Battling Pace

WVU senior Will Clarke thinks that West Virginia is well-positioned to battle the ever-increasing pace of offenses in the Big 12, but understands that just playing against one in practice every day isn't the key to success.

The Big 12 has a well-deserved reputation for playing fast on offense, and the pace isn't showing any signs of slowing as the opening of fall camps draw near. If anything, more schools are jumping on the speed bandwagon. Oklahoma State has stated a goal of playing faster, and even staid Texas has indicated it will run some no huddle and quick snaps in 2013. With almost every other team in the conference running hurry-up as part of their scheme, it's clear that slowing that pace remains the number one goal of conference defenses this fall.

Conventional wisdom holds that defenses which practice against fast-paced offenses have an advantage in slowing those attacks, but that's not necessarily borne out by results on the field. The primary example is West Virginia, which played every day against Dana Holgorsen's offense last year, yet posted some of the worst defensive statistics in the nation. If simply getting used to the pace of play isn't the key, then what is?

For Clarke, it's all about preparation and recognition.

"You have to know what you have to do, and understand what the other team is going to do. That comes with preparation. You have to know each situation and what plays can be run out of which formations," the defensive line leader said.

Clarke's points about recognition are vital, yet often underappreciated. Contrary to popular belief, offenses can't install a number of new plays each week, because execution and efficiency would suffer dramatically. By and large, there isn't a great deal of difference in the plays an offense can run -- the tweaks come with personnel packages and trying to identify weaknesses in the defense. Thus, if the defense can recognize it has a big leg up in getting stops.

That's not to say it's an easy task, because each week there's a different set of tendencies to learn and film to study. But those teams that can do their homework in practice and the meeting rooms each week have the best chance of success, because they can adjust on the fly on the field to counter the opposition.

Clarke doesn't discount the positive of getting to go against an uptempo offense each day, noting that head coach Dana Holgorsen is one of the best coaches in the country at maximizing speed and tempo. However, he understands that there's more to it than just watching the ball being snapped quickly time and again.

"We're very hungry," he said in describing the mentality change from a year ago. "It was embarrassing last year, and we can't change what happened in the past. We can change the present and the future, and we have to work hard and play hard."

In the final analysis, the senior defensive lineman believes it is all about execution. He unknowingly echoed the words of Oklahoma head coach Bob Stoops, who pinpointed execution, rather than any exotic mix of personnel packages and schemes, as the key for defenses to make inroads against the stampede of Big 12 offenses.

"Last year wasn't a surprise," Clarke said. "We knew teams were going to tempo more, but at the end of the day football is still football. We have to make plays, and I want to be more of an impact player."

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