Defensive Depth Key in WVU Transition to Big 12 - WVU Football, WVU Basketball, News - Mountaineer Sports

Defensive Depth Key in WVU Transition to Big 12

Doug Rigg returns with experience for WVU's defense Doug Rigg returns with experience for WVU's defense

West Virginia's defense lost five starters from last season, but it is hoping for far more than that many to step into significant action for 2012.

Depth on that side of the ball will be even more important as the team transitions to the Big 12 where offenses averaged seven more points per game than the Big East did a year ago.

The bigger concern for WVU co-defensive coordinator Joe DeForest is the number of plays those offenses generally run per game.

"If you look at the Big 12 offenses and how many snaps they play per game – there were times last year we played 100 snaps in a game," says DeForest, referring to Oklahoma State. "You can't ask a kid to play 100 snaps, you can't ask a kid to play 80 snaps, so you have to have depth there where a kid can go in and spell a guy for 10 plays and another 10 plays in the second half."

WVU's defense faced a season-high 86 offensive plays in a bitter cold win over Rutgers in 2011. Oklahoma State's defense had to top that mark four times, including 101 plays in a loss to Iowa State and 105 in a win over Baylor.

The Cowboys faced, on average, 13 more plays per game than the Mountaineers.

"They play faster," WVU associate head coach Steve Dunlap says of the Big 12. "You'll get winded, they'll run you down and you get tired, so anytime you can get fresh bodies in there, you'll be better for it. There's not a defensive coach alive who goes through spring ball and doesn't want to solidify their two-deep."

But a two-deep may not be all these coaches are searching for. Defensive lineman J.B. Lageman says Coach Erik Slaughter has been telling him and his teammates to be prepared for a big rotation of players along the line. At Stephen F. Austin, his previous stop before WVU, Slaughter says he put 12 linemen on the field for four spots.

For a line that is looking to replace two of its most productive players from a season ago and its four best in the past two years, this sort of rotation could mask any shortcomings the individuals may have.

Still, you don't want to have a massive number of substitutions just for the sake of it.

On a third down play or in goal line situations, there will be nickel and dime sub-packages that allow players to move about to different positions depending on the look and what's expected, and that will not be too different from what previous defenses in Morgantown employed.

"It's our job to get off the field, but there's going to be more opportunities because of how good our offense is," says DeForest.

Certainly, should the offense that dismantled Clemson with quick strikes find its way into the 2012 schedule, there will be more of a burden placed on the defense just in terms of appearances on the field. A high-powered offense is the closest a defense gets to a quick-change scenario without the negativity of a turnover.

What the Mountaineers can use to their advantage is the fact that each and everyday, their defense will line up against their offense. The same offense that scored 70 points in its bowl game and returns some of the nation's best aerial weapons.

"We're seeing a very talented quarterback and receivers in practice, so the good news for us is it's certainly not going to get better [than that]," co-defensive coordinator Keith Patterson says. "We're getting to practice some of the best the Big 12 has to offer, which is definitely a plus and a benefit for us to be able to practice at that speed and with that talent at those positions."

Maybe it won't come by the end of spring ball, but the players and coaches are hopeful that by the time the fall rolls around, they can counter that talent defensively with a rotation that keeps them competing against the best the Big 12 has to offer when it isn't wearing gold and blue.  

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