Scuffle Of New, Old School Styles

The contrast and clash of styles will be evident when West Virginia and Kanas State meet Saturday. Game Scorecard
Sat 10/26 3:45 PM ET

Manhattan, KS

Bill Snyder
Family Stadium
Record: 3-3

Last Game
Texas Tech 27-37 L
TV: FOXSports1
Sirius/XM: 117 / 192
Record: 6-0

Last Game
Baylor 25-35 L
Rosters/ Bios
Press Release
Season Stats
2013 Schedule

Series: KSU 2-1

First Meeting: 1930
Last Meeting: 2012
Press Release
Season Stats
2013 Schedule

It's a new school vs. old school mentality with head coaches Dana Holgorsen and Bill Snyder. West Virginia holds crisp, quick practices and focuses on repetition and playing fast. KSU's drill sessions are more physical and at a slower pace, with simplistic play calls and alignments. There's very little trickery and even less fluff from Snyder, 74, whose program has always focused heavily on the raw fundamentals of play. WVU defensive coordinator Keith Patterson said he was impressed with "all the intangibles about discipline and work ethic (Snyder) has. He's old-fashioned in the fact that his teams practice very physical. They stress fundamentals of the game. It doesn't surprise me that those values and intangibles still work."

But, as noted by KSU's 2-4 mark, 0-3 in the Big 12, any coaching values work far better with talents like Collin Klein and Arthur Brown – or Geno Smith and Tavon Austin. It's really more a question of how one wants to approach building a program. Kansas State will rarely get blown out. But get behind by several scores, and the ability to rally is far lesser than teams with an up-tempo system like West Virginia. It's almost as if the program styles mirror geographic topography, the Mountaineers having far greater ups and downs while KSU plods along at a more flat-lined, steady pace.

They keys to this one aren't difficult to decipher. The Wildcats have thrown for more interceptions than touchdowns, and would much prefer keeping the ball on the ground and churning yardage and clock to keep West Virginia's offense, even with its struggles, off the field. The run fits here are paramount. Kanas State loves to run its QBs, especially Daniel Sams (who actually leads KSU in carries and yards with 86 and 522, respectively). Without the signal caller handing the ball off and this taking himself out of the play, the Wildcats have effectively created another blocker in the run game via the lead back. That means it's more difficult to gain the numerical edge the defense loves in the run game, and that there can an extra gap to fill. As West Virginia linebacker Isaiah Bruce noted, every player must do his 1/11th and no more.

That's among the strengths of KSU, forcing foes to be as disciplined and patient as it is. Sams and fellow QB Jake Waters, the better thrower of the two, will sit on their run fakes longer than any other players WVU is slated to play this season. They just hold and hold the ball close to the backs, waiting to hand or pull…and perhaps pull up and throw it. Just because the quarterback hasn't popped up to pass in the first few seconds of a play doesn't mean he won't. That maintains the pressure on the secondary, and forces honestly in coverage and alignment. The Wildcats ideals work a bit off of what coaches in the 1950s through the 70s called the ride system, where a player would just run a bit with the back and sort of ride the ball between the two before deciding to hand/pitch or keep it. Or, in KSU's case, allow the back to pick up any rushers and pass the ball.

It somewhat resembles the option pass run by WVU under Don Nehlen and with Major Harris, but it's much more deliberate in execution. The Mountaineers will be pressed to read the keys correctly, but not overreact or pursue in an attempt to make a play. Disciplined, assignment- and alignment-sound football is imperative. Watch WVU's defensive lineman to see if they are maintaining scrimmage and not getting shoved back. If that's the case – again, if it isn't, not much else will matter as the ‘Cats will pound away – then check the linebackers and their gap control. How is WVU fitting up to the run, and almost as importantly, how is it tackling and matching Kansas State's physical play.

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This isn't a difficult system to defend schematically. The problem is much like the big brother-little brother syndrome. You know the tactics, what he's going to do. But good luck stopping it. West Virginia couldn't last season, but the abilities for both teams are far more balanced now. WVU is much improved defensively, while KSU has fallen off considerably on offense. The Mountaineer secondary should be able to limit passing yards, as long as they maintain their coverage assignments and locate the football when it's in the air. Don't get caught on the play action or looking in the backfield. It might get boring back there, especially compared to what players have become accustomed to against teams like Oklahoma State, Texas Tech and Baylor. But don't think for a second Snyder will hesitate to challenge deep if given the proper situation and match-up. Just do your job; don't try to help others with theirs.

On offense, West Virginia appeared to get the running game going against Texas Tech, but, staff and players admitted, when the Red raiders adjusted at the half and began to limit the zone reads, the Mountaineers couldn't get the power game cranked up. This is a bad sign against Kanas State. The Wildcats, again, do nothing flashy. They line up, much like Miami used to, in the base set and dare teams to defeat them physically at the point of attack. Some have. West Virginia likely won't be able to do so. KSU's interior tackles are as stout as any WVU have faced outside of Baylor. They anchor in there like a barge and aren't going to be budged by an improving, but still average, Mountaineer line for major gains. Double-teams should result in some short success, especially in early downs and distances, but that still leaves a lot of second and sevens – not the end of the world, but not exactly staying ahead of the chains.

The positive is that, in the base sets and with the inside run game somewhat stagnated, WVU might actually be able to run a bit of zone read, using its speed against a stout, but slower defense than offered by Baylor and Texas Tech. The issue will be fundamentals and blocking and tackling, however, and that would seem to favor the ‘Cats. So with the run game being limited more than it was against Tech, the pass game moves to the forefront. WVU must be able to hit a series of midrange and deep balls. This simply isn't a team that will be able to piece together long drives in terms of play number. It will blow itself up with drops, poor wideout effort and blocking, bad passes or penalties. Yardage isn't an issue; drive 99 yards, drive 46 yards, no huge deal. It's the play numbers that screw WVU up. It's like a ticking time bomb. One knows it's going to explode, one just doesn't know exactly when.

That's why major downfield gains are of utmost importance. West Virginia isn't a piecemeal team, which is just what Kansas State wants to force it to be. The Wildcats will keep the safeties back and force underneath throws and to beat them up front and run the ball. Can WVU do that? It's unsure. When it has moved the ball, it has had some running game to help. If it can, indeed, use speed or misdirection to get outside the tackles, it could get enough going where the linebackers suck up a bit, opening the midrange game. Going vertical will be an option on certain looks and sets, and Clint Trickett and the receivers will get a chance for a few one-on-one coverages. It has to, what with West Virginia going five wide at times. Can Trickett place enough accuracy on the ball? Will the receivers challenge for the ball at its highest point? KSU iss going to take away all the comfortable throws; much like baseball, boxing or any other sport, WVU must be able to find success with its second and third "strengths." Take away the space and time to work the hook, and the jab must land. Keep the breaking ball down and away from the pull fastball hitter, and the slugger must adjust and go the other way.

West Virginia must adjust as well. But there aren't a ton of things WVU does so well that it can have supreme confidence in them. It is, as center Pat Eger said, a matter of execution once a team takes the first and second options away. But that execution has been lacking in at least portions of all the games, perhaps most noticeable in the final five drives against Texas Tech, when the Mountaineers managed one first down. K-State will take the off-tackle run and the deep ball away as well as it can. If West Virginia can still hit it consistently, great. If not, better find the midrange stuff and the exterior run and be able to execute at least well enough to move the ball and play some field position.

Both teams shave made a handful of quite meaningful special teams plays in the last few weeks, KSU blocking three kicks and WVU managing a fumble and recovery on a kickoff. Neither team, however, was able to turn the plays into victories. This should be a fundamentally sound game on both ends, and the only thing that will swing it – besides WVU's clear edge in punting (42.0 to 37.6 net) – is poor coverage or a major individual mistake. The Wildcats can return kicks effectively, but West Virginia's coverage has been solid for the most part, and Nick O'Toole's hang time and location have limited opponents to a punt return just 33 percent of the time. Tech was close a couple times to busting big kickoff returns, and that aspect should be watched closely with KSU's speed and burst.

Off the Xs and Os thoughts, this is a game in which points might again be at a premium. West Virginia is less likely to get as many snaps as it did in the last three games, and it absolutely cannot afford, on the road against a team which will run the ball and milk clock, to pass up more surefire scoring because of coaching frustration. Holgorsen's passion and fire is to be admired. But, in his third season as head coach, it's time for the postgame apologies about what should have been done to stop. These aren't 50-50 or 60-40 situations, or ones in which it's a matter of preference. The fourth and 14 was a matter of what should have been done versus what should not have, and the temper and frustration clouded judgment and negated a likely three points that the Mountaineers badly could have used later.

Even if WVU wins going away, that decision, like those to burn timeouts to yell at players or officials, is a misdirected use of power and that passion. It is, frankly, time to grow up as a head coach. It's not that others don't make mistakes; why Texas Tech head coach Kliff Kingsbury decided to throw for the final touchdown instead of kneel the ball and run the timeout is a question that's simply unanswerable with logic. Kingsbury noted that "fortunate favors the bold." But if that fortune, that desired end-game result, is a win – which all coaches will tell you it is – then choosing to put the ball at risk, and then give the other team the ball back on the ensuing kickoff for its only remote chance, is just plain stupid. Kneel the ball and there's zero chance WVU can win the game barring a fumble on the exchange, which is far less likely than an interception when one choses to throw close with smaller passing windows.

It's bull-headed and narrow-minded, and it reeks of adolescent immaturity. Again, this isn't mere preference, or even the Mike Leach idea that, when down seven with four minutes and two timeouts left, going for it on fourth and three from midfield is preferable to punting the ball away. That's defendable, both by mathematics and the matter of personal approach. But throwing on fourth and 14 when down three against a superior foe, when that decision was clearly made out of frustration and not rational thought, will not hack it on the collegiate level. It's time to begin to make less-clouded judgments, and stop the apologies after the game. Simply don't do it in the first place. Rip up the headsets, yell at the refs. Show passion. But be able, at the least, to reel it in enough so as to not create a more detrimental situation than one was already in.

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