West Virginia’s Split Personality Confronts Hokies
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Virginia Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster has long been acknowledged one of the best in the business, but he finds himself in a perplexing situation as he tries to get ready for West Virginia in Sunday’s 7:30 p.m. opener at FedExField in Landover, Maryland.
Simply put, his problem is that while most teams have split receivers, WVU’s offense has a split personality, and WVU coach Dana Holgorsen has offered no hints as to which team will show up.
Now, opening games are always a trip into the unknown.
Holgorsen put it this way this week as he spoke of his team venturing into a game with Virginia Tech.
“There are always unknowns. We have an idea but you don’t know what is going to get exposed, honestly, so, there are unknowns going into every game,” WVU head coach said. “It’s not just scheme, not just sides of the ball, specific players as well.
“Guys that haven’t played very much, are they ready to take that next step? Are they ready to take over a game? Are they ready to make a difference? New guys, is the environment going to be too big? There are a lot of things you don’t know. That’s why you play.”
But here’s what Foster is facing. WVU has a new quarterback and a new offensive coordinator calling the plays.
The quarterback, Will Grier, is said to be the real thing, capable of making all the throws, and the coordinator, Jake Spavital, has never been afraid to throw the ball.
Last year as offensive coordinator at Cal, Spavital turned Davis Webb loose to throw the ball 620 times for 4,295 yards.
But here’s the thing, at WVU, he inherited a team that threw the ball only 409 times last — 211 fewer times — for just 3,343 yards, almost a thousand fewer yards.
WVU was mainly a team that ran the ball last year and possesses the leading returning rusher in the Big 12 in Justin Crawford and a lot of capable backups.
So, do they run? Do they pass?
Remember, back in 2011, Holgorsen’s first year, he threw the ball 541 times for 4,509 yards with Geno Smith at quarterback and with Spavital on the staff, so he’s not married to the running game.
One thing’s for sure, Holgorsen isn’t going to tip his hand.
Someone tried to get him to do that at his weekly press conference, asking how Grier’s presence along with Spavital’s might change the approach.
“I can’t tell you that,” he said. “With the new coordinator thing, we’ll wait and see. We’ll use that as our advantage, so to speak.”
It certainly forces Virginia Tech to try to come up with a couple of game plans that it can switch on and off during the opener, depending upon how things go.
Not that Tech can’t do that. Last year in its bowl game the Hokies were down 24-0 at halftime, made adjustments and beat Arkansas, 35-24, pitching a second half shutout.
“That’s the sign of a good coach, obviously, and a sign of a good football team as well, good program. That’s just what makes good coaches. The in-game adjustments and all that stuff is one thing, the game planning aspect is another thing,” Holgorsen said.
Holgorsen understands that uncertainty exists in any game, but the circumstances here magnify that uncertainty
“There are some question marks any time you have a new quarterback, which we both fall in the same boat when it comes to that, and when you switch coordinators,” Holgorsen admitted.
“But with that said, there have been plenty of times with myself as a coordinator, you go eight months in the offseason and find some new ways of doing things where there are some nuances as far as what you do here and what you do there that nobody knows going into Game One.
“There’s always a level of uncertainty going into Game One. Probably this year more than the last couple years with us, there’s probably a higher level of uncertainty.”
Of course, WVU did win 10 games last season by leaning heavily on its running game … and every indication is that this year can be an even better running season, even though Grier normally isn’t the running threat Skyler Howard was, and, with no experienced backup, definitely will be protected as much as possible by the coaching staff.
Holgorsen even offered a hint when he noted that his running back group is so deep that he could line six running backs up in his backfield … if that were legal.
But was that a hint or simply trying to throw Foster off the trail, for Holgorsen was brought up throwing the ball, brought Spavital up with an understanding of the passing game and, far more important, he enters this season like a new kid on Christmas morning with Grier being his new toy.
In this case, don’t expect him to put that toy aside and play the box.
Grier figures to be the centerpiece of this offense until someone takes him away, forcing Holgorsen and Spavital to turn to the running game as the main offensive threat.