Situational Vs ‘Put It Down and Play’ Both Important for WVU Football Prep
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — College football practices are constructed of small bits and pieces. Four or five minute periods of concentration on a particular skill development build into partial units working on a larger portion of the game — say, zone pass defense or inside run — then finally merge into full units going at it 11 on 11. Even the full unit work, however, plays out in a couple of different manners.
First, there’s situational work. A good portion of any full team periods is broken down into working on specific game situations. Whether it’s short yardage, red zone, “coming out” (plays while backed up against the goal line) or something else, many practice sessions are scripted to cover the many different scenarios that occur in a game.
Those sessions are favorites of coaches because they get to concentrate on specific aspects of the game and see multiple reps back to back — the better to evaluate players, calls and formations, see what works and what doesn’t. Countering that, though, is the itchiness of the players (and some assistants) to just put the ball down and simulate a game, with offensive and defensive series. There’s a place for both, but the former takes precedence, at least partially due to the factor of timing. Putting it all together with live scrimmaging and up and down play is the final step before playing the game, while here, still nearly three weeks before the opener, there is still much to work on in each game aspect.
[Saturday’s practice] was all situational stuff,” head coach Dana Holgorsen said. “We focused on the situational stuff the last two days. I like [it] whole lot more than they like [it]. They want to put the ball down and play football – try to put a drive together and all that. I’m more interested in teaching them situations, third-down stuff, what you do on specific fourth downs, coming off the field and two-minute, four-minute drills. I like putting them in as many of those situations as we can. I learn from it coaching staff-wise and player-wise as well. So, I liked the practice a whole lot more than they did.”
Holgorsen isn’t against the up-and-down scrimmage, but with the way the preseason has changed, with NCAA-mandated limits on full contact practices and no two-a-days, more teaching has to be done in different ways. Morning walkthroughs, which involve no contact at all, are one way, but the situational work lets specific items be addressed in a shorter amount of time.
“We’ll tackle again on Tuesday. We’ll start letting them drive a little more at that point,” Holgorsen noted. “But you have to teach them the situational stuff. You’ll want a combination of both. We’re having less tackle days than I have had in a decade. We usually have eight or 10 days where we’re going to tackle. That’s ample time to be able to get as many different situations as you want, while allowing them to be able to put the ball down and drive as well. We have four this year. That’s half as many as we’ve had. You’re still going to get the situational stuff in those put-the-ball-down-and-scrimmage days, but it’s not going to get as many of them. We’re teaching them what these situations are, and then, we have to put the ball down and play it. We’ll get into those situations throughout the course of an actual scrimmage, which we’ll do Tuesday and Saturday as well.
One of the situational scenarios Holgorsen and the staff have been concentrating on is third downs — specifically, third down conversions. That’s part of the overal efficiency focus of the preseason, which has been the watchword for WVU since the spring.
“There’s a lot of areas on the field where if you just [gained half of the yardage necessary, then you’re going to have another opportunity, potentially, on fourth down. We have to figure out what the range of our kicker is, where Billy (Kinney) feels comfortable pooch punting – that sort of thing. A lot of things go into it. We’re just working through some of that stuff and working out the kicking game aspect of it as well. There’s no better way to do that than to put the ball down, play and see what happens. I think we got better at it yesterday, and I feel good with where we’re at. Defensively, we were really good on third down last year. It doesn’t mean we were good on defense, we were just good on third down. What’s ironic about it is we were bad on offense, good on defense. Fourth down was just the opposite – we were good on offense, bad on defense. We were putting a lot of fourth-down situations out here, as well. If we can merge the two, then I think we’ll be where we need to be.”
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Holgorsen noted that two freshmen will be out for the year after undergoing surgeries.
“Dillon Spalding had surgery on his ankle, he’s out for the year. Mike O’Laughlin had surgery on his knee, so he’s out for the year as well. Those two guys, we didn’t know what we were getting with them. They are good kids, they’ll be back here probably in two days. They went home and had surgery, and they’ll be back in two days and roll into school. Other than that, we’re in pretty good shape.”
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Overall, Holgorsen is pleased with his team’s progress, despite having a problem with the phrasing of a question here and there.
“Yeah, I’m happy with where we’re at right now. The energy’s been good, the work’s been good. This is the hardest part of what our camp is going to be right now,” he said of the football-only time that will end shortly. “We have three more days of camp, and then school starts. We tried to have a long day yesterday, and everybody’s sore today. But we have to get up and get a lot of work done. Then, the next day has to be the same thing, and the next day has to be the same thing. Then, we have to switch gears a little bit. I’m happy up until this point, but it’s a whole other animal when these kids have to go to school. Then, getting them here in the afternoon, after having gone to school, refocusing them, continuing to get work done and going into a game-week situation – that’s practice prior to a game-week situation – that’s the real deal. It goes fast. It’ll be upon us before you know it. At this point right now, I’m good with where we’re at.”