Pogue, WVU Defensive Coaches Gameplannng With Limited Pieces
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Building a game plan each week is difficult enough. There’s scouting of the upcoming opponent, identification of positions that might be attacked and tactics that might match up well against those of the opposition. Then it’s teaching and repping those items, with emphasis on any changes that might not have been part of previous game plans, all crammed into a 3-4 day period with the hope it can be honed to effectivness by kickoff on Saturday.
For West Virginia recently, there’s been another step.
“We kind of wait for the injury report and then go off that,” outside linebackers coach Al Pogue said with a rueful laugh this week. “But it’s a great opportunity for younger guys to step up, and we are at that point where we can put them out there and see what they can do.”
Pogue, an eternal optimist who never fails to point out the positives in a situation, deserves credit for maintainingg that outlook through a horrendous string of injuries and defections that has left more holes in the Mountaineer roster than your average Swiss cheese. Week to week, he and the rest of the coaching staff have had to figure out, and in many cases, estimate, who will and won’t be available before crafting their game plan Saturday. After all, it does no good to scheme around a certain position, or install tactics designed for one or two players, if they may not be available.
Thus it was that in the run up to the Baylor game, WVU had to figure out a way to play defense without many linebackers. With Quondarius Qualls a trip scratch — not even making the journey to Waco — West Virginia was down to only six scholarship linebackers, and three of those had played very little coming in to the contest. With three linebacking positions to fill, that just wasn’t enough.
WVU’s answer was to take one linebacker out of its lineup, replacing it with a third safety, which it terms the rover. This safety, often positioned in the middle of the field to form a 3-2-6 alignment, gave West Virginia a cloud coverage look which a number of teams have been going to. The Mountaineers also used the rover as an run filler, bringing him downhill at the snap to confuse quarterback reads.
“Kudos to our defensive coordinator Coach Koenning. He really simplified it to where the kids could understand it and execute it,” Pogue said. “Our concept as a whole, the guys understand what we are trying to do, and that’s why the transition wasn’t so hard because the kids had the general idea of what it was.”
Again, Pogue is underselling the complexity of the task. It may be that West Virginia didn’t play many different coverages or use a lot of exotic aligments, but the fact is that this was a significant shift. Without good teaching, simple concepts and good buy-in from the players, mass confusion and busted coverages could have been the story of the evening. Instead, there numerous negative plays generated by the defense. Mountaineer safeties accounted for 39 tackles on the evening, and while that isn’t a good thing in a standard two-safety, two cornerback set, in this scheme it is. WVU’s rover, spear, cat and free safeties were aggressive, attacked well, and covered the field to hold the Bear offense to just 17 points.
The new faces on the field were Noah Guzman, who played only a handful of snaps from scrimmage prior to the Baylor contest, and freshman linebacker Jared Bartlett, making his first collegiate appearance. Guzman made the rover position his own, racking up 12 total stops to lead the team, while Bartlett had two stops.
“Coach Vic coaches the rover, and the kids did a grat job of executing that scheme, so it’s working for us,” Pogue noted. “Those guys have total buy-in. I would imagine being a 17- or 18-year-old freshman, going against the No. 12 team in the nation (they would be up for it), and I thought Jared Bartlett handled it well. And Guzman, I thought he was calm, cool and collected. Kudos to those guys.”
Koenning noted he has coached the three deep safety look at several different stops, and Pogue added that other assistants are also familiar with it, which has helped the assimilation process. Still, the fact they they were able to put it all together and put a scheme on the field that worked is something that hasn’t gotten enough attention or credit.
“We have guys with a lot of experience on our staff, and we understand what Coach Vic is trying to accomplish,” Pogue said. “Then with me having a background in being a defensive backs coach, and with Coach (Jahmile) Addae, we are able to teach the techniue and get it to work.”
The challenge continues this week for Texas Tech, as Qualls has now been ruled out for the season, and Guzman is questionable after sustaining a hit to the head and a sprained ankle against the Bears. WVU will again be without Josh Norwood for the first half, the result of his inability to keep away from helmet-to-helmet hits, which have been flagged for targeting calls. That will put Pogue, Koenning and the rest of the staff scanning the medical reports again this week as they try to put the pieces together in what could be another shuflled scheme.