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Snaps key if WVU to crackle in Big 12

PERHAPS THE No. 1 question asked of those within and around West Virginia's football program is this: How will the Mountaineers fare in the Big 12?

It's a terrific question. From 2003 to now, WVU was unquestionably the premier program in the Big East. But this is a new day. The Mountaineers have much to prove.

Perhaps no one, though, has a better feel for the answer than the Mountaineers' own coach, Dana Holgorsen. He used to coach at two Big 12 schools: Oklahoma State in 2010 and Texas Tech from 2000 through 2007.

He made two comments this spring that struck a chord in relation to the question. First, there was this:

"The Big 12 has tremendous offenses," he said, "but also very skilled defenses. We just need to worry about being a more consistent offense. I believe we have the mindset to do what it takes to win."

The last sentence indicates he likes the team, or at least its approach to the game.

Holgorsen said something else, however, that was even more interesting. He was speaking of the incoming recruits. He indicated all but the offensive line recruits could play right away. Then he added this:

"We need a lot more depth in the Big 12 because of the increased snaps," he said. "It will be a longer season."

The numbers from last season show him correct - to a point.

Of the 1,527 NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision games last season, the average length was 3 hours and 14 minutes. In the Big East, that was 3:20. In the Big 12, it was 3:23.

But let's get to the important stat: plays within those games.

The average game had 139.2 plays. The average Big East game had 135.7. Meanwhile, the average Big 12 game had 143.3.

That would indicate Holgorsen does need more depth. It would indicate his team needs to be in better shape.

But there's a wrinkle to the argument. One that proves to be good news both for WVU fans and the Mountaineer players.

It is that Holgorsen did a nice job last year of preparing WVU for its new conference home.

See, while the Big East average was 135.7 snaps and the Big 12 average was 143.3, the Mountaineers averaged 144.6. They averaged 73.8 on offense and 70.8 on defense.

But remember from where Holgorsen hails. Texas Tech had the highest average of offensive plays last season in the country at 82.6. The Big 12, in fact, had the only three teams to average at least 80 offensive plays. The others: Oklahoma (80.9) and departing Texas A&M (80.3).

No. 4 in the Big 12 was Holgorsen's last haunt, Oklahoma State, which averaged 75.9 offensive plays, while allowing a league-worst average of 83.8 on defense.

So one can understand why the Mountaineer coach is focused on depth. One can understand why he'd seek additional fitness from his defenders.

Of course, not all of WVU's freshmen will play. Quarterback Ford Childress, even before his legal troubles, was ticketed for a redshirt. Also, there is an offensive lineman - junior college transfer Mark Glowinski - who could play.

But if Holgorsen really intends to play all other newcomers except the offensive linemen, keep tabs on how they fare when fall drills roll around. If you take highly regarded offensive lineman Tyler Orlosky, as well as Childress, out of the mix, those to watch include top-rated recruit Deontay McManus (receiver), Sam Lebbie (linebacker), Devonte Mathis (receiver), Will Johnson (tight end/receiver), Travares Copeland (receiver), Christian Brown (defensive line) and Torry Clayton (running back). Close followers already know about the impact of Jordan Thompson and Karl Joseph.

How the newcomers help with depth - and how fit the veterans return - could prove key to the looming question.

Reach Mitch Vingle at 304-348-4827, mitchvingle@wvgazette.com or follow him at twitter.com/MitchVingle.

 


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