Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

How Alabama offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin utilizes receivers like Christion Jones (22) and a stable of running backs is a point of intrigue before the season opener against West Virginia.


MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — During a lengthy chat with reporters after a lengthy end-of-camp scrimmage, Tony Gibson was asked about matching up against Lane Kiffin.

“Who?” he joked.

West Virginia’s first-time defensive coordinator fully comprehends he’s nowhere near recognizable as The Lane Train. Gibson hasn’t head coached the Oakland Raiders, Tennessee Vols and USC Trojans—and then again, neither has he been canned by Al Davis, panned in Knoxville or asked to step off the bus by Pat Haden.

So unlike Kiffin being hired at Alabama, Gibson wasn’t featured on SportsCenter upon becoming WVU’s coordinator. And such relative anonymity doesn’t rattle Gibson one bit. He’d much rather his defense make SportsCenter by slowing down the Crimson Tide on Aug. 30.

Ben Queen/WVMetroNews

Tony Gibson enters his first game as West Virginia’s defensive coordinator when the Mountaineers face N. 2 Alabama next week.

Can that happen, though? Can a West Virginia defense that ranked outside the FBS top-100 each of the past two seasons show its grown-up side in its first game under a new leader? What’s more, how can a 3-3-5 defense designed to combat the Big 12’s spread offenses hold up against Alabama’s pro-style sets?

Well, the second question first.

Gibson believes nothing stresses a defense more than the breath-stealing tempo attacks WVU will face throughout the season. That’s why the Mountaineers are deploying five defensive backs to become more athletic and sprinting through scrimmage periods at breakneck speeds. So from a purely schematic perspective, it’s easier to teach a defense to play fast and then—against a huddling team like Alabama—essentially play slow.

Facing Alabama’s conventional offense is almost like a breather, from the standpoint of pace, that is. From the standpoint of talent, it’s nothing like a breather.

The Tide’s offensive line—even after replacing two starters—features two five-star prospects and seven four-star recruits in the two-deep. It’s running backs include a five-star recruit who produced back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons (T.J. Yeldon), a four-star speedster who has a career average 7.3 yard per carry (Kenyan Drake) and the nation’s all-time high school rushing leader who gained 161 yards against Oklahoma on nine touches (Derrick Henry).

Oh, and this run-heavy Alabama team? It ranked seventh nationally in passing efficiency last season and has six wide receiver recruits who ranked among the top 10 nationally at their position coming out of high school.

So Kiffin possesses a lot of tools, and Gibson must be prepared for whatever manner Kiffin chooses to use them.

Rewind to 2005 and 2006, Kiffin’s most recent two seasons as a coordinator, when he had the Southern Cal offense rolling at a clip of 39.8 points and more than 480 yards per game. The Trojans ran 1,869 combined plays—941 rushing and 928 passing—essentially as balanced as an offense can be.

During its past two seasons under offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeir, Alabama also posted stellar averages of 38.4 points 450 yards per game, though it do so while running 1,724 plays—1,031 rushing and 693 passing.

Will Kiffin try to bring the Tide’s tendencies closer to center? Will Nick Saban allow him to do so? With running backs like Yeldon, Drake and Henry and two unproven quarterbacks, would Kiffin be silly to even risk a 50-percent pass ratio?

That’s the rub for Gibson, who like the rest of the college football world, is curious to see how Kiffin plays with his new toys.

bubble graphic


bubble graphic


  • David Sanders

    Thank you for an interesting well written sports article. It's reminiscent of the quality work Jimmy Bryan and Alf Van Hoose wrote in the 60's and 70's. Informative, researched, causes one to reflect. Roll Tide.

  • Alabama Insider

    Sims will start; Coker to get equal snaps and rotating throughout the game. CNS would not have brought in a transfer QB if he wasn't positive in what he already hadin 5th year Sims. However, Sims has improved and the team seems to have rallied behind him. Coker has the tools, but not the confidence within himself or the team to lead... just yet. It will come eventually amd he will likely lead by the 4th game. But until then, Sims will have it until Coker earns the spot. Its not a knock to Sims, and a tool to drive Coker to be a better player and leader.

    @Ron, if you think Kiffin is the HC in two years, then you don't even football bro. He's one-and-done at Bama. Bama fans are completely fine with the All-Star hire. He got humbled with the USC situation and realizes he needs to keep his head down and coach Xs and Os, recruit like a Saban disciple, and then wait for his next gig after the season.

    Plus, Saban doesn't allow the assistants to speak to the media (outside of the obligatory periods) so he canmot run his mouth like in the past.

    Lastly, the kicker has made FGs in scrimmage games. Bama STACKED..... NCAA SCREWED!!!

  • any major dude

    Ron, While I think both QBs will play on Sat, I'm not sure i would call it an audition. I think what Saban does on Sat is what he's gonna do in the season. As for Kiffin, he does pretty much what Saban tells him to do. You don't pay Saban what they pay him to sit back and let the OC call all the shots. Do you think Shannon Dawson has a lot of autonomy under DH?

  • Ron - from Morgantown

    One of the problems K had as HC at USC was that he was aloof and players didn't buy in . Nobody is going to confuse Tuscaloosa with LA so maybe he can get away with it at Bama . Actually Bama is treating this first game almost like an scrimmage . They plan to play both QB as sort of an audition to determine who will be the starter . They want it settled before the season really starts in a couple weeks against Fla . As we found out last year if you gave 2 QB you really have none . Bama is in for a shocker - we ain't Va Tech - at least not on offense . We will move the ball and score points on Sat . If Bama wants to sleepwalk through this game expect WVU to be up at half and expect NS to be throwing things in the locker room .

    • crimson hammah

      true when u have 2 qb's u have none but bama is a different beast ...bama has 2 qb's...i will be embarrassed if we do not embarrass wv...we should quick strike first half to a mich nd type early rout

  • Ron - from Morgantown

    Kiffen can be a lighting rod which seems to run counter to the low key assistants that have dominated NS coaching staffs . I was surprised by the hire because it just doesn't seem like a good fit . As I've said in recent posts Alabama seems to get anybody they want in recruiting except at the QB position . Maybe NS saw what happened via AM and Auburn last year and felt he needed to elevate the QB position to star status as opposed to "manage the game " status . I know what the motivation is for K - have a great couple years at OC and then he is in position to become next Bama head coach . But that's far from a certainty . Again I wonder how this is going fit , it seems like two opposites ? It may benefit WV in the opening game .

  • Aaron

    This match-up is particularly difficult for WVU given that the team is built to match up against Big 12 spread offenses and the defenses designed to contend with them. To now have to contend with big, physical ball control offenses and defenses designed to contend with that style is extremely difficult, perhaps more so in that the Mountaineers are facing the best team of the past decade.

    To have a chance of keeping the game close, WVU's offense will have to stay on the field and the most valuable player for WVU could easily be Nick O'Toole as ball control and field position are keys to this game. If Alabama averages a short field or a huge time of possession brought on by WVU 3 and out's, they will win the game. If they have both, they will blow WVU out.

    • WVU 2014

      I believe Bama is not going to leave what has worked for them successfully for years. Run the ball, establish their will is stronger even at times if it doesn't appear so. Cousin Nick is a patient person, he's ok with punting and FG's. Clint and the O have to find a way to eat some clock with uptempo, if they don't. It's lights out for our D. I do believe we have a shot at an upset, margin for error is so slim. If you are going to beat Bama, it's best to do it first game then mid season. They'll make some mistakes for sure, we really can't. They need to play well, we need to play damn well!!

  • any major dude

    Don't be too suprised to see both UA QBs used in this game. I expect Coker to start and Sims could be brought in for special packages. I expect primarily run, too, but I also expect runs on passing downs and pass on running downs. While the QBs are game-inexperienced, they do have the o line to block, and fine receivers.

    • notorious

      They are going to run, run, and run some more with that stable of backs. If we load the box, hello, play action!

  • AlaskaWVU

    Should have beat OU last year and OU clown stomped Bama in bowl. I believe that Bama won't wake up until 4th, will it be to late?

    • KC

      Clown stomped? Bama was down 7 with the ball with a minute to play

  • Dennis Shrewsbury

    How many stars did Tavon, Stedman,Geno have? They weren't too bad, just saying !

    • notorious

      Terrible examples, particularly Tavon and Geno. Tavon was a 5 star recruit; Geno was a 4 star and a Parade All American.

      • Mister Man

        Tavon was not a five star recruit.

        • Aaron

          While I can't speak to Tavon's rating, the only offensive skill players I've seen that he compares to on the college level were Bo Jackson, Michael Irvin and Randy Moss. I'm sure there are a few others I've seen in person but none stand out as head and shoulders better than Tavon. He was a special college football player.

        • Chris

          Tavon was rated a 5 star by Scout

          • Mister Man

            I stand corrected. He was a five star by Scout and a four star by Rivals.

          • Mister Man

            No he wasn't.

      • donutfiend77

        Ok, Better example. Pat White, Steve Slaton, Owen Schmitt. Go Eers'!!!!!

  • ArmChairQB

    Anyone see the pic of Holgs' full service basement and crib? Must say it's nice according to Dr. Saturday.

  • greg

    it is the same answer as always. sell out everything to stop the run game and force the new quarterback to beat you.

  • Aaron

    Has Bama settled on a starting QB? With the uncertainty at that position and the experience in the running game, I believe the Crimson Tide will pound and ground until WVU has 10 players in the box and then pound some more. About the only time the ball should be in the air is on sweep pitches.

  • P. Finebaum

    WVU doesn't stand a chance. WVU won't stay on the field with Alabama. Why even bother showing up? Alabama is the greatest college football program of all- time playing in the greatest conference of all-time. This game will be a mismatch from the get go.

    • T Morgan

      At the end of the 2005 season, we were told a Big East team didn't even deserve to be on the same field as the SEC Champs - final score WVU 38, Georgia 35. Two years later Lee Corso said all Oklahoma had to do to beat WVU was get off the bus - final score WVU 48, OK 28. Three years ago Kirk Herbstreet said Clemson would blow out the Mountaineers - WVU scored ten touchdowns setting an all time bowl record for touchdowns. So yeah, Finebaum, you're right. WVU doesn't stand a chance. You, the media and especially the Bama players keep believing that while we just show up and take our beating.

    • Tomgone12

      Is this really you dumbo the elephant?

  • cutty77

    Bama will try and run the ball down our throats. I don't care about Kiffin. Saban is still the Head Coach,and Kiffin will do what Nick says. Plain and Simple.

  • Mister Man

    Well done Allan. I think the run set up their passing game. Passing efficiency doesn't mean they accumulated a huge amount of yards. I think UA will utilize their strength which is running the ball.