WVU Willing to Change with Personnel

Things have changed quite a bit since West Virginia head coach Dana Holgorsen and offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson began calling plays at the college level.

In his first year as an offensive coordinator, Holgorsen's Texas Tech team threw the ball a staggering 587 times compared to 303 rushing attempts - one of the widest margins of any season since he's been a coordinator.

During his first year at Stephen F. Austin, Dawson called 85 passes in 34-31 loss to Sam Houston State, setting an NCAA record.

But through experience they've grown.

Once you get through a number of seasons calling plays, you start to figure out what styles work and which ones don't. One lesson in particular has come from trying to define what their offense is.

Of course, the most common way people refer to West Virginia's offense is the Air Raid - the offense that was perfected by their predecessors Hal Mumme and Mike Leach. But Holgorsen likes to think that what the Mountaineers do offensively can't fit into just one category.

"I get asked all the time what kind of offense I run, and I don't really know," he said. "Is it the Air Raid, the spread, are we running the ball more? Shoot, I don't know, whatever works. "And if it works, do it again."

For Holgorsen, that big realization came during his seasons at Houston and Oklahoma State. Like at Texas Tech, those teams had plenty of depth and talent in the passing game. But, for those three seasons, Holgorsen also had explosive and reliable running backs at his disposal - allowing him to play with different ideas and expand what he was able to do as a play-caller.

Even Dawson could see it when he watched those teams play. Now in his second season as WVU's offensive coordinator, Dawson has been with around Holgorsen and the Air Raid offense since he played for the current WVU head coach at Mississippi College, and then transferred to Wingate when Holgorsen got hired there. The change was evident when he saw the way he had evolved as a coach.

"He did the smart thing. He knew that if he could create a really good running game, he could create one-on-one matchups on the outside. And when you have guys like (former Oklahoma State wide receiver Justin) Blackmon, obviously that's a good thing," Dawson said. "In our offense, the plays don't change, but the emphasis on those plays does. It depends on the make-up of your team.

"If you've got really great slot receivers, you're probably going to be in 10-personnel a good bit. If you've got good outside receivers or a good running game, you're going to get in formations that are best suited for that personnel you have."

That will likely be a decision West Virginia will have to make early in 2013, as it looks to reload following the losses of Geno Smith, Tavon Austin, Stedman Bailey and just about every other player who made significant contributions offensively a year ago.

There's potential for another solid year in the system that has shown year-in and year-out that it can work. In wide receivers Kevin White and K.J. Myers, it looks like the Mountaineers could have a couple of players on the outside who they can rely on to catch passes - not to mention potential impact newcomers like Mario Alford, Ronald Carswell and Shelton Gibson and players who have been around but are looking to make a name for themselves like Jordan Thompson and Ivan McCartney.

But the most intriguing part about this offense is that running game. Senior Charles Sims and junior Dreamius Smith transferred to join juniors Andrew Buie and Dustin Garrison, forming what could be the most versatile group of running backs in the Big 12 Conference.

That's a weapon that Holgorsen and Dawson haven't really had in their first couple of seasons at WVU. Adding that other dimension gives them more to work with when coming up with a plan of attack to capitalize on the weaknesses of the defenses in the Big 12.

But that's a thing that will come from now until the season starts, and perhaps something they won't be able to add until they start playing games.

"There are certain wrinkles you can put into the offense, but right now, schematically, we're just trying to get what we're doing to be extremely solid," Dawson said. "Really, I think with the group that we have now, it's really scaled back and just trying to be good at what we do.

"I don't think you can necessarily add a lot with young guys, yet, so we're just trying to get everybody on the same page."

No matter how long it takes for the young and relatively inexperienced Mountaineers to get on the same page, they know that if they're patient enough, things will fall into place.

With this offense, it always seems to.

The proof is in the track record, that experience that Holgorsen and Dawson have gained along the way. And the players have bought into that fact.

"With the simple offense, you can make an impact no matter what," said redshirt freshman Ford Childress, who is competing for the Mountaineers' starting quarterback job.

"The system can do that. It's been proven time and time again, so whatever happens, we know it's going to be a productive offense."

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