It appears counterproductive, this desire to gain ground before getting an idea of where the ball is going. But what it’s doing is ridding the 3-4 set of its wasted movement, or what basketball coaches commonly call “false motion”, such as when when a team appears to be going through its set, but is really killing the clock with no legit attempt at a bucket.
Under former coordinator Joe DeForest, WVU had line calls that required certain steps prior to pushing into the backfield, in an attempt to slide the offensive line in a certain direction. There were slants, stunts, players looping to different areas. It should be noted DeForest’s set-up wasn’t without merit. The motion often opened up rushing lanes, but it was too often too late. The Mountaineers didn’t finish pressure as effectively as the staff would have liked. So Patterson has scrapped some of the misdirection in favor of a more straight ahead approach.
“If you’re attacking straight up, you’re not thinking as much,” end Kyle Rose said. “It’s a flow, it’s the repetitions. It takes over. I think you work harder and everything comes together. There’s less hesitation or misdirection initially. That’s what we are doing with this defense. Last year, we had a couple defenses where it was read, then attack. Now it’s attack and react. It’s head up, go get the quarterback. It’s not stepping to the side, then reading blocks. Everything’s faster. It’s let’s go, go, go. It definitely helps.”
West Virginia will now look to push vertically, quickly getting into the backfield to disrupt running and pass lanes and collapse the pocket. It’s similar in idea to what former coordinator Jeff Casteel did out of the 3-3-5 odd stack in attempting to create a new line of scrimmage in the offensive backfield with the line, while still maintaining some discipline for gap control.
“I think it’ll be a great transition from what it was because we are not stepping to the side as much as we were last year,” said Rose, a 6-4, 283-pound rising sophomore. “We are attacking. The best way to create angles is by speed, and attacking the inside shoulder creates more space to be able to get to the quarterback, rather than stepping out and taking longer. More forward, change-the-line-of-scrimmage progress is better.”
West Virginia expects to have the weapons in fellow end Will Clarke and tackle Shaq Rowell to do just that. But behind that the Mountaineers are largely unproven and will need contributions from players like Christian Brown, Eric Kinsey and Corey Harris as well as junior college transfer Dontrill Hyman. Darrien Howard, a 6-2, 240-pound Scout.com four-star player out of Dayton who signed as a sizeable middle linebacker, packs on weight easily and could also get a look along the line. The new set-up might aid the more inexperienced players, since the play design arguably calls for less thinking and more attack, then see-ball, get-ball.
But what, then, of avoiding the overpursuit, the running fast to the wrong location? That doesn’t come as much into play with the line as it does with the ‘backers and secondary, but it’s still something about which to be cognizant – especially taking into consideration down and distance situations.
“You’re always going to play your run blocks the same,” Rose said. “If you’re stepping or coming off the ball attacking, you play run how you play run. But if you come off the ball with the mentality, ‘Let’s go rush the passer and backfield every play and let’s make (vertical) progress and change the line of scrimmage, that’s a plus. Mainly, when you change the line of scrimmage, the offense doesn’t have a lot of set things they can do.”
Patterson has also preached making effort plays on a daily basis. It’s one thing, he has noted, to string a few quality series together. It’s another to become a consistent, reliable player week-in and -out player in a conference with as many varied, adaptable and high-octane offenses as the Big 12. Reliability and effort have been major keywords through spring drills.
“Every day is another day,” Rose said. “You really have to work towards being a more fluid pass rusher. I want to be better at stopping the run, shedding blocks and making plays. It’s everything. You don’t want to be a one-dimensional football play. You want an all-around player. Effort equals productivity. The more plays you make, the more effort you give, the more you play. I mean, it’s a mental game. It’s definitely a physical game. Every day you gotta come out with a mentality to attack this day and get better. That’s sometimes hard. It’s not for everybody. To come out every day and have that push to get better, it’s hard. But I think our coaches really do a good job at motivating us and I think we all motivate ourselves. It’s becoming a more positive practice atmosphere. It’s better. Competition every day. It’s between the positions, between the offense and defense.
“We haven’t done anything right now. We were the (seventh-best in-conference total) defense in the Big 12 last year. We want to be the best. That’s our goal. Nothing else. We want to be the best defense in the Big 12. Right now, I think we are doing all the things, the steps, we need to be doing. There’s nothing but high expectations and work. Right now, it’s get better every day and let’s work to the No. 1 spot in the Big 12.”