WVU Shuffles Set-Up For Spread Offenses

It’s been well-documented that West Virginia is tweaking its defense prior to facing multiple spread, no huddle passing teams over the next month. One aspect that hasn’t been reported as much is the positional movement of Shaq Petteway on third downs, and his increased use in the base packages as well.

Petteway suffered a torn ACL before last season and missed the entire year as a redshirt. Now, the junior, who has slowly worked his way back into playing on a per-down basis, has set himself up for a significant increase in time because of his unique skillset and how it matches the spread offenses WVU must match over the next month with Texas Tech, Baylor, Oklahoma State and TCU. Petteway is seeing some time as the will linebacker slot in Tony Gibson’s base odd front sets, and sliding to the sam ‘backer on third downs, when the Mountaineers work to get increased speed and coverage ability.

Petteway, who started his career as a safety, is backing up at will spot normally played by Edward Muldrow, as Muldrow moves in on a rather full-time starting basis with Brandon Golson moving to end. Golson had started at the will spot against the likes of Alabama, Oklahoma and Maryland, but gave way to Muldrow against Kansas as WVU, against a putrid offense, began to test its defensive look against spread teams. The shuffle also includes more time for Shaq Riddick at the tackle position, which moves Noble Nwachukwu to end at times, or takes him off the field completely when WVU rolls Muldrow, who has been playing increasingly well and showing range with his lanky 6-3, 205-pound frame.

“I feel like naturally in the linebacker group I am one of the most athletic ones in there, having been a safety before,” Petteway said. “It’s a more natural feel with me being able to defend the pass. Coming back from injury, I’ve regain my confidence. I keep trying to put things on the film for the coaches to see. It started on third down defense, and this past week, I played a little bit of base defense.”

Petteway, well built at 6-0, 228 pounds, has at least one tackle in every game, but no more than three in any. That production should increase, as both the number of passes and total game snaps do for both teams as West Virginia scraps with similarly-styled teams. Muldrow has eight total tackles, with his best statistical performances coming against Oklahoma and Alabama, but his best overall, film-view performance coming last week versus Kansas. Riddick, 6-6, 242 pounds, is frankly a pure pass rusher, and could begin to shine if he can navigate the greater distance to the quarterbacks that spread line teams like Texas Tech and Oklahoma State utilize, as well as the quick release throws.

“BG and Muldrow, they are great pass rushers,” Petteway said. “Having guys like BG and Ed that can line up around the defensive front we will be able to bring in guys like me and Harper to play linebacker and play pass. Knowing that, in pass coverage, you only have to play pass for a few seconds because the ball has to come out with the rush, that gives you confidence.”

The set-up, as a whole, remains mostly untested. Kansas lacked the pop and execution to do anything against the Mountaineers, which held KU to 176 total yards on 62 plays. Towson, too, didn’t present the same personnel issues that WVU will face over the next month, and Oklahoma, Alabama and Maryland all run a different style. So this weekend, frankly, will be an opportunity for the coaches to evaluate what works and what doesn’t as the offensive talent increases against No. 5 Baylor.

“I prefer the pass (on defense),” Nwachukwu said. “It gives more opportunity to get a sack. Defensive linemen love to chase the sack. “Golson can come off the edge. He’s an athlete. He could play anywhere he wanted to on the field, really.”

Texas Tech (2-3, 0-2 Big 12), which will play at home for the first time in a month, is playing at a higher level than what the stats would indicate after 11 turnovers in the three consecutive losses to Arkansas, Oklahoma and K State. The Red Raiders have allowed just four sacks all season, and average almost 30 points per game while tallying about 470 yards per contest.

“We know that these guys can be explosive any Saturday,” Petteway said. “We go out there and do our jobs mainly, and not worry about the opponent.”

Note: When asked about the last trip to Lubbock, a game in which WVU entered as the fourth-ranked team in the nation and lost 45-14, Petteway, who played as a true sophomore at the sam linebacker in what was then a 3-4 set, said: “Mean fans. Nasty food in the hotel. It was rough.”

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