Evaluations tough to make in the spring
MORGANTOWN - Shannon Dawson is in the midst of a 12-day window in which he has a chance to sit back and evaluate just where it is the West Virginia offense he is charged with coordinating stands after 40 percent of spring drills.
But the truth is he doesn't really know, and he's not likely to know even after April 21 when the Mountaineers finish practice.
"It's hard in the spring, it really is,'' Dawson said. "I've never had a spring where I felt like we really dominated the defense or beat them. The bottom line is you're going against the same players every day and it gets to the point where you know each other so well it's kind of a butting-of-the-heads thing.
"We'll win one day, they'll win the next day and it's a give-and-take.''
Logic seems to dictate that West Virginia's offense should be light years ahead of the defense at this point. After all, this is an offense that scored 70 points the last time it was on the field, against Clemson in the Orange Bowl, and has virtually all of its important pieces back.
The defense, meanwhile, is not only installing a new scheme for the first time in a decade under a new set of coaches, but must also replace guys like Julian Miller, Bruce Irvin and Najee Goode, and is playing without injured safety Terence Garvin.
It doesn't always work that way, though.
"You have to take into account what the defense is installing that day and what we're installing that day. There's a lot to take into account,'' Dawson said. "It's not like we're sitting there game-planning them or they're sitting there game-planning us. We're both trying to install things and sometimes it matches up where we've got plays that are great versus what they do and we're going to look good. And sometimes the opposite happens and it's going to look like crap. That's just the way it is.''
Still, there is a benefit even on those days when the offense looks horrid. Remember, while this is a group that put up staggering numbers in the bowl game, it also generated all of 13 points the game before at South Florida (WVU scored 30, but got 14 on an interception return and a kickoff return and a field goal after losing yardage following a blocked punt).
So if Dawson has a chance to nudge the offense a bit after one of those bad days, all the better.
"You take those opportunities to take the kids back down, get their heads back down and their egos back down,'' Dawson said. "Even though I might know there's outside factors involved in it, the bottom line is that in our offense we expect to execute versus anything.''
That includes against a defense that might know everything from signals to specific plays.
"I've got kids telling me, 'Well, they know our signals,' or 'They know what we're running.' I don't care. They might know them in the game, too,'' Dawson said. "The bottom line is if we can execute versus a defense that somehow knows what we're doing, then we can execute against a defense that's only practiced against [our schemes] for three days.''
As far as actually knowing if the offense has made significant strides, well, that's not likely to come about until the season begins Sept. 1 and another set of uniforms is across the line of scrimmage. Until then, it's just a matter of trying to win the little battles.
"I think you can tell little things, most of it not on the field but in meetings,'' Dawson said. "Take our blocking. Our angles were bad the first couple of days and we got that fixed. I can tell we improved on that because we're better at it. But as far as execution of the offense, there's times where we look really good and there's times we look really bad.
"Spring is spring. You just rep, rep and rep and try to find small competitions. We've got competition, especially with those redshirt freshmen who are going to have to play as backups. This is huge for them.''
NCAA bylaws limit offseason participation to eight hours a week and athletes must have two calendar days off each week. Earlier this year, the football program was holding its final activities early Friday morning and then dismissing the athletes until 4 p.m. on Sunday. While that was roughly 57 hours off, it was not two full calendar days, which is a violation.
It happened twice in February and the school reported the matter to the NCAA and imposed its own penalties, increasing days off from two to four for two weeks in March.
The secondary violation is one of thousands that schools report to the NCAA each year.
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1.