For the uninitiated this is "Gold Nuggets," a little feature where I toss out things I've found interesting and throw in a little commentary. Sometimes more than a little. There's a lot to chew on as WVU gets set to take all that momentum they gained after beating an FCS team by 7 and go on the road to face the 12th ranked team in America.
Let's sift for some nuggets:
The Pistol is Cocked
I came across some interesting tidbits on the Sooners today. Seems that coach Bob Stoops, on the heels of yet another big bowl game thrashing, has abandoned the air-happy spread attack that brought his team a national title and two Heismans and will instead seek to implement the "Pistol" formation.
The dirty little secret behind OU's controversial closing of practices is this: When folks were locked out in the spring and fall, all the Sooners did was change their offense. And defense. And OU brought in the creator of the "Pistol" formation, Chris Ault, last spring for around 10 days to teach the coaches a completely different style of offense.
I've heard of the Pistol, a system that coach Chris Ault developed out in Nevada where he had a fair amount of success with some guy named Kaepernick, and probably could stammer out some description to someone who wasn't wholly familiar with what I was talking about, but instead decided to go to Chris Brown's Smartfootball.com, which has become a compendium of Xs and Os for folks like you and me who need someone smarter than us to explain complicated systems with simple paragraphs and videos.
Here's his quick primer:
Pistol offense or pistol formation? Yet, unlike other noms d'offense, it's not entirely clear what the "pistol" is -- is it an entire offensive system, or just a formation? The term, being a play on the ubiquitous term "shotgun," refers in one sense simply to the set Nevada uses. Most shotgun offenses put their quarterback at five yards deep (some six, and Missouri puts theirs as deep as seven or eight) and the running back at five to six yards, aligned next to the quarterback. Nevada, by contrast, puts their quarterback only four yards back while the running back aligns directly behind him, between seven to ten yards deep depending on the play. But "offenses" are not the same as formations; a good offense involves a sensible grouping of plays and formations into a coherent whole. And while the pistol may have been conceived as simply a unique formation, the system Ault and Co. have developed has earned the name "pistol offense" by bringing a unique perspective to both the pistol and the spread.
(you should read that entire article, though. Lot of names in there you'll recognize when Brown discusses the concepts that combine to form the Pistol "offense.")
WVU has toyed with the formation from time to time - most notably in the 3 back "diamond" formation - but never fully committing to it as an "offense." Same with Oklahoma State (where Holgorsen seems to have originated the concept). As far as I know, this will make OU pretty unique in the conference as a running team and I'm sure a lot of eyes will be on the Mountaineer D to see how they respond.
The returns from OU's 34-0 win over Louisiana-Monroe were convincing, as the Sooners gained 305 yards on the ground (to 124 passing) and picked up 18 of their 25 first downs by running. My favorite stat from the game:
Knight became the first Oklahoma quarterback to rush for 100 or more yards in a game since Jason White had 117 yards rushing against Kansas on Oct. 13, 2001.
I'm just saying, if you'd put that in front of me as multiple choice, I'd have thought White - he of ACL tears on BOTH knees - would have been the gag answer.
Back to the game. This may not be all terrible for the Mountaineers. The team's secondary, while seeming to have improved from last year, is still untested and the strength of the D would seem to be a line with fast talented guys, linebackers with some experience and a safety in Karl Joseph who makes good reads and is an exceptional tackler.
Speaking of Joseph, do you want to gush about how great he is? I want to gush about how great he is and Jed Drenning certainly wants to gush about how great he is:
Karl Joseph is a tackling machine. People get caught up in the big hits and there was some fear (stoked in part by comments from Joseph himself) that he was just a one-dimensional punishment-meting machine and he’d be unable to adjust to life with the new targeting rules. Couldn’t be further from the truth. Forget that. The kid’s just a great tackler. He gets to someone and they aren’t squirming forward for another 2 yards, they turn to stone. He prevents people from moving forward.
Let me put it a different way. If I told you you'd either face a team that's been making a living carving up secondaries for the last decade plus or a team that was in its second week of implementing a new run-heavy offense that depended on the decision making of a redshirt freshman QB, which way would you go?
Me, too. Very curious to see how WVU handles this on Saturday. To paraphrase the great Tupac Shakur: "All Eyez On D."
If you're not familiar with Matt Zemek and the guys over at CollegeFootballNews.com you should be. They dig up some interesting stuff and put together stats you don't often (or ever) see. My favorite of these is their feature "enemy territory" where they track how teams fare when they start a drive on the opponent's side of the 50.
During the weeks and months of the 2012 season, the results of individual drives were listed in updated versions of Enemy Territory. In this overview, the focus shifts to total drives and total points. You can use your own metric for a successful drive, relative to the point of origination, but in the process of assessing plus-territory drive starts, let's use the following guidelines as something of a conversation starter:
On drives that start between the 50 and an opponent's 36, a team should score at least a field goal 75 percent of the time and a touchdown 25 percent of the time.
On drives that start between an opponent's 35 and an opponent's 21, a team should score at least a field goal 90 percent of the time and a touchdown 50 percent of the time.
On drives that start in an opponent's red zone, a team should score at least a field goal 100 percent of the time and a touchdown two-thirds (67 percent) of the time.
The final point totals will help you to get a sense of how much a team maximized (or didn't maximize) its plus-territory drive starts over a full college football season. Point totals assume seven points for a touchdown, whether or not the PAT is (was) in fact made over the course of a team's 12-game season.
In a Big 12 conference where points are paramount and turnovers (or any way you can start a drive on the opponent's side of the field) are the difference between a good season and a historic season, (Oklahoma State fans nod their heads) tracking what teams are able to do with the ball when they get it on the other side of the field becomes vitally important.
You get some insight into WVU's shortcoming in this area in 2012. Ranking the Big 12 teams based on CFN's data looks like this:
1: Kansas St. 172
2: Oklahoma St. 125
3: TCU 114
4(t): Texas 83
4(t): Texas Tech 83
6: Baylor 76
7: Oklahoma 61
8: Iowa St. 54
9: West Virgina 44
10: Kansas 38
Notice a pattern there? Good teams create points this way. Possessions are at a premium in the Big 12 and what you do with them is even more important. Teams that win often do so because they create possessions in scoring territory and then score. Scoring is good, especially when you do it more than the other guy. For a WVU team that will be looking to get points by hook or crook, this could matter. A lot.
Keep an eye on it.
What A "Win" Looks Like
Obviously WVU is facing a tough challenge this week. Like any unabashedly biased Mountaineer fan, I'm making my own mental case for them winning. In fact I've made pieces of it above for you to adopt or discard. In all likelihood though, a win is going to be tough to come by, so here's my question: What does a "win" look like to you?
Let me explain. I had an old boss who, when confronted with an unrealistic schedule would make the comment "sure, we can still get it done, we just have to change what done looks like." He meant that if your goal is 100% absolute completion of a task (a win in this case) that's a tall and probably impossible order, but shift those goal posts to something realistic and you can give yourself a much better chance of "success."
So what, aside from a win, would success look like to you guys on Saturday?
Here's my answer:
I want to see smart decisions at the front of the defense. I don't want to see guys fooled by misdirection, missing tackles and whiffing at Knight because they're looking at his head and his hips. I want them to keep things in front and not get gashed for 40 yard runs. I want smart, disciplined football. If you play them smart and they don't turn it over or make mistakes and drive you up and down the field and your young offense can't keep up you tip your hat and say nice job. A lot of damn good teams have lost games 31-17.
As far as offense my expectations are pretty low. I expect a heavy does from the ground game, if nothing else to give either Millard or Trickett (and yes, I expect to see Clint) room to maneuver. I don't think we'll see a 350 yard passing day and I don't think we'll see a ton of points. But I want to see minimal mistakes and no turnovers. Don't get rattled in the environment and make it easy for OU.
What do you want to see? What will make you sleep easy on Saturday night? Let us know in the comments and we'll see how things come up in 2 days.
Having given that Debbie Downer does of realism, I'll leave you with this (go to the 9:00 mark):