Posted on: May 5, 2011 4:46 pm
Edited on: May 5, 2011 5:01 pm
Posted by Chip Patterson
With all eight teams completed with their spring games, we wrap up spring practice in the Big East.
CINCINNATI: For Cincinnati, the goal this spring was to improve defensively. To be more accurate, improving defensively is not just the "goal" but really an "only option for improvement." Second-year head coach Butch Jones needs to prove that 2010's 4-8 campaign was a fluke, or else the Bearcats' fans will begin to wonder whether or not hiring the coach from Central Michigan was the best move. Cincinnati returns all 11 starters from last year's defense that ranked dead last in the Big East in scoring defense and next to last in total defense. But there have been reasons to believe that the same unit can turn around their performance in 2011.
For the first time since most of the active roster arrived on campus, there is no turnover on the defensive staff. For the last three years, the defense has had to spend their spring learning a new system. Instead the defense has been able to spend the spring focusing on fundamentals, while simply reviewing last year's scheme. In theory, this should lead to more development for a unit that struggled to prevent big plays and close out games in the fourth quarter. Offensively, quarterback Zach Collaros has continued to grow more comfortable and looks ready to try and sign his name in the Cincinnati record books. Collaros led the Big East in passing yards and touchdowns last season, and has spent spring focusing on his accuracy (also threw a league-high 14 interceptions). Highly-touted transfer wide receiver Kenbrell Thompkins did not get to showcase his full arsenal due to a nagging hamstring this spring, but should make an impact lining up opposite returning starter D.J. Woods. Many of the Bearcats' spring workouts and spring game were based much more on situational drills, which tend to reveal very little about the team as a whole, but the pieces seem to be aligning for a bounce back season for Cincinnati.
CONNECTICUT: New head coach Paul Pasqualoni has quite a challenge ahead trying follow up the most successful season in program history. Unfortunately Pasqualoni, a veteran of the Big East and Connecticut native, has to try and repeat the success with two new coordinators and without the 2010 Big East Offensive MVP Jordan Todman. Wrapping up the spring, it is evident that expectations for repeating as Big East champs should be tempered. However, the Huskies do have the pieces in place to return to the postseason for the fifth straight year.
The Huskies' biggest question marks still exist in the offensive backfield, where a true starting quarterback has yet to be named and USC-transfer D.J. Shoemate is still settling in to a Todman-less rotation. Connecticut finished dead last in passing offense last season, and it will be difficult to improve that aspect of their game without a starter. Michael Box, Scott McCummings, Michael Nebrich, and Johnny McEntee(of YouTube trick-shot fame), are all competing for a premiere spot in the quarterback rotation. The hope is that behind a talented offensive line Shoemate will be able to get the running game going against a weak early season schedule, allowing whoever wins the job some time to get comfortable.
Defensively, Connecticut should be fine heading into the fall. They are under the direction of new defensive coordinator Don Brown, who's defensive unit at Maryland forced 29 turnovers last season -- good for third in the ACC. The Huskies return their entire defensive line and secondary, and that experience could anchor a unit that could end up being one of the better defenses in the conference.
LOUISVILLE: It was very difficult to learn anything about Louisville this spring due to a roster that was decimated by injury. By the end of spring practice, head coach Charlie Strong was left with only 38 healthy scholarship players on the roster. Fourteen of the injured players took no part in spring drills, the rest were injured during workouts. For a team that is looking to replace 13 departed starters on the offensive and defensive units, it was a frustrating spring of indecision.
Most of the starting jobs are wide open in the Louisville depth chart, but junior Will Stein was able to use the spring to create some separation in the quarterback competition. Stein has already gotten a vote of confidence from Strong, and the high school state champion has waited patiently behind Justin Burke and Adam Froman for his opportunity to start under center. Cardinals fans entered spring salivating over early enrollee Teddy Bridgewater, but practice showed that the top-rated dual threat quarterback in the nation still has some learning to do before getting the keys to the offense. Stein completed 10 of 17 passes for 123 yards and two touchdowns in the spring "game," but Strong was most pleased that there were zero interceptions. The starting quarterback's primary responsibility is to manage the game, as the Cardinals offense will once again rely on their running game in 2011.
But with Bilal Powell gone, the responsibility will fall on Jeremy Wright and Victor Anderson to replicate the best rushing offense in the Big East last year. Wright demonstrated his explosive potential in his freshman season, and Anderson was a 1,000 yard rusher in 2008 before shoulder injuries kept him limited in 2009 and 2010. Wright missed spring workouts with a knee injury, but Anderson enjoyed one of his best springs of his career. If the duo can be healthy at the same time, they could form one of the most dangerous rushing tandems in the conference.
PITTSBURGH: Another team entering the 2011 season with a new coach, the Panthers are not afraid to promote their new brand of "high-octane" football under head coach Todd Graham. Just a quick click over to the newly redesigned GoPittFootball.com should give just a taste of the kind of what Pittsburgh fans are hoping for out of the program's newest era. Graham comes to the Panthers fresh off a productive year at Tulsa, where his offense ranked 5th nationally in total offense with 505.6 yards per game. Dave Wannstedt had an awkward exit with his firing/forced resignation, particularly when he obviously still had the support of the team. But the squad seems to have embraced the new staff, and Graham believes that Pitt can be back in Big East title contention in 2011.
Learning the new offense has been the most important task for returning quarterback Tino Suneri. The junior signal-caller was inconsistent throughout 2010, finishing the season with 16 touchdowns and 9 interceptions. The son of Sal Sunseri, currently a linebackers coach at Alabama, Sunseri quickly acclimated himself with the new scheme and has finished the spring as the undisputed starting quarterback. In Pittsburgh's Blue-Gold game, Sunseri lit the rainy skies on fire tossing the ball 55 times (37 completions) for 416 yards and a pair of touchdowns. While the Sunseri will likely put up big numbers this fall in the new spread scheme, the offense has no plans of abandoning the run. Ray Graham returns from a strong sophomore campaign, picking up 922 yards and 8 touchdowns while sharing snaps with Dion Lewis. This year he'll be joined by Desmond Brown in the backfield, who was the leading rusher in the spring game with 64 yards and two touchdowns on 15 carries. Defensively, Pittsburgh has also been adapting to changes with defensive coordinator Keith Patterson. Patterson has been a longtime Graham assistant, and knows that the offense will dominate the headlines. But with spring practice in the bag, Patterson seems pleased with what he has seen out of the unit - particularly the defensive line.
"That front group has a chance to do some special things," Patterson said. "I feel really good about all those guys and what they are capable of. I think in our shceme they are going to be able to make a lot of plays against both the run and the pass."
Pittsburgh's defense will feature three down lineman, with a fourth "Panther linebacker" on the line of scrimmage upright on most downs. The Panthers have several athletic defenders who could fill this position, one early guess is Brandon Lindsey - who led the team with 17.5 tackles for loss and 10 sacks in 2010. If the defense can force some turnovers to give the offense good field position, one of the Panthers' strengths could be putting teams away early. In the Big East, which is short on big-name, gun-slinging quarterbacks, that could be a huge advantage.
RUTGERS: Of all the teams looking to bounce back in 2011, Rutgers probably has the farthest climb to return to the prominence that led to five straight postseason appearances from 2005-2009. The Scarlet Knights return 17 starters from last year's 4-8 squad, and they are still one of the youngest teams in the league. Head coach Greg Schiano has some of the exact same concerns heading into the new season, though he has stressed that he feels like this squad has grown this spring.
"Fundamentally we made significant improvement, and I think we grew a little with our confidence," Schiano explained following the Scarlet-White spring game. "This summer is going to be critical as it is every summer, but probably more so than any summer we've had here.
"The youngsters have to get tougher, they have to get more disciplined, they have to get more consistent. And again, this summer will be huge."
One of the biggest concerns is on the offensive line. Last season the Scarlet Knights were dead last in Division I in sacks allowed, letting the quarterback drop a whopping 61 times. Sophomore quarterback Chas Dodd has grown more comfortable in the pro-style scheme of new coordinator Frank Cignetti. But Dodd's supposed comfort and improvement in spring could all change when the non-contact jersey comes off in September. If the offensive line shows an about-face in 2011, the Scarlet Knights have talented (but young) skill position players who could help take Rutgers back to the postseason.
All spring the reports from Piscataway have been praising the work of redshirt freshman Brandon Coleman. The 6-6 wide receiver entered Rutgers with high expectations, but any doubters have been silenced since he took the field this spring. Coleman put on a show for the 21,120 in attendance for the spring game with a 78 yard, two touchdown performance. Maybe he was setting the standard for another touted underclassmen who was watching from the sidelines, incoming freshman running back Savon Huggins. The No. 1 recruit in the state of New Jersey, Huggins was a signing day steal that invigorated the Rutgers fan base. He has not even received his high school diploma, but he already carries expectations from a fan base that pines for the next Ray Rice. But again, Huggins will have virtually no chance to showcase his talents without some help from the offensive line. If the Scarlet Knights are going to get back to the postseason, they still have some growing to do before September.
SOUTH FLORIDA: South Florida was the first team in the Big East to wrap up spring practice, holding their final scrimmage almost a month ago. It was an awkward spring schedule, getting started early and having to dance around conflicts for Raymond-James Stadium, but at the conclusion the Bulls appear to be about in the same position as they were a year ago. The Bulls averaged a 7-point margin of defeat and 4-point margin of victory in league play last season, making their season this close to magical and that close to disastrous. Still, head coach Skip Holtz was able to get USF back to the postseason and pull down a bowl victory - the Bulls' third in a row.
South Florida's time in the Big East could be categorized as "good-but-not-great." They have made a bowl every year (4-2 record), but never finished higher than tied for third in the league standings. At the end of spring practice the Bulls look good, but still have some work to do to reach greatness. Starting quarterback B.J. Daniels returns for junior season behind an inexperienced offensive line with a set of receivers that have been less than impressive. But similar to 2010, the playmaking ability of the offensive backfield will make South Florida a threat against most defenses in the league. Demetris Murray returns at running back after picking up 533 yards and four touchdowns as a backup to Moise Plancher a year ago. He will be joined by a pair of transfers, Darrell Scott (Colorado) and Dontae Aycock (Auburn). Both backs are larger than the 5-10, 206 pound Murray, and should compliment his style well. Scott finished the spring listed as the No. 2 running back, despite being setback by a nagging hamstring injury. Defensively the Bulls return six starters from a unit that, in typical Bulls fashion, stacks up right in the middle of the conference. They lose some run-stoppers on the defensive line, but the coaching staff has been pleased with the unit as a whole - particularly the linebackers. If the Bulls are going to go from good to great in 2011, they will need to focus on developing their wide receivers more this summer. Otherwise it might be another vanilla bowl game season for South Florida.
SYRACUSE: Coming into the spring, my one question for Syracuse was how head coach Doug Marrone planned to repeat the success of 2010 with so many playmakers missing from that Pinstripe Bowl-winning squad. But with spring practice in the books, it seems like the Orange are prepared to prove that last season was not a fluke - but the beginning of a new chapter in Syracuse football. The Orange jumped out to strong start last season with solid defense and running the ball. With all-Big East linebackers Doug Hogue and Derrell Smith gone, the responsibility has fallen on sophomore Marquis Spruill to anchor that corps as he makes the move to middle linebacker. Marrone believes that the strengths in the defense this season will be with the defensive ends and safeties. Seniors Chandler Jones and Mikhail Marinovich will begin as starters, but expect to see a good amount of junior Brandon Sharpe as well after a strong spring. In the defensive backfield Phillip Thomas and Shamarko Thomas return as starting safeties while corners Keon Lyn and Ri'Shard Anderson both earned high praise for their efforts during the spring.
Offensively the number one question is how to replace Delone Carter. The 1,233 yard rusher from 2010 carried the Orange on his back when Ryan Nassib and the passing game sputtered, carrying the ball at least 18 times in eight different games. Antwon Bailey was exceptional as Carter's backup, but some people wonder whether the 5-7 running back can be an "every-down back." Bailey will be backed up by another speedster, the 5-9 Prince-Tyson Gulley. Orange fans are hoping that an improved passing game will help alleviate that pressure, and that responsibility falls on Nassib. Luckily, the offensive line returns 4 of 5 starters from last year and redshirt senior tight end Nick Provo showed his ability as a big, reliable target for when Nassib gets in trouble. The players claim that last year's success has changed the attitude this spring, and now they have a new belief in themselves. Talk is great in March and April, but we'll check back in on these guys in August.
WEST VIRGINIA: The Mountaineers fell one game short of returning to a BCS bowl game in 2010, after an inability to score led to two early season conference losses. The Mountaineers offense eventually got going, finishing the regular season with at least 35 points in 3 of 4 straight victories. So in the interest of preparing for the future, and ensuring offensive stability, athletic director Oliver Luck arranged for the arrival of Oklahoma State offensive coordinator Dana Holgorsen. His impact has been obvious and immediate on the West Virginia offense, with quarterback Geno Smith falling comfortably into Holgorsen's spread system from day one. Smith finished the spring by throwing for 388 yards and four touchdowns in the spring game. Even against a talented Mountaineer defense, Smith was able to connect with his wide receivers for 44, 67, and a 38 yard touchdown pass. Holgorsen plans on supplying Smith with a deep rotation of running backs and receivers, pushing the ball horizontally and vertically. If Smith continues to improve on his already hot start in the new system, the Mountaineers should have no problem scoring the ball against the Big East defenses.
Defensively it is hard to make judgements based on performance against their own offense, but West Virginia does still have some work to do in the secondary. Defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel has admitted he is already anxious to get back to camp, particularly after seeing how the unit performed in the spring game. The unit only returns four starters from last year, with defensive line likely being the Mountaineers strength. In Casteel's 3-3-5 scheme, the pressure is on the secondary to be everywhere on the field at once. Despite a wealth of athleticism at that position, there is still plenty of gelling left for the unit. But if the offense is putting up 30+ points per game (which they may), it should give the defense some time to come together before conference play begins.
Tags: Antwon Bailey, B.J. Daniels, Big East, Bill Stewart, Butch Jones, Charlie Strong, Chas Dodd, Cincinnati, Connecticut, D.J. Woods, Dana Holgorsen, Darrell Scott, Delone Carter, Demetrius Murray, Desmond Brown, Don Brown, Doug Marrone, Frank Cignetti, Geno Smith, Greg Schiano, Kenbrell Thompkins, Louisville, Marcus Sales, Oliver Luck, Paul Pasqualoni, Pittsburgh, Ray Graham, Rutgers, Ryan Nassib, Skip Holtz, South Florida, Syracuse, Tino Sunseri, Todd Graham, Victor Anderson, What I Learned, What I Learned This Spring, Will Stein, Zach Collaros
Posted on: May 3, 2011 6:08 pm
Edited on: May 4, 2011 2:31 pm
Posted by Jerry Hinnen
He's not exactly Curt Flood, but all the same Russell Wilson may wind up serving as a college football landmark: the sport's first legitimate free agent. Cut loose from N.C. State, eligible to play virtually anywhere thanks to his early graduation, "95 percent" likely to take advantage of that eligiblity, and -- most importantly -- a bona fide all-conference candidate with three years of starting experience and a 76-26 career touchdown-to-interception ratio.
So Wilson represents uncharted waters for college football; while other players have been eligible to transfer without penalty, none have offered such tantalizing immediate benefits. But which school is going to be the lucky one to sail into those waters?
We don't know. No one does, Wilson included; he's still got months of baseball ahead of him. But we can say which programs would be the best fit should Wilson decide to take a look. Here's our guesses for the comfiest landing spot for Wilson in each BCS conference, judging by both which team would benefit most by Wilson's arrival and which team Wilson would benefit most by joining. Enjoy:
SEC: TENNESSEE. Yep, we're saying the Vols, despite most of the early Wilson speculation centering on South Carolina, Ole Miss, and Auburn. But multiple reporters covering the Tigers have said they won't be interested; it makes sense considering that 2012 shapes up as a much more likely championship campaign for Auburn than 2011, and Gene Chizik won't want to spoil that with a first-year starter under center. Steve Spurrier will certainly give Wilson a ring if Stephen Garcia is finally dismissed, but if Garcia sticks around, neither he nor Wilson will want the controversy his arrival would bring. And though we have little doubt Houston Nutt would welcome Wilson with open arms rather than ride with the untested Randall Mackey or Barry Brunetti, Wilson can probably find a team with higher expectations.
Enter Tennessee. Yes, the Vols have a starter already, promising sophomore Tyler Bray. But Bray's boom-or-bust results late last season and ugly 5-for-30 spring game performance suggest that he might need more seasoning before taking the reins for a full SEC season. Bringing in Wilson lets the Vols redshirt and groom Bray for three solid seasons to follow, without taking a step back at the position; going to Tennessee lets Wilson play for a high-profile team in the nation's toughest conference, one with plenty of playmakers at his disposal. It's a win-win.
BIG TEN: WISCONSIN. An easy call: the perpetually consistent Badgers have the defensive playmakers, the ball-carriers and the receivers to put together another fine Big Ten team if they can hold the line on the offensive line ... and if they can find a quarterback. The results at the Badgers' spring game suggest they don't have the latter yet. The stodgy Badger attack won't make much use of Wilson's mobility, but no other team in the conference offers Wilson the chance to waltz in as the unquestioned starter for a top-25 program.
BIG 12: MISSOURI. After years of Chase Daniel and then Blaine Gabbert spearheading the Tigers' aerial attack, Gary Pinkel has to feel a little spoiled when it comes to quarterbacks. But that may be changing, as Mizzou comes out of spring without a clearcut starter and with neither candidate (Tyler Gabbert, younger brother of Blaine, or James Franklin) having looked quite in the Daniel/Gabbert class. Wilson would short-circuit any potential quarterback-platoon talk immediately upon arrival and give the Tigers one of the best trigger-men their spread could ask for. Wilson, meanwhile, would have the benefit of having the ball in his hands 40 to 50 times a game, for a team whose underrated defense should make them top-25 contenders.
PAC-12: UCLA. Let's face it: the 3-9 Bruins maybe don't have a heck of a lot to offer in terms of football glory. But after their seemingly endless quarterback carousel of the past few seasons, no program would be more appreciative -- no coach more thankful -- than UCLA and Rick Neuheisel. If Wilson can salvage a winning season out of 2011 and potentially turn around the flagging tenure of Neuheisel, the gratitude aimed his way from the Westwood faithful would likely dwarf anything he'd receive anywhere else. (Besides, most of the other Pac-12 contenders -- Oregon, Stanford, Arizona State, Cal, even ineligible pseudo-contender USC -- have fairly established quarterbacks.)
ACC: FLORIDA STATE NO ONE
[This section originally discussed the "far-fetched" possibility that Wilson could transfer to the Wolfpack's intra-division rivals in Tallahassee, but it's more than far-fetched; it's impossible, since Wilson's release -- originally, erroneously reported as "unconditional" -- specifies that he may not transfer to an ACC school or any school on NCSU's schedule. In retrospect, this is a common sense precaution. Apologies.]
BIG EAST: WEST VIRGINIA. We're kidding, mostly; Geno Smith enjoyed an excellent spring game and will be the Mountaineers' 2011 starter. And given Wilson's unwillingness to give up on a "football dream" that likely includes the NFL, he would likely pass on Dana Holgorsen's Mike Leach- inspired "Air Raid" offense anyway, which has struggled putting its passers in the pros. But an offense like Holgorsen's, as helmed by a talent like Wilson? We can dream of those kinds of pinball games, can't we?
Tags: ACC, Alabama, Arizona State, Auburn, Barry Brunetti, Big 12, Big East, Big Ten, Blaine Gabbert, Cal, Chase Daneil, Christian Ponder, Curt Flood, Dana Holgorsen, E.J. Manuel, Florida State, Gary Pinkel, Gene Chizik, Geno Smith, Houston Nutt, James Franklin, James Franklin the Missouri quarterback not the Vanderbilt coach just so we're clear, Jimbo Fisher, Mike Leach, Missouri, N.C. State, Ole Miss, Ole Miss, Oregon, Pac-12, Randall Mackey, Rick Neuheisel, Russell Wilson, SEC, South Carolina, Stanford, Stephen Garcia, Steve Spurrier, Tennessee, Tennessee, Tyler Bray, Tyler Gabbert, UCLA, USC, West Virginia, Wisconsin
Posted on: May 2, 2011 9:19 am
Edited on: May 2, 2011 9:25 am
Posted by Chip Patterson
West Virginia nose tackle Jorge Wright made three tackles in the Mountaineer's annual Blue-Gold game on Friday night. Wright has been playing with the first-string for most of spring drills, and the junior is thought to be the successor to last year's starter Chris Neild. Wright might not have had the best preparation for the spring-game, since he was arrested on Thursday and arrested for misdemeanor gun and drug charges.
Wright was initially pulled over by Morgantown police when the smell of marijuana prompted a search. The search revealed an unlicensed weapon and the possession of "a controlled substance less than 15 grams." When asked about the arrest after the spring game, head coach Bill Stewart acknowledged that he was aware of the charges but would not take any official team action immediately.
"I have been made aware of the situation and gathering facts at this time," Stewart told the Charleston Daily Mail. I will take appropriate action when all the facts are in."
The spring game was the first competitive situation for Dana Holgorsen as the Mountaineer's new offensive coordinator. The impact was obvious as the offense throttled the defense 83-17 before more than 22,000 Mountaineer fans. Quarterback Geno Smith completed 26 of 37 passes for 388 yards and four touchdowns to lead the way for the offense.
Posted on: April 19, 2011 11:53 am
Edited on: April 19, 2011 11:57 am
Posted by Chip Patterson
When West Virginia athletic director Oliver Luck arranged to bring in offensive coordinator Dana Holgorsen from Oklahoma State, he was investing in an offensive system that ranked in the top three nationally in both scoring and total offense. The system helped engineer the breakout of star wide receiver Justin Blackmon, as well as delivering a career changing year for Kendall Hunter. The high-octane scheme allows for talented skill players to show their stuff all over the field, with plenty of touches to go around. But there has been some concern as to where a "big back" like junior running back Shawne Alston might fit into the system.
"I think people have the misconception it's meant for a small back," Alston told the Charleston Daily Mail, "because they've only seen small backs play in it."
At 6-feet, 220 pounds; Alston immediately looks different from the 5-8, 200 pound Hunter, who picked up 1,548 yards rushing and 16 touchdowns in Holgorsen's system last year. But on the field his style differs from the "scat back" type as well. Alston is signifcantly more dangerous operating between the tackles than out on the edge, but where the backs best operate on the field does not matter to their new offensive coordinator.
"The only thing that would keep us from not playing Shawne or a body type like Shawne is if he doesn't catch the ball or doesn't block or doesn't get yards when he runs the ball," Holgorsen explained. "Whether he's 240 pounds or you're talking about a guy that weighs 140, it's the same thing."
Alston saw his workload increase late in the 2010 season, and is the second-leading returning rusher behind Ryan Clarke. Clarke has struggled with ball security last fall, and his woes have continued during spring workouts. Neither Holgorsen nor head coach Bill Stewart has named an official frontrunner at the running back position, but both backs know that sophomores Trey Johnson, Daquan Hargrett, and freshman Vernard Roberts are all hungry to earn their spot on the field as well.
The big winners in the situation are Holgorsen and Stewart. They are instituting a offensive system that specializes in showing multiple looks and adjusting to what the defense gives you, and they have a handful of able backs competing against each other for those touches.
Posted on: April 14, 2011 3:11 pm
Posted by Jerry Hinnen
Tags: ACC, ACC recruiting, Alabama, Auburn, Austin Gholson, Big 12, Big 12 recruiting, Big East, Big East recruiting, Big Ten, Big Ten recruiting, BYU, Dana Holgorsen, Delvon Simmons, Dwayne Thomas, Florida, Florida State, Ford Childress, Geno Smith, Iowa, Jamil Pollard, Jarron Jones, Javon Ringer, Joe Paterno, Kaleb Ringer, Lamont Baldwin, Les Miles, Louisville, Max Lemming, Max Lemming top 100, Miami, Michigan, Michigan State, Mitch Keppy, N.C. State, North Carolina, North Carolina, Oregon, Penn State, Peter Jinkens, Preston Dewey, Rutgers, SEC, SEC recruiting, South Carolina, T.J. Holloman, Texas, Texas Tech, Ty Detmer, Tyrann Mathieu, UCLA, USC, Utah, West Virginia
Posted on: April 5, 2011 4:07 pm
Edited on: April 5, 2011 4:08 pm
Posted by Jerry Hinnen
Say this for West Virginia defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel: he's not under any illusions about the increased challenge of coaching a defense opposite the fast-paced aerial attack Dana Holgorsen will bring to Morgantown as the Mountaineers' new offensive mastermind:
[H]aving to replace seven starters is about as easy as it sounds.
Casteel is correct that defenses forced to keep up with offenses that take and then leave the field just as quickly typically don't fare as well as those that get more time on the sidelines. As the story from the Charleston Daily Mail points out, only one team that finished in the bottom 20 in FBS in time-of-possession (Syracuse*) also finished in the top 20 in total defense.
Some of that is sheer statistical inevitability -- shorter possessions equals more possessions equals more plays equals more total yards no matter what the quality of the defense -- and adjusting the metric to yards per-play shows that some units (like Oregon's, which improves from 34th to a tie for 11th) are better than total defense gives them credit for. But many of the defenses in the time-of-possession bottom 20 -- Michigan, Texas Tech, Houston -- were just-plain-bad, buckling under the strain of the extra snaps and time spent on the field.
But if Casteel is right that those teams' experiences show that he has his work cut for him, here's the good news for both he and Mountaineer fans: even if his defense does take a sizable step back as his team's time-of-possession decreases, it won't matter so long as the offense puts those quick possessions to use.
Consider the fates of some of the other members of that bottom 20 in time-of-possession: Oregon went 12-0 in the regular season and earned a national championship berth; San Diego State went 9-4 for their first winning season since 1998, with those four losses coming by a combined 15 points; Notre Dame shrugged off a massive exodus of offensive talent and major injury troubles to finish the season at 8-5 and on a four-game win streak; Holgorsen's Oklahoma State team went 11-2 in what was supposed to be a rebuilding year. Even your national champions at Auburn finished 75th in time-of-possession, a major reason they also checked in at a mediocre 55th in yards allowed per-play.
You get the point: if you've got a functioning high-tempo offense, all the defense has to do is keep its head above water (mainly by the third-down conversions and turnovers Casteel mentions; it's no surprise Oregon finished in the top 20 in both categories, is it?) to produce an extremely successful season.
And so we won't blame Mountaineer fans for being excited about their new coaching marriage. Given both Holgorsen's and Casteel's track records, they should see both halves of that equation put into action sooner rather than later.
*That the Orange remained as successful as they were on defense even as the offense struggled to stay on the field is quite the testament to defensive coordinator Scott Shafer, who also enjoyed a successful stint at Stanford under no less a coaching authority than Jim Harbaugh. With Manny Diaz presumably locked up at Texas for the forseeable future, another solid year at Syracuse should make Shafer one of the hottest names on the defensive coordinating market next offseason.
Posted on: March 30, 2011 3:17 pm
Posted by Tom Fornelli
Dana Holgorsen is getting ready for his first season at West Virginia after moving to Morgantown from Stillwater, where he was the offensive coordinator at Oklahoma State. He'll be spending the 2011 season in the same position with the Mountaineers, though he'll take over head coaching duties from Bill Stewart following the season.
What he won't be doing next year, is changing his living arrangements. At the moment, Holgorsen currently lives in a hotel. He did the same thing while at Oklahoma State, and he has no plans on changing it.
"I'm never there," Holgorsen told the Charleston Daily Mail. "Typically I get there anywhere from 10 to 12 at night and I'm there until whenever I wake up. Then I shower and leave and when I'm working, I'm working.
"It's just easy. Convenience is a part of what I do. It makes sense. A lot of stuff that doesn't make sense is inconvenient. I try to live like that. That makes sense to me."
The convenience is that when Holgorsen does come home from work, his room has been cleaned and the bed's been made. That saves you a good five to ten minutes every day. While it seems strange that a coach who will be making a good amount of money would choose to live in a hotel room rather than a house, it does make a bit of sense as well.
After all, being a football coach isn't the most secure of jobs. Have a bad season and that contract you signed won't mean much, as a school can just replace you. So if you bought a house, now you have to sell the house and begin looking for a new place to live. Really, the only question I have for Holgorsen is that if he's lived in a hotel the last few years as an offensive coordinator, does he move into a better hotel once he becomes head coach?
Does he at least step up from the queen-sized bed to the king-size?
These are very important questions.
Posted on: March 4, 2011 12:35 pm
Posted by Tom Fornelli
College Football has no offseason. Every coach knows that the preparation for September begins now, in Spring Practice. So we here at the Eye on College Football will get you ready as teams open spring ball with our Spring Practice Primers. Today, we look at Oklahoma State, who begins practice on Monday, March 7.
Can the Cowboys offense keep the same beat? It seems like every season is supposed to be the season for Oklahoma State. The year where everything comes together, and the Cowboys win the Big 12 South, get past Oklahoma and Texas, and head to a BCS bowl. Then, without fail, the Cowboys fail to meet those expectations.
That wasn't the case in 2010. Most people weren't entirely sure what to make of the Cowboys heading in to 2010, and they shocked the world by winning 11 games and tying for the Big 12 South. The Cowboys were a 47-41 loss to Oklahoma -- one of the most entertaining games of the season -- away from the final Big 12 Championship Game.
It was the most explosive offense in the Big 12, leading the conference with 75 plays of 20 yards or more and in points per game with 44.2. So since it was the offense that brought so much success to the school, it's vital that the offense maintains its performance in 2011 if Oklahoma State is finally going to win the smaller Big 12.
On the surface, this shouldn't be that difficult to do. After all, both quarterback Brandon Weeden and wide receiver Justin Blackmon are back. Those two paired up 111 times in 2010 for 1,782 yards and 20 touchdowns. Making things even better, all five of Oklahoma State's starters on the offensive line are back as well.
So this should all work out, right? The two biggest playmakers on offense are back, and so is the entire offensive line. Piece of cake!
Yes, well, the man who designed the offense those guys thrived in isn't. Dana Holgorsen has moved on to West Virginia, where he awaits a head coaching job. Replacing him in Stillwater is Todd Monken.
Monken comes to Oklahoma State from the NFL, where he spent last season as the quarterbacks coach for the Jacksonville Jaguars, but this isn't his first time in Stillwater. Monken was the Cowboys passing-game coordinator and receivers coach from 2002 to 2004 under Les Miles. He then left with Miles to go to LSU for a few seasons before leaving for the Jaguars.
Can Monken maintain what Holgorsen started last season?
He certainly plans on trying, and it seems Monken is no fool. He saw how well the offense worked last season, and he knows all the key components are back, so he's said he has no plans on changing anything. He'll run the same system that Holgorsen ran.
The question is whether or not he can develop the same feel for it as Holgorsen had. So when spring practice begins for the Cowboys on Monday, it will be an odd situation.
Instead of watching the players and seeing how well they grasp the offense, everybody will be keeping their eye on the man now calling the plays. Practice isn't just for the players after all.