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


  • 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.

  • Hack Job

    Good Job ripping off a topic that another local writer in Charleston already did several days ago now. Are you that terrible at what you do?

    • Mike

      How many articles have you ever written. Not counting this morning at Bob Evens with the kiddies menu. I would bet you don't even have a job to be terrible at. Most people like you don't. AT don't worry about people like him. Keep giving us fans more great articles.

  • JTL

    First, there can be all the mention in the world about 5 and 4 star players abound on their roster. Fact is we are the only undefeated team in the former BCS playing teams witha superstar roster. If we remain mentally tough, don't give in to the hype or even being down in the game then we can play with these guys. Remember how the Georgia "SEC speed" with all their 4-5 star talent was going to destroy us? Didn't quite work out that way did it. Key to this game will be our defense. But for our defense have a chance the offense has to help them by keeping them off of the field and limit the seamingly endless 3 & outs from last year. Offensively, our boys better realize this is going to be the most physical game maybe of their mountaineer career. They have to stand tall, play with courage and confidence.

    Winning this game will be a very tall order, but we can do it. If we can at least come away from this game high on confidence knowing we at least played with Alabama then we will be a team no one wants to face the rest of the season.

    • Ole Sasquatch

      Played with Oklahoma last yr. Tumbled at end of season. A tumble at the end of this season brings serious changes.

  • wvufanatic

    If you want a reason to believe watch the youtube videos of dougitydogg ( not sure on spelling) The Karl Joseph clips will make you think we have a chance if we are as physical as he always is not even bama can touch that GO EERS!!!!!

  • Ole Sasquatch

    Ball control is how to beat Alabama which is also their main method. I don't think that is in Holgorsen's repertoire though. First of all we need to be able, somehow to depend on our offensive line and hope that their new QB has a bad day. Secondly hope our defensive line can hold up under a pounding to come from their line. If our offense can move consistently, like a Holgorsen's offense is designed to do, we can win if we play with confidence. Particularly if our receivers are totally determined and do not drop the ball in fear. Show fear - we lose. Special teams cannot make mistakes.

  • any major dude

    Nobody will be rooting harder for the Mountaineers than me.
    Forget for a moment the 5 stars, 4 stars and the stuff between the lines., and let me ask you these questions though:
    • Is it more likely that I'm their last 3 games, UA will go 0-3 or 1-2?
    • In the Georgiadome vs SEC teams, are we more likely to go 2-0 or 1-1?
    Anyway, odds are just odds. GO MOUNTAINEERS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


    Allan, Why do you have to write an article showing how much of an Alabama homer you are? Go Mountaineers!

  • Mountaineer Fanatic

    My husband graduated from Alabama, so I have been watching them every chance I get.
    However, My team is the Mountaineers and I watch them every time they are on TV. If they play at the same time as Alabama I watch WVU. I believe WVU can beat Alabama. They do not think we are even worth thinking about. We need to play every down for four quarters as they can come back if they get behind. We also can come back from behind.
    It would be horrible if we got ahead like Texas A&M and then lost. It would also be horrible if they got ahead and we stopped playing.
    I hate loosing and I pray the Mountaineers do too. LETS GOOOOOOOOOOO

    • notorious

      It would be a massive upset. I honestly don't think any of our starters on either side of the ball would crack their two deep.

      • Aaron

        Karl Joseph would start for any team in the country. Perhaps no one else but that young man can play football. I also question whether either of the QB's are better than Clint Trickett. Certainly neither is any tougher.

        For the most part though, I agree, Alabama clearly has more talent. That's what recruiting does for a team. When you combine a greater like Nick Saban with the resources the Tide enjoy, there's a reason they are the best team over the last decade.

      • Billly

        That's because your a idiot

        • notorious

          Just being real. Alabama is ranked #2 for a reason.

          • Billy

            Someone else is using my screen name. I did not write that. I do not know if they are using it on purpose or if they did not know it was already taken

  • Hop'sHip

    Hop'sHip's question of the week: Why did they replace Nussmeir? I was hoping you would tell me that he took the OC position with the Steelers, but that looked like Todd Haley directing that disaster last night.

    • vong

      god that was awful

      • boober

        It looked like the entire team rode to the game with Bell & Blount.

    • Alex

      @Hop's ....Nussmeir is the OC at Michigan, reading some article got the impression he got fired at Alabama.... Anyway that's where he is today.... Sorry can't be more help on this.

      • Allan Taylor

        By all accounts, Nussmeir left for Michigan on his own accord. And the speculation is he gave Saban a heads-up before the Sugar Bowl, perhaps explaining why Saban brought in Kiffin for an "exchange of ideas" in December.

        • cutty77

          Nick Saban is THE HARDEST COACH to work for in the country. All day,all Night everyday. This is why Coaches leave Nick.

      • Hop'sHip

        Fired after putting up those kind of numbers? Talk about high expectations. Is there any locker room that can contain two egos like Saban and Kiffen? All they would need is to have Johnny Football as quarterback.