West Virginia Tweaking Various Aspects Of Its Offense Under Jake Spavital

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - Jake Spavital is like a kid in a candy store, or a scientist in a lab, depending upon your perspective of West Virginia's offense.

If one views the Mountaineers as having a highly-recruited quarterback, a backfield loaded with talent and versatility and capable receivers with a promising offensive line, then it's likely the former. The coordinator, after all, has major, proven players available at nearly every slot, and more that he can mix and match to find the exact flavor. If it's the opposite, that WVU is facing yet another year with a quarterback new to its system (the third time in four years that would be the case), that it lost its best deep and intermediate threats at receiver, and will also have to build a line sans an All-American and Rimington Trophy finalist, then Spavital would better resemble the analytical approach, the one that sees him trying to find exactly what the Mountaineers can do, and just how effectively they can do it.

For his part, Spavital has borrowed a bit from both approaches, and left little to chance. He's established the very fundamentals of the offense, from matching the steps and read of the backs with that of the line, to dialing in on what throws quarterback Will Grier is comfortable with, and what needs tuning. How far can the Mountaineers stretch vertically, with respect to Grier's arm and the speed of the wideouts, and how long can the line expect to extend plays? What backs are best in what situations, and what could, when honed through the rest of camp and into the fall, become the bread and butter of the 2017 Mountaineer offense?

"A lot of it is me just trying to figure out Will," Spavital said. "He's pretty much what I thought he was going to be. Starting to figure out what types of routes he likes to throw, what he is capable of doing. I like to test how far he can throw the ball at times. How athletic he is, can you move him out of the pocket, get a longer protection and see how far he can extend the field. I do think we have some receivers who have speed who we have to use to our benefit. Each day I go out there with another (deep) shot play to see how far he can throw it and what he's comfortable with. He's an all-around kid. He can make a lot of the throws.

"The thing I'd like to figure out, too, is how dynamic I can get with these running backs. I think they are proven in terms of a run game. I like to put them out in certain scenarios, certain positions and see if they can handle it out there on the perimeter. I am playing around with a lot of things with these kids right now. I will probably have more answers for you after spring."

None of these are wholesale changes. What Spavital is doing now, more than anything is getting a focus on the basics, and simply exploring personnel and capabilities. It's the same approach he took in his initial seasons at Texas A&M and Cal, even coming into offenses with elite level quarterbacks. That foundation, and the knowledge that both builds it and then builds upon it, is what makes this spring incredibly valuable for both the players and Spavital.

"Getting the installs corrected, making sure that our base offense is getting repped multiple times," Spavital said. "We are growing as an offensive unit and we keep getting better daily. The thing about what coach Tony Gibson does with his defense, they are going to be very multiple as well, so we have a lot of good conversations about our plays versus all of his schemes. Making sure that as a coaching staff we are on the same page and that our offensive unit is accomplishing what we are trying to accomplish. Very pleased with how they are doing. I think they are operating at a fast pace and I am big on tempo right now in terms of base scheme and base operation. In terms of tempo, I think we are doing pretty good."

Spavital has better tailored his offense to fit personnel over his last few seasons, starting with the loss of Johnny Manziel, when the then-A&M assistant had to develop starter Kyle Allen, and build a dependable line that wasn't bailed out as much by the freelancing style. At Cal, Spavital didn't have a line that could grind out the rushing attack, and so he utilized Davis Webb and an incredibly effective vertical passing attack to exploit defenses. Some of his best play designs were misdirections, with the flow going to one side only to sneak a wideout or back from the flat down a vacated sideline for a major gain or score. It's an aspect Spavital hopes he can employ with West Virginia as well - once he finds the correct skillset fits.

"I think we have a lot of good depth, all types of backs," the Tulsa, Okla. native said. "There are a couple that have the home run shot and a few guys who can be a great third down back. You throw a guy like Tevin Bush in the mix. He is young and trying to figure out the scheme, but he shows signs of being an explosive player as well. Right now I am just trying to get our base concepts, your counter and your power and your stretch and inside zone and just making sure we are hatted up right and that the back's path is mirrored to the offensive line. That' always been a big part of what I have done. You have to make sure the path that those backs are taking, when getting the exchange, the hand-off, is mirrored to what the line is doing. If not, you are going to have some bad schematic problems and it's not going to time up correctly.

"So we spend a lot of time through our mesh, our exchange, and making sure they are going through their assignments, make sure they are pressing the front side, maybe back side cuts, make sure they are hitting it from A gap out to B gap to C gap. It's a lot of reps to make sure we are on the same page. Then once you feel comfortable with that, just keep repping it over and over again."

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