Instant Installation

Players eager to learn Dana Holgorsen's offense won't have long to wait once spring football practice begins at West Virginia. By the end of the first week of drills, the entire system will have been installed by the mostly new offensive staff.

Past observers of Holgorsen's offense might be taken aback by that fact, as the system appears to contain a good number of complex pass patterns and blocking schemes. However, that couldn't be further from the truth, as inside receivers coach Shannon Dawson explains.

"I've installed it twice as a coordinator and Dana has installed it twice, so we have it broken down into three days. Our offense is a three-day installation," Dawson reiterated. "After that, the whole offense is in. I think people look at it and think we have guys running around everywhere, so it must be complicated, but in reality each position only has four or five things to do. The bottom line is that you get good at lining up there and doing those things really well."

Most recently, Dawson oversaw the installation while serving as the offensive coordinator at Stephen F. Austin, where the Lumberjacks ran up numbers that were just as impressive as those Holgorsen recorded at Houston and Oklahoma State. In 2010, SFA had No. 1 passing offense (362.2) and No. 4 scoring offense (36.3).

Just as a trap or misdirection play tries to confuse the defense, so to does West Virginia's new system.

"The key for it is to look complicated for the defense, but not be complicated for the offense. That's what you are striving for. So the installation process isn't really complicated," Dawson concluded.

Of course, once those three days are over, it's not as if the offense gets the rest of the spring off. There are going to be hundreds of repetitions to hone each player's actions and make them second nature. That will allow them to play fast – another tenet of the attack – without constantly thinking about items such as where to line up. There's also the not-so-small matter of making adjustments according to the defense the other team is playing – right? Well, maybe not.

"We really don't worry about the defensive looks we see," said Dawson, echoing one of the coaching philosophies of basketball legend John Wooden, who didn't use scouting reports or look at other teams' tactics ." We worry about our side of the ball., You won't hear one of our coaches telling the quarterback 'they are in cover whatever'. "We say, 'You have a read progression, make it and throw it to the open guy.' I don't care what coverage it is. Obviously you need to know whether it's man or zone, but the most important thing is to get it installed and rep it as many times as they can. You do want to rep it against as many different defensive looks as you can so the kids can adjust their routes to the look, but it's all about repetition."

Such an approach is anathema to many coaches, who live and die with scouting reports. That will also come as a surprise to many fans who put so much emphasis on "adjustments" and blame losses on coaches who fail to do so. But it's simply not a big part of the system employed by Holgorsen and Dawson.

"Most players say 'my offense in high school is more complicated than this', but my response is we're not in a battle to see how complicated we can make the offense. We are in a battle to see how many points we can score. To do that, we have to have all 11 guys on the same page. And to do that, you better make it simple.

"I worked with Coach [Hal] Mumme a long time. He said 'You guys can sit in here a long time and come up with all kind of stuff that's great. And we have all day to do that. But the bottom line is that the players don't. They have about 30 minutes of meeting time two days a week. What can we teach them in that time? So that's another reason we try to keep it simple. It's not about what we know, it's about what they know."

WVU will be starting from ground zero in learning the system this spring, and it won't have much experience at quarterback, Geno Smith, just beginning rehabilitation from a second foot surgery, has one year on the field, but he'll be joined by a duo that is just a few weeks out of high school in the form of Brian Athey and Paul Millard. However, that's not the most shallow depth pool Dawson has ever had to work with.

"My first year [at Stephen F. Austin] we only had one quarterback in the spring. Jeremy Moses was a freshman the year before, and he had just played in a couple of games at the end of the year, so he didn't have the experience that Geno Smith has. The quarterbacks they had signed there had been moved to receiver, so we only had one. We had a true freshman that came in [in the fall] and had to back up Jeremy that first year. So it's a similar situation that I've been through, but here it's better, because obviously Geno has more experience. And it's good to have one, because that's better than none!"

That process turned out pretty well. Moses wound up as the two time Southland Conference Player of the Year, and finished his career as the school and league record holder in completions, yards, touchdowns and total offense. Mountaineer fans can only hope that Smith and the rest of the offense pick things up as quickly as previous teams running this offense have done – but judging from the way the installation and teaching process is designed, they should have every chance to do so.


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