Big 12: Shannon Dawson

Viewer's guide: AutoZone Liberty Bowl

December, 28, 2014
As we get closer to New Year’s Day the bowl games become more compelling, and that’s certainly the case with Monday’s AutoZone Liberty Bowl between Texas A&M and West Virginia. It’s a matchup of two head coaches familiar with each other and two similar offenses, and it gives us a dose of Big 12 vs. SEC, which always is good for debate. Let’s break it down:

What’s at stake: In the 119-season history of Texas A&M football, the Aggies have never won four consecutive bowl games. They have the opportunity to do so here, seeking a fourth straight bowl win dating back to 2011. West Virginia is appearing in its third bowl game in four seasons under Dana Holgorsen and seeks its second bowl win in that span.

Players to watch: West Virginia receiver Kevin White is worth the price of admission. The senior is one of college football’s best receivers, ranking sixth in the nation in receptions (102) and seventh in receiving yards (1,318), with nine touchdowns. He shows a knack for making big-time, highlight-worthy plays. For Texas A&M, true freshman defensive end Myles Garrett has lived up to the hype that preceded his arrival in Aggies land. He finished the regular season tied for second in the SEC in sacks (11), which broke Jadeveon Clowney’s SEC freshman sack record, Garrett had 12.5 tackles for loss, and he has been a headache for opposing offensive tackles and quarterbacks.

Familiar faces: These head coaches know each other well. Kevin Sumlin’s first offensive coordinator hire as a head coach in Houston was Holgorsen in 2008. The two won 18 games together in two seasons before Holgorsen left for the same position at Oklahoma State. He took then-graduate assistant Jake Spavital with him from Houston to Stillwater and eventually to West Virginia before Sumlin tabbed Spavital to replace Kliff Kingsbury’s spot on the Texas A&M staff when Kingsbury left his offensive coordinator post for the head-coaching job at Texas Tech.

Similar attacks: Both teams operate in a one-back spread attack rooted in Air Raid principles. Each team scores a lot (West Virginia averages 33.2 points, Texas A&M 34.4) and throws quite a bit, too; the Mountaineers average 314.6 passing yards per game, while the Aggies average 306.4.

Trickett out: West Virginia starting quarterback Clint Trickett will miss the game, announcing last week that he is hanging up his cleats because of concussions he's suffered. Sophomore Skyler Howard will start at quarterback for the Mountaineers. In three games, including a start versus Iowa State, Howard has thrown for 483 yards and five touchdowns.

Record breaker: Texas A&M sophomore receiver Josh Reynolds has emerged as one of quarterback Kyle Allen’s favorite receivers, and even when Kenny Hill was starting, Reynolds was making things happen. The unheralded junior college recruit tied the single-season school record (held by Mike Evans and Jeff Fuller) with 12 receiving touchdowns. One more would put Reynolds at the top of the list, lofty status for someone who received little buzz when he enrolled at Texas A&M in January.

Coaching attrition: Texas A&M will be without three coaches that it ended the regular season with: defensive coordinator Mark Snyder, offensive line coach B.J. Anderson and receivers coach David Beaty. Snyder was fired the day after the Aggies’ season-ending loss to LSU; linebackers coach Mark Hagen will serve as the interim defensive coordinator for the Liberty Bowl. Beaty accepted the head-coaching position at Kansas, and earlier this month Sumlin announced that Anderson won’t return next season or coach in the bowl game. The Aggies will operate with two full-time offensive assistants (Jake Spavital and Clarence McKinney), while graduate assistant Chris Smith assists with the offensive line duties for the game. West Virginia will say goodbye to offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Shannon Dawson after the Liberty Bowl, as he will become Kentucky’s offensive coordinator, but Dawson will be with the Mountaineers’ staff working Monday’s game.
Even with All-Big 12 performer Charles Sims moving on to the NFL, West Virginia still has an abundance of riches at running back.

Dreamius Smith was the No. 1 juco back in the country last year, and finished second on the team in rushing.

And despite Sims and Smith manning the backfield, Wendell Smallwood still carved out time as a true freshman due to his versatile playmaking.

The Mountaineers have also added high-profile transfer Rushel Shell, who was once the No. 3 running back recruit in the country.

On top of all that, West Virginia also welcomed back the leading rusher from 2012 in Andrew Buie, who spent last fall away from the team.

[+] EnlargeDustin Garrison
Charles LeClaire/USA TODAY SportsDustin Garrison had a big day in the Mountaineers' open scrimmage.
But there’s another contender for carries in this logjam of a backfield that shouldn’t be discounted. And that’s Dustin Garrison, who stole the show Saturday during the Mountaineers’ open scrimmage in Charleston, W.Va.

Before an estimated crowd of 6,000, Garrison turned heads, scoring two of the offense’s four touchdowns. Garrison also rushed for 39 yards on nine carries and caught two passes for 16 yards.

It wasn’t the numbers, however, that impressed. It was the way Garrison ran.

“I thought Garrison had a really good scrimmage,” offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson told reporters afterward. “He definitely showed up. He was a guy that stood out. I thought he was extremely positive.”

Saturday wasn’t the first time Garrison has stood out.

As a freshman in 2011, he led the Mountaineers with 742 yards on the ground while averaging 5.5 yards per carry. That season against Bowling Green, Garrison went completely off, rushing for 291 yards, which is the third-highest total in school history.

But in a practice leading up to the Orange Bowl that year, Garrison tore his ACL. He struggled to regain his form the following season, and lost the job to Buie. Then last year, he pulled his hamstring early in the season and wound up redshirting.

This spring, however, there have been signs Garrison is finally returning to the player he was in his first year. Saturday was the biggest sign yet.

“I feel like I did my freshman year, with my knee and my hamstring. Those injuries nicked me up,” said Garrison, who at only 5-foot-8 and 180 pounds, relies heavily on his quickness and speed. “Right now, I have no complaints. My body is feeling good, and I have a lot to play for.”

If he runs and catches and blocks like he did in the scrimmage, the Mountaineers might have to find a way to get Garrison the ball, which won’t be a cinch.

After dropping 15 pounds during the offseason to improve his breakaway speed, Smith too has enjoyed a solid spring.

Though he’s still learning coach Dana Holgorsen’s system and shaking off the rust from sitting out last season, Shell’s talent and power between the tackles is undeniable.

And Smallwood actually led all West Virginia runners in the scrimmage with 55 yards rushing on just six carries.

But Garrison is unexpectedly, but doggedly, showing he too could be a factor in the West Virginia attack once again.

"Dustin can play when he plays like that and people have seen,” Dawson said. “That was really good to see that kid come out and play the way he did. … I thought it was extremely positive.”
So much news today. So little of it in the Big 12.
Better luck next time, Grizz.

Lunch links: Big 12 quarterback battles

March, 13, 2013
Highly recommend that Rhoads video in this post.
Have a case of the Mondays? Cheer up, it could be worse, you could be Brandon Knight. Regardless, here are some lunch links to help the day fly by.

Defensive struggles catch up to WVU

October, 13, 2012

LUBBOCK, Texas -- Facing a fourth-and-6 on his own 29-yard line, Dana Holgorsen didn't look to do much contemplating about whether or not he'd send out his punting unit.

With more than eight minutes to play in the third quarter, 95 percent of coaches would have thought about the same amount of time ... and sent out the punter.

The West Virginia coach elected to take the risk and lost, when his Heisman front-runner quarterback missed on a throw to Tavon Austin along the right sideline. That wasn't much different than the way the rest of Saturday went for the Mountaineers, who suffered a humbling 49-14 loss to Texas Tech and surely will drop from the top five in falling to 5-1.

It was a move that smelled of desperation because it was born from it. Down 35-7, West Virginia's defense hadn't given Holgorsen much of a choice.

"They played better than we did on all three sides of the ball, they played harder than we did, the effort was harder, they outcoached us," Holgorsen said. "We let the situation get to us."

Defensive coordinator Joe DeForest admitted he saw a lack of energy even in warm-ups, and once the game began, West Virginia still looked like it was warming up. Thing is, WVU never got hot, or anything close to it.

Tech needed just six plays to score the game's first touchdown on a 39-yard pass from Seth Doege to Jace Amaro, and the Red Raiders left no doubt as to which team was superior.

Doege finished with a career-high 504 yards with six touchdowns on 32-of-42 passing.

"It's not like they were outscheming us; they just played harder than we did, which is disappointing," Holgorsen said. "You only have 12 games to play. Anytime you leave the game and say, 'They played harder than us,' is something that's very disturbing to me."

[+] EnlargeGeno Smith
Michael C. Johnson/US PresswireMountaineers QB Geno Smith completed just 29 of 55 passes, for 295 yards and one score.
Holgorsen admitted that perhaps the whipping West Texas wind affected star quarterback Geno Smith's head more than his passes, although Smith rejected that notion later. Holgorsen also emphasized that no amount of weather or injury -- WVU played the second half without receiver Stedman Bailey (ankle) and the whole game without top defensive lineman Will Clarke, who didn't practice this week -- is an excuse for playing the way the Mountaineers played Saturday.

The "blame" is rather obvious. West Virginia had given up 35 points in a half before, just two weeks ago in a 70-63 win over Baylor. When the offense scores 35, too, it's a little easier to shrug off the defensive failures.

Saturday, though, was a bad day for the "You don't need defense to win it all!" crowd. West Virginia's defense is still waiting for a performance to write home about, and with one forgettable day from the offense ("Everything just seemed a little off," offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson said), a perfect season came to a rather spectacular end.

"There's no excuses for what happened today. I was off. I wasn't hitting my targets, wasn't hitting my reads. There's a number of things I did wrong," Smith said.

He finished 29-of-55 for 275 yards and a touchdown, keeping his interception-free streak alive but leaving with a head-scratching loss. Texas Tech didn't blitz more than he thought it would. Smith said he wasn't confused and felt well-prepared.

The plays just didn't work. The running game that was dominant against Texas the previous weekend never materialized to take pressure off Smith, and the entire offense suffered, although Smith's struggles were the clearest Saturday.

"There's no explanation for it; it's just the way the game goes," Smith said. "Everyone has a bad game. That's all there is to it. I don't think I played terribly bad, I just didn't do enough to win the game, and that's the way I measure myself, by wins and losses, rather than all that other stuff that people like to build up in the media world."

If Saturday's loss wasn't enough of a reminder that the Big 12 will be a bumpy road -- this same Texas Tech team lost by three touchdowns to Oklahoma last week -- next week will offer yet another. The Big 12's lone undefeated team -- Kansas State, a 27-21 winner over Iowa State on Saturday -- already has its sights set on a West Virginia offense that looked vulnerable for the first time Saturday and a defense that hasn't stopped much of anyone all season. There's no time to waste for Holgorsen.

"They were the better team today. They outplayed us, they outcoached us and they were better on all three sides of the ball. It happens in football," Holgorsen said. "I told them to hurry up, get dressed, get on the bus, we'll get on the plane, fly back, we'll watch the tape tonight and tomorrow, meet with them tomorrow, get the game over with, and we'll move on to Kansas State."