Big 12 play demands more depth

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DALLAS -- One of the most significant changes West Virginia has undergone since Dana Holgorsen took over as coach has been building depth by using freshmen right away.

Holgorsen groomed the philosophy while coming up through the coaching ranks in the Big 12, and it's critical, he said, to help handle the incredible depth of the league.

It's also a departure from the way things used to be done in Morgantown.

"You have to play more people, which I understand," said Holgorsen Tuesday afternoon as he took part in the conference's media day. "When I was at Texas Tech, we played a lot of freshmen. Going to Houston was a different league but same kind of league to where we played a whole bunch of freshmen. One year at Oklahoma State. I think we played 16 or 17 freshmen. Last year, offensively, we played a handful of freshmen."

The need, of course, stems from the prolific offenses in the Big 12 that routinely generate some 80 plays a game. It is unrealistic to expect a starter to play the bulk of those snaps, which makes the true depth of the depth chart more important.

Holgorsen implied he would have adopted the philosophy regardless if the program had left the Big East or not.

"It's the only way I've known it. The culture and what has happened at West Virginia in the past was a little bit more of an old-school mentality," he said. "Sometimes, freshmen weren't even allowed to be in the meetings.

"Everything that we're doing from a program standpoint is more along the lines of what's happened here in the Big 12 when we were at Tech, when I was at Houston, at Oklahoma State."

It also is why he brought in several coaches with Big 12 experience, like defensive coordinator Joe DeForest, a former Oklahoma State special-teams coordinator and associate head coach.

"This is a coaching staff in place right now [where] we understand that freshmen are going to play and we've been preparing our schemes to the point where freshmen can play," said Holgorsen. "That's different to the way West Virginia has been in the past."

Defensive end Will Clarke said conditioning has been a major focus this offseason.

"We have a hill called Law School Hill. This hill is steep as can be. We run the hill a lot in the heat to try and prepare and get us ready," said Clarke. "There's going to be a lot of rotation. We're trying to build depth, use a lot of guys compared to the Big East, when the starters were the guys getting the majority of snaps."

Holgorsen has had a handful of freshmen enrolled since January, but the bulk of his new class will arrive Aug. 4 for preseason camp.

Then, he will get his first look at who will be ready.

"One of the things I'm excited about is getting to be able to practice where we evaluate all the freshmen we have," said Holgorsen. "We're developing schemes defensively and special teams-wise that allow people to play early."


Jenn Menendez: or 412-263-1959.


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