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Dave Hickman: Alabama’s easy to figure, harder to stop

MORGANTOWN — For most rookies in a new job, there’s usually a feeling-out period.

Think about it. First day at work, the boss doesn’t generally give you the toughest assignment possible. Oh, sure, there are exceptions. Who knows, your job might be one of them.

Just like Tony Gibson’s.

No, Saturday isn’t technically Gibson’s first day as West Virginia’s defensive coordinator. He’s been in the office for a while, found out where the pencil sharpener and the water cooler is, met everyone he’ll depend upon to do his job. Shoot, he’s even spent the better part of six months finding their strengths and weaknesses and attempting to either utilize or cover them up.

Bottom line, though, what Gibson was hired to do is help make a difference a dozen or so days of the year. And the first of those days is Saturday.

He’s West Virginia’s fourth defensive coordinator in four years. His predecessor, Keith Patterson, drew William & Mary as his first assignment. (Syracuse in the Pinstripe Bowl doesn’t count because it was a battlefield promotion of sorts.)

Before that, Joe DeForest got Marshall. OK, that was a bit different, but it wasn’t exactly daunting.

And before that? Well, Jeff Casteel had been around a while. He first had the title of coordinator in 2002, sharing it with Todd Graham. They tackled Tennessee-Chattanooga right off the bat.

And then there’s Gibson.

He gets Alabama.

And no, not Alabama-Birmingham.

“There’s probably easier opening opponents out there,’’ Gibson said way back in March, when he was named to the position.

True, but it could be worse. It could be Florida State or Baylor or Oregon.

But it’s not. It’s Alabama. And, truth be told, Gibson prefers it that way, at least in comparison to the aforementioned.

No, it doesn’t have anything to do with testing yourself against the best or any of that, although that’s not to be discounted. After all, if nothing else, motivation won’t be an issue.

But the reason Gibson prefers Alabama as opposed to any of a number of other elite teams out there — or even less-than-elite teams, for that matter — is fairly simple.

Alabama is fairly simple.

“I’d much rather prepare for a team where you know how they’re going to line up and what they’re going to do when they line up in certain things,’’ Gibson said.

As opposed to preparing for ghosts. That’s what coaches call it when a team does all sorts of stuff. We’re not even talking about gadget offenses here, but rather just extremely multiple ones. Take Baylor. The Bears have not only the talent, but also the scheme to make themselves look entirely different from play to play. You can’t prepare for everything they might do, so you prepare for what you think they’ll do.

With Alabama, you prepare for what you’re almost certain the Tide will do.

“They don’t try to hide a bunch of stuff,’’ Gibson said. “They don’t motion a whole lot, they don’t shift and do a lot of different things. They’re going to line up and they are what they are. And they know what they are. Their identity is to pound you and play-action pass.’’

Yes, there are questions about what it is Alabama’s offense will look like come Saturday, what with a new quarterback (or perhaps two of them) and a new offensive coordinator in Lane Kiffin. But Alabama has been Alabama for a long time under Nick Saban and it’s hard to argue with the basic results. The Tide isn’t going to wash out and come back in as the Ducks.

“Not really,’’ Gibson said when asked if he was terribly concerned with those unknowns. “When you average about 6-5, 330 across the front and you have three tailbacks we know what No. 1 is going to be. They’re going to turn around and run it, run it a little bit more and run it a little bit more and try to throw it over us every once in a while. I don’t think we’re going to get into a 10 personnel game where they’re slinging it all over the field and going no-huddle. If they do I’ll be shocked.’’

Alabama can do that because Alabama has the talent to do that. Guess why it’s called a pro-style offense. Because it’s what the pros do. Yes, that’s changing a bit these days, but the basics are still to line up and see if your guys are better than theirs.

Alabama’s guys usually are. That’s why easier-to-prepare-for doesn’t mean easier-to-stop. West Virginia is still going to be outmanned, just like roughly 100 or more other teams would be against the Tide.

“That just means it’s going to be a great opportunity for us to put our kids out there with the No. 2 team in the country,’’ Gibson said, finally getting around to that part of the deal. “What a great opportunity to be on the same field with Alabama.’’

Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or or follow him at

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