Dawson Explains Evolution of WVU Offense - WVU Football, WVU Basketball, News - Mountaineer Sports

Dawson Explains Evolution of WVU Offense


Dana Holgorsen came to Morgantown with a reputation as a sort of mad scientist with the way he operated an offense, the tempo he demanded and the all-out aerial assault that helped name the system "air raid."

But his offensive coordinator at West Virginia University believes the head coach role has mellowed Holgorsen and the way he may have once called a game.

"Dana's a lot more conservative than I am," Shannon Dawson said of his mentor.

"He was probably a lot like me before he was a head coach, but I would consider him a little more conservative than I am," Dawson continued. "He's had a good influence on me. Before we worked together, there was a time where we were probably the same as far as attacking, throwing the football."

There was a time when Dawson didn't know much else. A quarterback and receiver at Wingate in the late 90s, Dawson played in Holgorsen's system before becoming a coach and he told himself back then that he would always run a similar offense.

When he took over as offensive coordinator at Stephen F. Austin, Dawson carried over the passing attack he learned from Holgorsen to an extent that broke records – literally.

"I threw the ball 89 times one game," Dawson said, pointing out that the attempts, of which quarterback Jeremy Moses completed 57, remain a record in Division-I college football. "What I didn't do is I didn't make defenses play honest, I didn't make them play fair. They knew when they went into a game with me, I was going to throw it and that was it. I'd hand it [off] every now and again, but I wasn't going to consistently make you stop the run."

In that game, back in 2008, Dawson's team ran 116 plays in a double overtime contest that it eventually lost, 34-31. So even then, the Lumberjacks ran the ball 31 times. But it wasn't a priority then and despite the reputation Holgorsen's offense has now, it has evolved into one that plays to its strengths.

This year for WVU, a renewed focus on the run may be the way to go with so many capable bodies in the Mountaineers' backfield.

"I think when Dana went from Houston to Oklahoma State, he put an emphasis on the run game because of the personnel that they had," Dawson said. "They had a couple of really good running backs and a couple of really good outside receivers, so he did the smart thing. He knew if he could create a really good run game, then he could create one-on-one match-ups on the outside and they had [OSU receiver Justin] Blackmon and those guys, so obviously it was pretty good."

If the slot receivers are the strength of the team, Dawson explained, the offense would send out 10 personnel with one back and no tight ends more often. If the running backs and the outside receivers are a highlight, there would be more 20 personnel in use.

Whatever attacks the defense in the best way with the weapons available is what Holgorsen and Dawson intend to use.

"We're going to make you stop the run," said Dawson. "That doesn't necessarily mean that we can't throw for a ton of yards, because ironically enough, you end up throwing for more. It's an evolution of the offense that occurred. I'll give him the credit for that because obviously it wasn't me."

Because Holgorsen is the conservative one who settled down since he became a head coach. Dawson is still the wild child, though he admits that his summer marriage may have settled him some, as well.

It isn't just the formation or the personnel that change in games, but also the tempo. Fast is good, sure, but even that aspect of the offense is something WVU's coordinator hopes to use to the team's benefit.

"There were times in both of our careers where we played fast all the time and I think when you play fast all the time, that's pretty predictable. Defenses know what they're going to get going into the game," said Dawson. "I think the beauty of what we do here is you don't know when we're going to fastball, when we're not going to fastball. We mix up tempos three or four different ways, which is my opinion, it makes it a lot less predictable on the other side of the ball."

With so many new faces on the field this year, there is very little that can be classified as predictable about West Virginia's offense. Dawson hopes to keep it that way. 

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