"[It] allows you to step up in the coverage more, because you are more confident," said boundary cornerback Kent Richardson, who was named the starter at the slot on Wednesday, of some of the defensive moves. "Some of the chances you would not take before you will take now. I think it has made a big difference. People are making plays all over the place. Everybody is taking the chances they have now. It's giving me more freedom, a lot more."
It's been documented – to the point of ad nausea – that West Virginia ranked 109th in pass defense last season. What's not as well-publicized is that it ranked 13th in rushing defense (93.31 ypg) and 62nd in total defense (336.62 ypg). It allowed an average of 21.69 points per game, good for 49th in the nation. The idea, besides absolutely stuffing the run, which WVU's odd stack has done well, was to force teams on long drives. Make quarterbacks complete multiple passes and not commit a mistake on a dozen-plus plays to score. That worked more often than not, but with an NFL-caliber quarterback (Louisville's Brian Brohm) or a wideout that can't be stopped, but only somewhat slowed (Georgia Tech's Calvin Johnson), teams were able to use their weapons in more of a quick-strike fashion. With West Virginia's offense, that might only matter in a few games. But to win a national title, as WVU has a better chance to do this season than at any time under Rodriguez, those few games are season-changers.
And so the staff evaluated players and took a look at various changes and modifications that could be made. It's something that happens every offseason – though the switches, however downplayed, seem a bit more dramatic this year.
"I think it gives us more freedom," cornerback Vaughn Rivers said. "I like it back there, especially with (safeties Eric) Wicks and (Ryan) Mundy behind me. Our safeties are playmakers and athletes. Those two, being from the same city (Pittsburgh) and playing the same type of ball, it gives you that comfort level. Plus, it gives us more of a chance to make some plays on the quick (passing) game. It gives us a chance to get into the run game and do a lot more than we were able to do when we were in our base defense."
Teams hurt West Virginia, playing well off the corners for fear of giving up the deep ball, with quick passes. That could be taken away this season.
"The changes give us a lot more freedom to move around and hopefully distract the quarterback and not let him know what we are in," Rivers added.
Offenses also often overloaded one side of the field with three wideouts and would run one deeper off the line of scrimmage, leave one under and bring another across the face of the defense and linebacking corps. The deeper player was covered by a corner while the one underneath sucked in the bandit (or, at times, the spur or a linebacker). That left the other wideout, running full speed after a few strides, coming across the field. An obviously slower linebacker had to trail the player, and a quick pass over the middle could exploit the setup. Louisville ran the play multiple times with great success.
Besides faster linebackers, which West Virginia now has, secondary movement and the placing of athletes should assist in stopping that approach. The defense also allows for a better disguising of blitzes and angles.
"I think on every play you could see something different," Rivers said. "When we go on the chalkboard it is probably still going to be a 3-3-5, but when you see us out there on the field and on the run, there is no telling what it is going to look like. It could be something different every down."
But not by abandoning the original idea of the odd stack.
"Everything that you are trying to do you are trying to better your football team," Casteel said. "But there is not a huge adjustment. We just have to play a little better and coach a little better. We do those things, all other things take care of themselves."