Dana Holgerson is one of the preeminent offensive minds in college football right now. His Mountaineers currently rank in the top 15 nationally in scoring, passing and total offense. But beyond that Oklahoma State and Houston, Holgerson's two previous stops are 1-2 in scoring and passing, and 1-3 in total offense. All three teams run basically the same offenses. As I mentioned in my initial look at West Virginia Holgo the Barbarian has true Air Raid bonifieds. Not only did he spend years working for Mike Leach at Valdosta State and Texas Tech, but he actually played for Leach and Hal Mumme at Iowa Wesleyan as they were developing what would become the Air Raid.
The passing game for the Mountaineers is pretty much straight Air Raid concepts. Stick, all curls, mesh, levels are the base concepts. Each will get run 10 or 15 times per game from every formation they have available. But this post isn't about the passing game, that is covered exhaustively elsewhere on the internet. This is about the running game for WVU. Where Holgerson differs from his mentor is that he stresses the running game more than Leach ever did. And he does it in a couple of different ways. One is the adoption of the Pistol formation which allows a little bit more downhill running compared with traditional shot gun sets where the back has to go latterly before he can go forward.
The Pistol look beget the Diamond formation which WVU uses a ton. The key thing to remember about the Diamond formation is that it is a power formation with. It keeps 9 offensive players in the box, 7 of them as blockers. For WVU the blocking from the Diamond set is straight forward. It's either inside zone or outside zone. Most of the time it is IZ, The Diamond formation isn't a perfect formation for the run game, it has some limitations, namely that it can be difficult to stretch a defense horizontally running straight down hill. One thing the Diamond does do is make the play action passing game much more effective out of a formation where the tendency is very run heavy. For more on the Diamond check out this right here, and this here as well. Truth be told I am not overtly worried about the Mountaineers running game from the Diamond look. I am however worried about Tavon Austin and the Jet Sweep because, well, just look.
Simply put the lateral pressure that play can have when a guy like Austin is running it is immense. Rutgers has a good defense, a very good defense, but the jet sweep has a way a leveraging open gaps in defensive fronts. Austin isn't a prolific ball carrier, he has only rushed 7 times on the year. But that total is misleading, Holgo has brought back a favorite from the Houston playbook with his little pop passes.
Statistically that is recorded as a pass, after all the ball does go forward from Geno Smith to Austin, however incrementally. But it is just the old Jet Sweep without bothering to have a traditional hand off. Regardless of how it is recorded Tavon Austin is a major threat to the UC defense.
We all know that UC is stout up the middle. Very few teams have been able to run straight at this defense and have any sort of consistent success. Pitt rushed for more yards than anyone else, but that was bad tackling more than anything else, particularly on Tino Sunseri. I expect WVU to show looks similar to the ones above against UC Saturday. It will test the gap soundness of the front 7 for a start and it will stretch the defense horizontally. I wouldn't anticipate another 80 blitz on a sweep from Austin. But I will be keeping a weary eye on him all afternoon on Saturday, he is always a threat to go the distance and Holgerson is always looking for creative ways to get the ball in his hands as a runner and receiver.