MORGANTOWN — Tony Gibson and the West Virginia defense have more than just the challenge of preparing to face Alabama in a couple of months.
They also have to figure out just what it is that the ’Bama offense will look like.
Of course, that’s usually not an issue. Nick Saban leans toward a pro-style offense without a whole lot of frills. The Tide just lines up with some of the best personnel in the country — be it at running back, wide receiver, the offensive line or quarterback — and dares opponents to stop them.
What makes it a bit more of a challenge for West Virginia, however, is that now Alabama has a new offensive coordinator and will have a new quarterback. Chances are the Tide will still look essentially the same, but who really knows?
“We’ve looked at some tape, sure,’’ said Gibson, the first-year defensive coordinator. “But it’s all just guess work.’’
In preparing for Alabama, Gibson and the defensive coaches have watched Alabama tape, but have also taken a peek at some from Tennessee and Southern California. That’s because the new offensive coordinator is Lane Kiffin, whose last two jobs were as the head coach at those schools.
“I suppose you can get a feel for what he might do, but you never know,’’ Gibson said.
Really, though, the remainder of the summer and then most of fall camp won’t be about Alabama. Coaches are allowed to monitor summer workouts now and spend a couple of hours a week with players breaking down tape, but most of that work will focus on the Mountaineers, not their Aug. 30 opening-game opponent.
“What we’re more worried about is what we’re doing,’’ Gibson said. “Any staff I’ve ever been on, we’ve always thought that we’d better worry about us first and get this team going in the right direction and make sure we’re doing all the right things.’’
Having the Tide first up on the schedule naturally injects a sense of urgency to the summer work and Gibson has seen that.
“There’s no doubt they understand what Alabama’s all about,’’ Gibson said. “We’ve talked about it in depth through the spring and into the summer, talking about what Alabama is and what they have. Our kids are well aware of it. They see that every time College Football Live or SportsCenter comes on [ESPN], they’re talking about Alabama football.’’
Gibson said he likes where the Mountaineers seem to be right now, both mentally and physically. The coaches can’t actually run a full-fledged practice, but they have enough access to players and workouts that they can see the progress being made.
“They know what a great opportunity this is, to go to Atlanta and play Alabama in a game like that,’’ Gibson said. “We’ve probably talked more about that, about the opportunity they have, than about the particulars about the team they’re playing.’’
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One player who isn’t taking part in the organized workouts and film sessions with the coaches is Shaquille Riddick.
The defensive end, who will play at West Virginia as a graduate transfer this fall, is in Morgantown and he’s working out. But he hasn’t graduated yet and until he does he can’t officially join the team.
Riddick was on track to graduate from Gardner-Webb in the fall, but learned that he could finish early and transfer to an FBS school. He’s taking the courses he needs on line, but it will take most of the summer to complete them. He should be finished around the time August camp begins.
Until then, Riddick is allowed to use WVU’s weight room facilities and he is. But until he graduates and then can enroll at West Virginia, the coaches can’t work with him. The strength and conditioning staff, too, is pretty much hands off except for monitoring his workouts in their facility.
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1.