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WVU football: Gibson puts his stamp on Mountaineer defense




THE ASSOCIATED PRESS Iowa State’s Aaron Wimberly (2) slips a tackle by West Virginia’s Karl Joseph (8) during their Nov. 30, 2013 game in Morgantown.

MORGANTOWN — Tony Gibson might be in his first season as a Division I defensive coordinator. He might be in just his second season back at West Virginia, where spring football is now done a little differently than it was when he was here before. But Gibson knows there are 15 spring practices at his disposal and two more weeks to make use of that time.

Yet Gibson said Saturday he’s nearly done after just nine dates with his redesigned defense.

“We’re getting really good at what we’re doing,” he said. “We’re two install days away from having everything in. We’ll bring them back in (Tuesday) and install the last couple things and then we’re going to use the five practices left to get it all cleaned up.”

The Mountaineers, who space out spring football longer than most other programs, have six practices and six meeting dates left. They break for the summer after the April 12 spring game. When the team reconvenes for preseason practice at the beginning of August, Gibson said the defense that finished last season ranked No. 99 in scoring defense, No. 101 in total defense and lost coordinator Keith Patterson to Arizona State will simply keep doing what it did in the spring.

“We’re not adding, we’re not going to have changes week to week and add different things and new game plans,” he said. “We’ll have what we have and we’re going to get good at it and try to have our kids execute it at a high level.”

All of that is intriguing for the Mountaineers, who need repairs to restore rankings above the disgraceful and destructive numbers from the past two years. They’re making those repairs by tinkering with ideas and alignments so that the defense is in line with what Holgorsen desired before his first season in 2011.

Gibson’s iteration of the defense will have a three-man defensive line and be diverse and aggressive behind it. Holgorsen allowed for comparisons to a 3-3-5 that used to stonewall offenses at Mountaineer Field, but also conceded that it could be a 3-4 and not unlike what Patterson and Joe DeForest before him attempted the previous two seasons.

It will generally mirror and borrow from the defenses in the Big 12 that trouble Holgorsen’s offense.

“Call it what you want to, it doesn’t really matter to me, but it’s going to be an odd defense that’s going to be able to get in the backfield,” he said.

Call it simple then, because it really is.

“You’ve got to remain simple and sound with it,” Holgorsen said. “We don’t want to trick anybody with what we’re doing. We don’t want to line up in a bunch of different things. We want to line up quickly and bring different looks, which is an odd, multiple defense.”

Patterson’s defense was both last season, but to hear Holgorsen and Gibson describe it, Patterson’s defense was far from simple. Holgorsen said he thought last year’s defense was “too multiple” and got in trouble when “we were doing too many different things.”

Those Mountaineers couldn’t align themselves quickly enough to not only play the snap, but to gain any advantages before the snap. Given the tempo most of the Big 12 offenses use, WVU was at a decided disadvantage playing from behind from play to play.

“The key for us on defense, the key for any defense, is to be able to get lined up, get your eyes on your keys, to see what you need to be seeing, and to be able to react to it,” Gibson said. “The one goal we had coming into the spring was to get kids lined up to play faster.”

Patterson liked to keep an offense from getting comfortable. He tried to mix up the looks he provided and change which defenders were the extra attackers assigned to pressure the backfield. He believed his defense would have the edge if the offense couldn’t get in a rhythm or anticipate what it would see.

Gibson, though, said Saturday he thought the Mountaineers did too much last season, which kept them from becoming especially good at many things. That was all further complicated as the season progressed and the defense was besieged by injuries and forced to use young and inexperienced players.

Gibson believes his approach removes a lot of the potential margin for error.

“Right now we’ve got a couple fronts in, a couple base coverages in and a few blitzes, and I don’t know how much more we’re going to add to the package,” he said. “We want our kids to master what we do. If we throw 15 different coverages and five or six different fronts and a bunch of different blitzes at them, we’re not going to be good at anything.”

Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at or 304-319-1142. His blog is at Follow him on Twitter at @mikecasazza.

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