WVU offense comfortable playing fast

The West Virginia offense has always liked to move up and down the field at the type of up-tempo pace that a Dana Holgorsen offense has been known for during his coaching career.

When Holgorsen and offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson came to WVU four years ago, they instantly got moving quickly with impact playmakers like Geno Smith, Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey leading the way.

It was a thing of beauty. An offense that moved so quickly, so efficiently with such precision that it looked like a well-oiled machine as it marched up and down the field with ease and battered opponents with a barrage of points on what felt like just about every possession it touched the ball.

Through three games in the 2014 season, that feeling has started to make its way back to Morgantown, as the Mountaineer offense looks back on the right track after taking a major tumble a year ago as it tried to break in a new cast of stars at Milan Puskar Stadium. Nearly every key contributor at the skill positions was a new player who either hadn't made plays at the FBS level before or was new to WVU after transferring to a new school.

Now that it's a year later, it appears there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

It's a process that took some time, but it's something that has paid off. And as it has started to pay off, it has allowed West Virginia to get back to playing fast, the way it has always liked to play.

"You've got to get players in place and develop them to where the can do it," Dawson said. "This is just what we've always done. We've always tried to play at a tempo like this without losing efficiency. We want to do things quickly, but we don't want to if it's just going to be a mess out there.

"Trying to walk that line of having good tempo, limit what the defenses can do and also executing our playbook as well as we can execute without limiting what we can do."

And so far this year, the West Virginia offense has been very effective at finding the way to move the chains, play at the tempo it wants to play at and stay comfortable in what it is doing.

Through the first three games, the Mountaineers are running an average of 91 plays per game on offense - the most of any team in the Big 12 and No. 4 among the 128 teams in FBS college football. The next closest Big 12 team to the Mountaineers on that list is Baylor, which comes in at No. 8 with 87.5 snaps per game. The 91 snaps per game is much higher than the national average of 74.9, and it's something that goes back to how good WVU has been at building momentum on its drives early in the season in its games against Alabama, Towson and Maryland.

Against the Terrapins, the Mountaineers were in rhythm from the opening snap - and could have cruised to a win had they not made a few key mistakes in the red zone - and run 108 plays, something Maryland head coach Randy Edsall made comments about after the game.

"I think there's a problem in college football, I really do, with that many plays," Edsall said.

Earlier this week, one WVU assistant provided a solution to the coaches who are in the camp that teams that run high-paced, up-tempo offenses run too many plays throughout the game and that it could eventually do harm to the health of the student-athletes.

"If you've got a problem with it, stop it," said West Virginia running backs coach JaJuan Seider. "You can run 108 plays too if you have the ball. It's not our job to stop ourselves. It's our job to make plays."

One thing that has helped West Virginia get over the hump and able to play fast again is the improved amount of depth the offense has all over the field. Whenever a player gets tired, the coaches are getting closer to being at a point where they can bring in the next person off the bench without losing much talent compared to the player coming off the field - which is always a tough balancing act to play, no matter what, as the Mountaineers enter a Big 12 schedule that will be full of close games in which playmakers will need to be on the field as much as possible.

"We still need to develop it a little more, probably. At a few positions we have a people taking more reps than they probably need to," Dawson said. "When you look at it, and guys are playing well, it's tough to say that you should take certain people out - especially when the games are tight. That's always a balancing act every season, I've never had a year that was any different. You have to figure out when to take out guys when they're playing well.

"You need to get more guys in there so you can develop the guys behind them, but the ultimate goal is to win every game you're in."


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