WVU’s Caponi Identifies Adjustments As Key To Virginia Tech Opener
MORGANTOWN, W. Va. – “Making adjustments” is an oft-heard phrase that comes up in analysis of football games. Teams that lose “didn’t make any adjustments at halftime”. Teams that win “made adjustments” to what their opponents did. While that has become a cliche for many to fall back on, at its heart there’s more than a germ of truth. And in the first game of a season, making adjustments might be one of the biggest keys of all.
“The biggest factor in this first game is being to adjust on the run. It’s always the factor of the unknown,” Mountaineer safeties coach Matt Caponi said of the run-up to the opener. “We have to adjust, and I think that’s the biggest part of an opener — not just for the back end, but for the entire defense.”
While there is some cat and mouse in terms of changes and reactions that carry on through the course of the season, the biggest ones come in game one, just because there’s no history of previous weeks’ action to look at. While teams might be able to install a play or a look to attack something specific an opponent does later in the year, there simply isn’t enough time to revamp an entire attack, or to teach players an entirely new set of schemes. But over an offseason, with changes in coaches and personnel, many changes can be made – with none of those visible to the opposition.
“They are going to have some wrinkles,” Caponi acknowledged, noting that it usually takes two to three series for the defense to get a handle on the opposition’s plan. “It takes that long to see where they are putting guys, what they are going to do on third down, or how they will use the quarterback run game.”
Countering those changes can be difficult. Caponi recalled last year’s opener against Missouri, which presented some challenges.
“Their tempo was a problem, and they did some things with wider line splits, like Baylor does, to spread you out,” he recalled.
WVU did a good job there, though, limiting the Tigers to just 11 points in racking up a win over an SEC foe. On his side in that game was one of the biggest factors in making on-the-fly adjustments.
“Experience,” said Caponi, noting that players who have seen different looks and have a lot of plays under their belt aren’t likely to get rattled, and can adjust to changes more easily. He has just that in the form of Dravon Askew-Henry, Kyzir White, Toyous Avery and Marvin Gross, who have 86 games of playing time to draw upon. And while he also has Jovanni Stewart and true freshman Derrek Pitts in the two deep, he noted that so long as they keep their heads in the game, they too can be successful in implementing in-game adjustments.
“Their engagement on the sidelines is important. Those guys are one snap away and they have to be paying attention. Having the experience back, I think we are pretty good with that, but being disciplined with your eyes, that will take you where you need to be.”
Another part of the experience factor is the ability to disguise coverages and intentions. Players who are 100% confident in their assignments are able to fake other looks easier, and aren’t likely to get caught out of place by a quick snap or forget the primary assignment. That also plays a big part in West Virginia’s blitz game, which will again be counted on as the primary means of disrupting the quarterback. With Tech starting redshirt freshman Josh Jackson, who has never taken a collegiate game snap, expect to see a lot of this action from the Mountaineer defense.
“We are always telling our guys to kind of move around and disguise. Show pressure, walking up, dropping out, rotating coverages, it’s always beneficial for a coverage and try to the confuse QB and mess up blocking assignments,” Caponi confirmed.
In a game where both teams figure to have some different offensive looks than they did a year ago, the defense that is most adaptable, and most quickly makes those adjustments, will give its team a big leg up on a potential win.