Defensive Challenges For WVU, Virginia Tech

Defensive Challenges For WVU, Virginia Tech

There is a great irony being brought about by West Virginia’s opening game of the season, the renewal of the Black Diamond Trophy rivalry with Virginia Tech next Sunday night, live in Landover, Md., and broadcast across the nation on ABC.

That irony is that in this season where analytics seem to be jumping front and center throughout college football, you can throw it all out when trying to defend either of these two teams.

West Virginia, for example, isn’t quite sure how to defend the Hokies.


“It’s hard because of their quarterback was so important to what they were doing a year ago. This year, they’re going to play two or three quarterbacks. I anticipate that,” defensive coordinator Tony Gibson said.

And each offers a different style off of which a different offense is built.

“Are they going to try to make a living running (Virginia Tech redshirt freshman quarterback (Josh) Jackson? I don’t know. We’ll be prepared for it,” Gibson said.

“Are they going to run (Virginia Tech redshirt junior quarterback AJ) Bush? We’ll be prepared for it. I think that’s a big part of their offense even going back and studying them at Memphis with (Paxton) Lynch.

“He was a guy that would run at times. So, we’re going to have to be prepared for that. That’s going to be something a little different for us. Not a lot of people in the Big 12 are running quarterbacks.”

If Tech is going to be comparable to anyone in the Big 12 offensively, it would be Kansas State, and no one begs to play against them.

But Gibson’s problem is nowhere near as difficult as Virginia Tech’s long-time defensive coordinator Bud Foster’s.

Foster has to deal with a new offensive coordinator and a new quarterback and, to be honest, that offensive coordinator, Jake Spavital, isn’t sure himself what he’s going to get in the opening game.

“I can tell you going into the game we are going to have great schemes, but it always changes because of the personnel and where you are as a team and how things are going. There’s a lot of moving parts, a lot of kids out there,” Spavital explained.

This wasn’t “coach speak” to throw Foster and the Hokies off. It was reality.

“We have a lot of inexperienced kids out there. Will Grier hasn’t even played in a year and a half, so who knows how his first game jitters are going to be. We think he is going to be fine, but you always have to have that backup plan in the back of your head in certain situations,” Spavital said.

Can it help Foster to go back and look at film from last year?

Not really, for WVU’s offense with Skyler Howard running it and with Grier running it figure to be completely different.

In fact, last year during the season head coach Dana Holgorsen, then calling the plays and molding the offense, made a big change in his philosophy as the season went on.

“I thought Skyler threw an unbelievable deep ball and they had a guy in Shelton Gibson who could stretch the field. Add to that, they had an explosive run game,” Spavital noted.

That influenced the way Holgorsen approached his offense.

“I thought the way Dana called games was his best I’ve ever seen in terms of during the year he figured out where he was,” Spavital said. “He kind of eliminated his intermediate passing game. He did have it with Daikiel (Shorts) over the middle a couple of times, but it was mainly, let’s run it and take shots down the field when you have guys up playing the run.”

This year, though, Spavital has a different skill set operating.

“With us, I don’t know if we have that speed with Shelton, so we will go in a little different direction. We have a quarterback who can make all those throws. With a talent like Will you can open it all up.”

To make matters even tougher in efforts to analyze what WVU is doing is the matter that they have players who can play different positions. Kennedy McKoy is a running back who is going to be used at receiver a lot. David Sills V, an outside receiver when last seen two years ago, now is inside.

There are as many five running backs who may take the ball, headed by a proven talent in Justin Crawford.

What does it all add up to?

Spavital isn’t sure.

“I really don’t know how good we are and how bad we are. When we get out there for that first game, you will have a pretty idea of where we are going to go with it,” he said. “Should we take shots, intermediate or should we go with quick shots? We’ll figure it out pretty fast.”

He’s hoping Foster doesn’t.