Holgorsen was asked about the unique play that had devastated Clemson all night long, where WVU QB Geno Smith fields a shotgun snap and just flips it forward to a wideout motioning across the formation on a dead sprint. It's a variation of the Fly-Sweep that has caused defenses headaches for the past decade in major college football. Only in Holgorsen's play, the QB handles the ball for less than a heartbeat. Holgorsen explained to the country after the Orange Bowl that he learned that play from his buddy Bob Stitt from the Colorado School of Mines.
Back in Colorado, Stitt and his family were floored. "My 7 year-old just looked at me and his eyes were as big as saucers," Stitt told me Thursday morning. "My phone just starts blowing up with texts. I got about 30 in about 15 seconds."
Holgorsen calls the play his "Quick" game. Stitt calls it "Fly". WVU scored on it four times Wednesday night. "Every time they ran it, I told my wife, 'Yeah, that's the play that I showed Dana,'" Stitt said.
Of course, Stitt never expected to hear his name called out on national television.
I've heard Stitt "clinic" with other top offensive minds over the past few years at the One-Back Clinic, a small gathering of some cutting-edge coaches each off-season. Whenever the soft-spoken Stitt walks to the front of those rooms, in front of some 20 coaches, most from the most prolific FBS programs, the guy commands their attention.
"These guys from some of the small schools are great, because they'll tell you everything they do because they want you to hire them someday," new UCLA offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone told me at last year's One-Back Clinic held at Houston a few minutes after Stitt talked about the pistol offense and back-shoulder throws.
To guys like Holgorsen and Mazzone and Texas A&M's Kevin Sumlin, Stitt is the real deal, a ball coach with some proven great stuff. For the newer guys in that room, Stitt was the guy from the one school they'd probably never heard of that plays in Division II's Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference. But Stitt knew how to get their attention:"If this stuff works with our guys, it'll probably work with the guys you have," Stitt would tell them. "We're an engineering school, and we only have one major, engineering. Our average ACT score in math is 29." That line would elicit the biggest "Oooh!" of the day. Well, that and Stitt talking about how his team averaged more than 356 passing yards in 2010.
The Orediggers were 8-3 this season, finishing No. 8 in the nation in passing. They had a 1000-yard rusher and a 3000-yard passer. Three of Mines' last four quarterbacks have been finalists for the Harlon Hill Trophy, the Division 2 Heisman.
Because his teams rarely have much speed, opponents often rush seven guys and play Zero-Coverage on them since they don't think Mines receivers can run by them. To counter that, Stitt resorted to the backshoulder passing attack. But, if he had to play against people afraid he's got the receivers who can run by em? Well, Holgorsen has 'em, as Clemson found out.
Stitt came up with his wrinkle on the Fly Sweep because he believed that it was more efficient than trying to have the quarterback hand the ball off after receiving the snap. Devoting all of the time to rep it to get the timing down seemed counter-productive to him.
One day at practice, it came to him, 'Why not just put it (the ball) in the air?' He stopped practice and had his offense do that, and it immediately worked. And yes, that is one of the perks of being a small-college head coach. You can experiment with something like that in the middle of practice.
"The challenge of the Fly Sweep is meshing the handoff with the motion," he says. "With this, the speed of it's faster because you don't have to mesh the handoff, so that 4.3 guy (WR Tavon Austin) is going 4.3 as soon as he gets the ball. And the people that have to try and stop it are the inside 'backers, so you get that kid with that quickness, where he can stick his foot in the ground and get upfield, it's deadly."
No kidding. Stitt first showed some of the FBS guys his play a few years ago at the One-Back Clinic when it was at UNLV. Hal Mumme, then at New Mexico State, loved it and installed it. Mumme probably loves it even more because, technically, the play counts as a pass, not a run in the stat sheet.
Holgorsen, though, didn't buy in until the spring of 2008. Stitt showed up at a UH practice after he'd flown down to Texas for fund-raiser. The Mines head coach was still in his golf gear and was checking out the Cougars practice from off in the distance. Holgorsen spotted him, 'See that fly sweep?'
"Why aren't you putting that thing in the air?" Stitt replied.
Holgorsen said he'd forgotten all about that idea, but brought Stitt over, in full golf gear, to confer with him and quarterback Case Keenum. As Stitt gave them some pointers on how to run it, he couldn't help but think he was someplace he probably shouldn't be. But, a few minutes later, during the Cougars "Team" portion of practice, Holgorsen broke out the play on the unsuspecting Cougars defense. Head coach Kevin Sumlin was downright giddy. "Whoa, what was that?!?"
Houston got so good at it that Stitt smiled when he saw a few days ago in UH's romp over Penn State Keenum get a late snap and just 'volleyballed' it forward to the receiver without even controlling the ball.
As far as the specs of the play, Holgorsen and Stitt have different ways they dress it up. Stitt loves to run it out of a 3-by-1 (three receivers on one side of the formation) and run the play into the boundary side of the field. Holgorsen kept motioning one of his receivers into the backfield to set up in his diamond formation. The added benefit, Stitt points out, is what you can also do off the play. Holgorsen has taken that fly motion and run inside zone off it. "It is a great complement to the inside zone," Stitt says.
Stitt will run the fly motion and have his quarterback read the slot defender. If the guy doesn't cover that, they'll throw the bubble.
Just a hunch but you'll probably be seeing a lot more of this play in 2012.