming from. It's the same thing in the run game."
The treat the diamond delivers is an ability to disguise its intentions, but be equally able and even dominant as a pass or run offense.
The Cowboys ran 450 times for 2,267 yards and 26 touchdowns last season and made use of all three backs as runners, blockers, receivers and decoys.
The average carry went for slightly more than five yards and Kendall Hunter was No. 9 nationally with 119.08 yards per game. He ran for 1,548 yards and 16 scores.
Oklahoma State was also No. 2 in passing offense. In 542 pass attempts, the offense managed 4,496 yards and 36 touchdowns and only allowed 10 sacks.
Holgorsen is only beginning to work with the diamond at WVU and has yet to secure a feeling for the personnel, he said. WVU has a wealth of possibilities at running back, but the receiver position isn't quite as deep.
"Not one of them has stood out consistently yet," he said. "We're not very deep at slot receiver, but when you put more backs in the game, it takes the slots off the field."
Holgorsen continues to tinker with the diamond. There's still plenty to discover and to discard about incorporating available talent.
"We're still experimenting," he said. "Half the time, something looks like crap and we don't do it again. Every now and then, we may stumble upon something that makes sense and we may implement it."
Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at email@example.com or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/wvu.