MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — It was something of an odd sight. There, a couple of yards behind the ball, West Virginia’s offense was huddling.
For those unfamiliar with the term, a huddle is when a team groups together to hear a play call.
OK — you knew that. But in this case, WVU employed what is known in some circles as a sugar huddle — a quick grouping just behind the line of scrimmage that allows a team to make a call and get to the line quickly for a snap without allowing the defense much time to react to the formation or personnel in the game.
That was just one of the tactics West Virginia used to combat the tough defense of TCU head coach Gary Patterson, whose 4-2-5 base alignment, along with its myriad combinations, causes offenses many problems of their own.
“Defensively they do a really good job. The thing with Gary (Patterson) is if you get something, he does a really good job of not letting you get it twice,” WVU head coach Neal Brown said. “He does a really good job of trying to take away your best plays.”
In order to keep Patterson from seeing its offense and reacting to it with a defensive adjustment before the snap, WVU used the sugar huddle. After making a play call, the Mountaineers moved swiftly to the offensive line and snapped the ball, sometimes forcing the Horned Frogs to play their initial alignment.
The cat and mouse game didn’t always result in a win for the Mountaineers, but it did keep the hyperactive Patterson off balance, as he was often on the field yelling instructions to his players right up to the snap.
“We were really just trying to hide some formations by getting into the huddle,” Brown explained.
When WVU wasn’t employing the sugar huddle, it also used extensive pre-snap motion to force adjustments from the Frog defense that it hoped would be predictable.
“They did a great job of moving their formations around, and to be honest with you, our kids did not handle that very well, and that’s my fault,” Patterson said. “We have to do a better job of doing that.”
Brown and his offensive staff had yet another trick up their sleeves. They put Jarret Doege under center on a few snaps, running quick sweep handoffs that gave a different look to WVU’s staple jet sweep actions.
“We just had to practice those handoffs and make sure they were smooth,” said receiver TJ Simmons, who had two carries for 16 yards to go along with his 90 yards receiving. “I played running back in little league so I am used to getting handoffs.”
Put them all together, and you get a WVU game plan that succeeded where few have against TCU. The Mountaineers kept the Horned Frogs off balance, and while there wasn’t a resultant avalanche of points, there were enough — and enough West Virginia ball control — to keep TCU at bay.
And at the root of the plan, there was that huddle.
“It’s old school,” summed up Brown, with a bit of deserved self-satisfaction in his answer. We might have to reintroduce that.”