Tweaking time for Orange Bowl coaches
MORGANTOWN - West Virginia and Clemson have plenty of time on their hands between now and the Jan. 4 Orange Bowl. Dating back to the day they each received the invitations, it will be exactly a month that each has to prepare.
That means extra time to rest, to heal, to practice and to tweak.
It's that last variable - the tweaking - that usually most concerns coaches. They not only sit around and wonder what sort of changes their opponent might be making, they have more than enough time on their hands to make a few of their own.
West Virginia's Dana Holgorsen and Clemson's Dabo Swinney both insist that they have very little interest in making radical changes. Then again, if they were contemplating any, they certainly wouldn't broadcast the fact.
"You've got 12 games worth of film, so you can figure out kind of what you're up against,'' Holgorsen said. "Sometimes coaches make the mistake of having too much time on their hands and coming up with stuff they think will work. But both these coaching staffs are pretty professional and both are pretty good at what they do, so I think we're going to know what to expect from each other.
"And then it's about getting out there and playing smart football and stopping people and making sure you don't turn the ball over.''
No one is really expecting either Holgorsen or Swinney to make big changes in the way they operate between now and Jan. 4. After all, West Virginia won nine of 12 games and Clemson 10 of 13, so why deviate from the plan?
Still, any time a bowl game rolls around and coaches have all that extra time, doubts persist and questions linger. There is always the chance that someone has something up his sleeve.
One of the most famous bowl game switches, in fact, involved West Virginia. In 1969, WVU coach Jim Carlen allowed his offensive coordinator, Bobby Bowden, to radically change the Mountaineer offense. With more than a month between the Nov. 22 season finale and the Dec. 30 Peach Bowl, Bowden went to Texas and picked the brain of Longhorns coach Darrell Royal about the wishbone.
Bowden came back to Morgantown, installed that wishbone and WVU stunned South Carolina with it. Eddie Williams, who had less than 400 yards rushing during the regular season while playing in the shadow of Bob Gresham and Jim Braxton, ran 35 times for 208 yards. West Virginia ran for 356 yards, passed only twice in a driving rain and won the game 14-3.
Neither of these teams is likely to install the wishbone, of course, and both coaches seem quite satisfied with the way they do things. Swinney insists that Clemson won't be doing anything radical as far as changes to offensive or defensive schemes
"I think after 13 games you are who you are,'' Swinney said. "You've got a little more time so you probably do a little more self-evaluation and each team will look at their tendencies and try to break some of those things. But at the end of the day you are who you are and it's about execution and making the fewest mistakes. That's usually the team that has a chance to win it.''
That's not to say, however, that there won't be some obvious departures from the norm. Take Holgorsen's offense, for instance.
Each week during the season, the Mountaineers work on specific plays they think will work against that week's opponent. With only a few days to prepare, however, it's not easy to do something new. Holgorsen will have his offense practice a play, but at some point if it isn't working right he will scrap it.
With a month to prepare, however, he's not likely to as quickly abandon something new.
"We'll re-evaluate where we're at and we'll look for ways to attack [Clemson's defense],'' Holgorsen said. "We'll probably have more time on our hands to be able to rep things to where we feel good about it, as opposed to repping things and not feeling good about it and getting rid of it. So there'll probably be more offense in, I would think.''
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org.