Tag:West Virginia
Posted on: April 19, 2011 11:53 am
Edited on: April 19, 2011 11:57 am
 

WV RB Alston finding his place in a new offense

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
 

Eye on CFB Recruiting Review, 4/14

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

Once a week, our Eye on College Football Recruiting Review recaps the past week's top headlines from our sister blog, Bryan Fischer's Eye on Recruiting . Enjoy:

  • Though the long-simmering Delvon Simmons saga won't be officially over until he enrolls in Lubbock, the 2011 top-10 defensive tackle (and former North Carolina signee) has announced that he'll be joining Texas Tech this fall. After his departure from the UNC fold, Simmons listened to overtures from programs like USC, Auburn and Oregon but has settled on the Red Raiders.
  • Iowa dipped into Illinois for their first commitment of the class of 2012, offensive line legacy recruit Mitch Keppy. Also going out-of-state -- but much further out-of-state -- was West Virginia, who used Dana Holgorsen's old Lone Star State connections to land Houston quarterback Ford Childress. 
  • Les Miles told new LSU cornerback commitment Dwayne Thomas that getting the New Orleans prospect in the fold was like "getting Tyrann Mathieu all over again." Given the sky-high expectations for Mathieu this season, it seems Miles is more than a little high on Thomas's potential. Staying in the SEC, South Carolina received their second pledge for 2012 in the person of Atlanta-area linebacker T.J. Holloman, who took the Gamecocks over N.C. State and Louisville.
  • The slow start to the class of 2011 is ancient history for Penn State as the Nittany Lions have been racking up major commitments recently. The first of two this week was Westville (N.J.) defensive tackle Jamil Pollard, who accepted the Nittany Lions' offer over those from such heavyweights as Alabama and Florida and in-state Rutgers. But Joe Paterno and Co. landed an equally big prize Tuesday when five-star defensive tackle Jarron Jones of Rochester (N.Y.) also committed to PSU. Jones said he would take his allotment of official visits all the same, but if his commitment (and Pollard's) sticks, the Nittany Lions will be automatic entrants in the race for the best defensive line class of 2012.
  • Sophomores can't even receive written offers just yet, but Prattville (Ala.) offensive lineman Austin Gholson decided he didn't want to wait, committing to Florida State after a recent visit. Gholson is, not surprisingly, FSU's first commitment for the class of 2013 and is expected to be one of the top prospects in Alabama in his class.
  • Few Michigan State players in recent memory have made the impact of departed running back Javon Ringer, but that won't stop his nephew Kaleb Ringer from committing to Michigan on his birthday tomorrow. Kaleb is a linebacker prospect from Clayton (Ohio) with offers from Iowa, Louisville, and others as well as the Wolverines.
  • Injuries at summer combines are unfortunate enough, but a life-threatening head injury must be the worst-case scenario. Sadly, that's the scenario that played out for D.C. area receiver Lamont Baldwin, who suffered a fractured skull and severe concussion after a camp collision. A highly-sought after recruit with offers from ACC heavy-hitters like Miami and North Carolina, Baldwin is expected to recover within six months.
One more reminder: if you don't want to wait for these recaps, simply read Eye on Recruiting . You'll be glad you did.
Posted on: April 5, 2011 4:07 pm
Edited on: April 5, 2011 4:08 pm
 

WVU's Casteel under no illusions about new attack

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.

Supporting an offense that is going to play with a tenacious tempo and try to ring up touchdowns and first downs at an alarming rate is far more demanding.

"Our challenge will be to play a good, solid defense around that," Casteel said, "and if you go and look at the numbers on the other side of the ball with some of the high-tempo offenses, usually ..."

He trailed off, but the point was clear. Elite offenses [and elite defenses] are oftentimes exclusive ...

"We're going to have to make sure we're able to get off the field on third down and able to create turnovers to get off the field," Casteel said.

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
 

Dana Holgorsen knows home is where the hotel is

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 28, 2011 3:14 pm
 

Spring Practice Primer: Ole Miss

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

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 Ole Miss , which starts spring practice today.

Spring Practice Question: Can the Ole Miss defense be rebuilt?

As the local Clarion-Ledger pointed out today , the headline story regarding Houston Nutt's fourth spring camp at the Rebel helm will undoubtedly be the quarterback derby. Following Jeremiah Masoli's single-season cameo, four different quarterbacks are battling it out under new Rebel offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach David Lee: pocket passers Nathan Stanley (Masoli's backup in 2010 and the narrow favorite) and JUCO transfer Zack Stoudt, and dual-threat QBs Randall Mackey and Barry Brunetti. (Brunetti, a transfer from West Virginia, will need a hardship waiver from the NCAA in order to avoid sitting out his transfer year this fall.) Lee swears any of the four could be named the Rebel starter this fall, and given how little experience any of the four enters the competition with, he's likely not exaggerating.

But as intriguing as the quarterback battle promises to be, what's most important for the Rebels' chances this fall is what will happen on the other side of the ball. While the occasionally-rocky transition to Masoli drew plenty of attention, in the end the Rebels finished a respectable 43rd in total offense. But despite the presence of eight senior starters to begin the season, Ole Miss finished a disastrous 105th in the country in yards per-play allowed, worst in the SEC. It's fair to say the Rebels weren't paying defensive coordinator Tyrone Nix one of the nation's highest assistant salaries to watch the team lose games in which they scored 24, 31, 36 or -- in the case of their infamous season-opening embarrassment against FCS Jacksonville State -- 48 points.

Nix has survived to try and clean up his own mess, but it's not clear if he has the tools with which to do it. As you might expect from that "eight senior starters" detail, the Rebels' defensive losses are major; gone are All-SEC tackle Jerrell Powe, explosive defensive end Kentrell Lockett, leading tackler and tackler-for-loss linebacker Jonathan Cornell, a pair of senior safeties, assorted other contributors at tackle, corner, and linebacker ... Nix won't be starting from scratch, but scratch and the point he'll start from won't be more than a stone's throw apart.

There is good news for the Ole Miss defense, though, and it's two-fold:

1. Obviously, all of those seniors didn't do a whole lot for the Rebels in 2010. While there's no good way to spin the losses of players like Powe and Cornell, as a unit Ole Miss really can't get a whole lot worse than they were last season. In many cases, the new blood may prove to be a better option than the old blood was anyway.

2. Thanks to some impressive recruiting hauls (particularly by Ole Miss standards) by Nutt and his staff, the talent cupboard is far from bare. Nix won't have a lot in the way of experience to work with, but the raw material with which a good defense could be constructed should be there.

That's especially true in the front seven, where Nix will call on junior linebacker D.T. Shackelford to spearhead the rush defense after Shackelford recorded 9 tackles-for-loss a year ago and continued to flash the kind of big-hitting potential that made him one of Nutt's most prized recruits in the class of 2009. Junior weakside linebacker Joel Kight should also be ready for a big season after winning a starting job in last year's fall camp, making the LBs a strength. If Nix can find any tackles following the loss of the entire rotation from a year ago -- expect 310-pound JUCO arrival Gilbert Pena to get a long look -- the line shouldn't be too shabby, either, given the presence of high-ceiling ends like senior Wayne Dorsey, junior Gerald Rivers and sophomore Cameron Whigham. (If Lockett receives a sixth year of eligibility from the NCAA, things will look even better this fall.)

The biggest question mark is in the secondary, which a year ago was roasted to the tune of 8.4 yards per passing attempt and a 6-to-24 interception-to-touchdown ratio, both easily the worst marks in the SEC. Up to nine players will compete for the four starting spots (though returning starting corner Marcus Temple is out with a sports hernia), but are any of them SEC caliber? Nix will have to hope so, with the most likely candidates senior safety Damien Jackson and sophomore safety Brishen Matthews.

No one would argue the quarterback battle isn't critical. But with what should be one of the SEC's best offensive lines (one with all five starters returning), rugged running back Branden Bolden, several big-play receivers, and Nutt and Lee's combined offensive acumen, the Rebels should have a functional attack no matter who winds up taking snaps.

The same simply can't be said of the Rebel defense--meaning that even if the QB competition grabs the headlines, it's a sure bet it's the battles on the other side of the ball that will have a huge, huge share of the coaches' attention. If Nix can't find the players this spring that will push his unit forward this fall, the Rebels are going to almost certainly spend a second season in the cellar of the SEC West.

Posted on: March 14, 2011 2:36 pm
Edited on: March 14, 2011 2:41 pm
 

Big East to play 10, 11 conference games?

Posted by Tom Fornelli

West Virginia athletic director Oliver Luck, who is also the father of Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck, recently sat down for an interview with the school's MSNsportsNET.com, and while the majority of the back and forth was the type of thing you'd expect between a school and its own athletic director, there were some remarks that Luck made that could shine a light on the future of the Big East.

Luck was asked about what adding a ninth member in TCU, and probably a tenth member, could mean for football scheduling within the conference. Turns out that the Big East may have some changes in store that we've never seen before. The emphasis added to the Luck's quotes are mine.
Last fall the Big East Conference added a ninth football member in TCU and the possibility remains high that a 10th team could be added in the near future. Naturally that is something you must keep a close eye on because of its direct impact on football scheduling. What are some of the challenges and/or opportunities further Big East expansion pose to your long-term planning for the athletic department?
OL: Number one, football is crucial and is responsible for the bulk of our revenue. Number two, every team has a scheduling philosophy. For us, we want to have a high profile, attractive AQ non-conference opponent on our schedule. We’ve got LSU this year and we had Auburn in the past. Going forward, we have Michigan State and Florida State. In addition, we have extended our series with Maryland, which is very important for us. The proximity and the importance of the Baltimore/Washington D.C. recruiting area is crucial for us. Then we have historically played a I-AA team like Coastal Carolina or Norfolk State. We also have a tradition of playing a MAC school and of course over the past decade or so the Marshall series has been a fixture on our schedule. But with the addition of TCU and the expectation of a 10th member very soon, we have no option but to sit tight and wait and see what happens with our conference. It is highly likely that we will have nine conference games in the near future and if that is the case we will certainly have to review our non-conference scheduling priorities. Also, one development that we have noticed is that there are more and more opportunities to play the so-called “one-off” games. We will be playing BYU at FedEx Field, for example, and these matchups are becoming more common.
The real question is if the conference ends up going to 12 and having a North and South Division or an East and West Division. I could see the day when we play 10 conference games - or even 11 conference games. There is a good bit in flux right now and we need to keep our powder dry until some important decisions are made regarding the future composition of the Big East.
Now, it's important to point out that Luck doesn't say that the Big East expanding to 12 teams is the current plan, nor is playing ten or eleven conference games. Still, the fact that he mentions the possibilities does lead you to believe that the idea may have come up in discussions, which would certainly be a new development in college football. It could also be one that works well for the Big East.


More Big East

After all, when it comes to other BCS conferences, one of the complaints is how members of BCS conferences feed on FCS "cupcakes" at the beginning of the year. The month of September is filled with such sacrifices to the BCS gods. Yes, once in a while you have Jacksonville State knock off Ole Miss, or James Madison take down Virginia Tech, but the majority of the time we get final scores like 55-3.

If the Big East were to expand to 12 teams, and play an 11-game schedule, that would lead to only one non-conference game being played by each member of the conference. Sure, some teams may use that as an opportunity to play a cupcake, but in West Virginia's case, that game could be against Maryland. Other schools may use the "free" game to play a rival as well.

Which would mean that just about every single game in the Big East would mean something, either in the rivalry sense, or a BCS berth sense. Something that, while it may not make the Big East the best football conference in the country, could wind up making it one of the most entertaining.

Will it happen? That I doubt. The fact is that teams like those cupcake games to help pick up easy victories and get closer to bowl eligibility. Picking up six wins a year would likely be a lot tougher to do playing 11 games within your own conference. So I think that we should expect to see a nine-game conference schedule in the Big East in 2012, and possibly even 12 teams five years from now, but the expansion will stop there.

Still, it is an interesting idea from the fan/viewer standpoint.

Hat tip: @Mengus22

Photo courtesy of MSNsportsNET.com
Posted on: February 26, 2011 2:03 am
 

Rarity: West Virginia turns a non-BCS bowl profit

Posted by Adam Jacobi

It's not exactly news that the bowl system is not set up with the invited teams' best financial interests in mind. Every year, there are numerous stories from the teams invited to minor bowls about how the athletic department actually lost money (or, at the very least, made a few thousand dollars), and the story is so commonplace that it doesn't make national headlines.

In fact, the West Virginia Mountaineers recently announced that the program made a $144,750 profit on its trip to the Champs Sports Bowl back in December. And as non-BCS bowls are concerned, in actuality, that level of profit is actually pretty solid.

And yet, at the same time, the question has to be asked: how in the world does under $150,000 qualify as an unusually positive outcome for a bowl invitation? The Charleston Gazette wondered exactly that, and it wasn't exactly impressed with the answers:

Considering the current bowl setup, West Virginia officials did well. They were thrilled.

"The interesting thing," said WVU deputy athletic director Mike Parsons, "is our ticket sales didn't meet what we've had in the past, but we still turned a profit."

It's a point of pride, as it should be. According to [the book Death to the BCS], "nearly 60 percent of schools spend more money to participate in bowls than the games offer in payouts."

Consider the situation. WVU's athletic department funded this expensive football team. It took that team to another city to make money for that city and ESPN; it entertained the nation; and it walked away with $144,750. There are incentive bonuses in coach Dana Holgorsen's new contract that pay more.

But there was also the expense of unsold or, as Parsons said is more correctly, "absorbed" tickets.

The bowl cartel, in this instance, persuaded the Big East and Atlantic Coast conferences to agree that their representatives would be "responsible for" 12,500 tickets each. Parsons said his school sold but 4,700 tickets. It had to buy around 500 tickets for the band. (You read correctly. Not only do the schools' bands provide halftime entertainment, they have to pay to do so.) Schools are allowed to, and expected to, provide tickets for players' families. Parsons said that accounted for over 800 tickets to the Champs bowl. (Odd to me for 85 scholarship players, but ... ) He said 200-400 tickets are for the department's staff.

I suspect the reason the bowls are allowed to continue offloading the risk of running a bowl onto the participants is that going to a bowl is a near-universal bonus for a football team. And that's not from a prestige or financial perspective; donors barely care about minor bowls and as the aforementioned book pointed out, most schools lose money by going to bowl games. No, the primary benefit is one codified by the NCAA, which states that teams with bowl bids are allowed several extra weeks of practice in preparation for the final game.

Such a rule makes sense, of course; a 4-8 team has no immediate athletic task in front of it in the middle of December, after all. But it's not as if there's no incentive to keep throwing its kids out into full-contact practice without an opponent to prepare for; all time a coach can get organizing practice helps his team improve, regardless of when in the year the practices happen.

If non-bowl teams were allowed the same practice time as bowl teams, then, it would remove one specific and unfair incentive for teams to accept bowl bids and allow the teams to evaluate whether going to a bowl game or not is in the athletic department's best financial interests. In these tough economic times, it's only fair to afford schools that opportunity without what amounts to an institutional mandate that the teams accept the bowl bid, is it not? Thus, we totally expect the NCAA to reverse course, rule in favor of its schools instead of the bowls and their sponsors, and decide that member teams will not be coerced into losing money by agreeing to ticket guarantees just to attend a bowl game. That's who the NCAA works for, right? The member schools?

 

Posted on: February 23, 2011 3:31 pm
 

Huskers "not afraid to start over" on offense

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

Shawn Watson is out and Tim Beck is in as Nebraska's offensive coordinator. But what does that mean for the Huskers' offensive schemes?

Beck's not saying just yet, but it sounds like some big changes are poised to be rung in:
"I can't give away all my secrets," the new Husker offensive coordinator said Tuesday night during the Sports Nightly radio program.

However, he did indicate Nebraska essentially plans to start from scratch on offense.

"You can't be afraid to start over and get a system in place, so the system is consistent throughout," said Beck.
Two questions Beck's statement begs:

1. What does starting over mean exactly? In 2010, the Huskers were predominantly a spread-option team in the mold of Oregon or Rich Rodriguez's West Virginia teams, and for about half a season, had a similar amount of success; the scheme turned Taylor Martinez from an unknown redshirt freshman into a Heisman candidate in the space of about six weeks.

But the offense flagged badly down the stretch, resulting in a late-season slide and Watson's departure-slash-Beck's promotion. If Beck lives up to his threat to start entirely from scratch, the offense may look more like the pass-first aerial attacks that Beck coordinated at Missouri State way back in the late '90s and helped Mark Mangino develop at Kansas a few years later.

Going from last year's run-first-run-second offense to that kind of scheme would close a 180-degree shift, meaning that Beck may try and maintain some of the zone read looks from 2010 to help ease the transition. But then again, if what he really wants is a single-identity offense that's "consistent throughout" the playbook, Beck may go whole hog with the change and simply deal with the inevitable growing pains. And as for the player that might experience the bulk of those pains, the other question is ...

2. How would "starting over" affect Martinez? Not kindly, one wouldn't think. Though efficient when called upon though the first half of the season, Martinez only averaged 125 yards passing per-game and struggled late in the year when trying to throw the Huskers out of deficits. Even given Martinez's unquestioned status as the Husker's most explosive playmaker and highest-profile offensive talent, a move to a pass-centric offense might still open the door for 6'4" junior Cody Green to take over the offense.

This is another reason to think Beck won't entirely fulfill his "start over" mandate; like Al Borges at Michigan with Denard Robinson, to do so would be to intentionally minimize the strengths of his offense's greatest weapon. With so much doubt surrounding precisely how Beck plans on moving the Huskers forward, few spring camps are likely to be more scrutinized ... and Beck's comments have only made the mystery that much more intriguing.
 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com