MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — He kiddingly blamed years of football-related head trauma, but Doug Rigg knew the real reason he couldn’t recall last year’s thrilling games against Baylor and Oklahoma.
Because they were a blur.
In those dizzying, tackling-optional matchups that came to epitomize West Virginia’s defensive chagrin, the Mountaineers outscored Baylor 70-63 and later lost to Oklahoma 50-49. Both outings were chaotic and disorienting for Rigg, a linebacker who was in the middle of the noise yet had to watch game film to understand what transpired.
“Baylor’s offense moved so fast, I honestly don’t even remember the game,” he said. “And when I walked off after that Oklahoma game, I couldn’t even remember the plays.”
As one of two senior linebackers on this season’s roster, Rigg hopes the WVU defense can shed its dazed-and-confused look. That makes it incumbent upon coaches relaying quicker sideline calls and defenders conditioned to be in perpetual-hustle mode.
“You have to get a call, get lined up, see who’s out on the field (offensively) and recognize a play within a couple seconds,” said Rigg, currently working with the first unit at Will linebacker. “And as soon as the guy gets tackled, they’re right back on the ball again.
“You’re just trying to get ahold of everything.”
Practicing against Dana Holgorsen’s uptempo offense gives WVU’s defense a taste, though several other Big 12 teams attack at an even more relentless pace. Based on what he witnessed during preseason camp—a time when perceptions are admittedly rosy—Rigg said the communication system has been streamlined under new defensive coordinator Keith Patterson. He also figures returning players are better equipped after enduring toiling last season.
“We play a strong-side, weak-side thing, so if the ball’s on the hash, we already know where we’re going,” Rigg said. “When the ball’s in the middle of the field, that’s the only real time you need to declare who’s on what side.”
One emphasis for Patterson this offseason has been to repeatedly rep his base defense, even in fourth-and-short or third-and-long situations that typically would necessitate specialty packages during games. So even though WVU will sometimes morph from its base 3-4 alignment into a 4-3—and even a 3-3-5 stack on some passing downs—Patterson’s focus of camp was mastering core principles before adding on situational dress-ups. For Rigg, who’s playing under his third coordinator in four years, it’s a return to simplicity he can embrace.
“During camp last year we were trying to put in so much stuff, we didn’t really get good at one thing,” Rigg said. “Later in the year, (coaches) were trying to be simplistic because guys were playing technique wrong.
“This year, we’re worried about the base defense and getting great at that and then building off of that.”
PLAYING THE PASS
Though he’s a self-described “run-stopper guy” whose main function is to create negative plays on first and second downs, the 6-foot-1, 237-pound Rigg debunks the notion he’s one-dimensional.
“I’m pretty sure I had an interception last year,” he said, grinning over his pick against Marshall in the season opener.
While Rigg won’t be on the field in nickel or dime packages, he knows the pass-happy offenses of the Big 12 aim to exploit matchups on every down.
“It’s not like I can’t cover,” he said. “If I couldn’t do both, I wouldn’t be on the field.”
EMBRACING THE PRESSURE
Characterizing his unit as legitimately two-deep this fall—which he suggested wasn’t the case in 2012—Rigg said WVU’s linebackers can shoulder all the pressure Patterson is placing on them.
“If we don’t play well defensively, it will come down to the linebackers,” Rigg said. “We have to be able to cover, we have to be able to rush the passer and we have to stop the run. Nobody else on the field has to do all three.
“So if the defense is bad then yell at me next time you interview me.”