After a loss, our rusty folding metal seat with uneven legs can feel like a medieval Iron Chair. But after a win, plopping down on it is like settling into the throne at Buckingham Palace.
The latter was the experience this week as we review West Virginia’s 24-6 win over TCU – a victory that was very important for a Mountaineer team looking to guarantee a non-losing regular season, climb a notch in the Big 12 standings and build a bit of momentum for a very tough final two games of the regular season. Consider all those missions accomplished.
Two first quarter plays set the tone for Tykee Smith’s big day, and while his hit on running back Emari Demercado was notable, it’s this pass breakup that really catches the eye. Smith takes what might be considered the smallest of hesitation steps early in the play, but his speed and pursuit angle to get to the potential receiver is outstanding.
Then, there’s the form tackle, which is absolutely perfect. He drives through his opponent, wraps up and causes an incompletion. Put this one in an instructional video.
This is a great look at some of West Virginia’s pre-snap motion, followed by Jarret Doege going under center for the handoff to T.J. Simmons on a sweep. Note that while TCU does adjust just a bit to WVU changing the strength of the formation, it’s not a big realignment. The Frogs had to keep things a bit more simple than they usually would, as they had shuffled their secondary to account for some injuries.
Then there’s the wrinkle of going under center, and a new way of getting the ball to a receiver on sweep action. Both of the tight ends who reset before the snap get very good blocks on the perimeter. That’s just lovely to watch, and it also sets up other play options in the future. Do I hear a reverse off this?
WVU also looks to have gotten a bit lucky here, as the TCU defensive end on the play side overruns the ball. I have the feeling someone missed an assignment, even though the threat of the handoff to Leddie Brown is enough to freeze any defender.
More presnap adjustments here and it puts one tight end in perfect position for a lead block. On the line, though, this play is an oldie but a goodie. It has the look of the old Washington Football Team’s counter trey, although there is just one lineman — guard Mike Brown — pulling. The other lead blocker is the tight end, creating the same sort of big impact at the point of attack, but with only one lineman pulling.
Mike O’Laughlin blocks straight ahead, Brown gets around the corner to the inside, and Leddie Brown is off for a big gain.
Watch Sean Ryan (10) really sell the screen pass, jumping as if he’s climbing the ladder for the ball. WVU throws it so much to the perimeter that this is effective. It’s tough on the field to determine it’s a fake — much more so than watching it from the eye in the sky.
Two TCU defensive backs are affected, with one taking a step toward Ryan and another inside actually losing his balance. That allows T.J. Simmons to get deep, as slot receiver Reese Smith occupies the only other defensive back with a chance to get into coverage.
I’m anxiously awaiting the Neal Brown TED talk on the screen game.
Holding an opponent out of the end zone usually requires a break or two, and WVU gets one here. This looks like WVU is playing man across the board with a single safety deep, although it could be cover three. It doesn’t look like the latter, though – both corners move forward as soon as the outside receivers run hitches. (This demonstrates how difficult it can be to figure out what the coverage is in some circumstances.)
Whichever the call is, there’s clearly a breakdown, because both the first and second defenders on the outside go to the hitch, and no one covers the #2 receiver heading to the end zone. You can’t expect the free safety to get over to cover that with a compressed field — he’s helping mostly on everything in the middle.
Head coach Neal Brown said this kickoff return should have been a touchdown. It’s tough to fault a player for making the “wrong” choice on a cut when both options appear good, but had Winston Wright simply run straight at the TCU kicker rather than cutting back, he likely could have sailed into the end zone. The kicker is already starting to stumble when Wright cuts back to his right, and even if he hadn’t, he likely would have had no prayer of stopping or slowing Wright had he simply made one move on him in the middle of the field.
Watch the blocking here too — every one is well-executed (T.J. Banks wipes out two defenders by himself), and no one really has a chance to touch Wright until he cuts back. There’s no way the two TCU defenders on the hash are going to run him down had he stayed on his initial path.
TCU ran more receiver sweeps and outside zones than WVU did, and the Frogs tried to counter off that with this Max Duggan keep in the third quarter. This is the kind of play that’s designed for big results — get West Virginia flowing to the outside aggressively, then gash it vertically.
Except, for a couple of things. Dante Stills, playing at end on this snap, holds the edge, and keeps Duggan from cutting outside. Exree Loe doesn’t overpursue, and is ready to step into the alley when Duggan commits to that path. This is excellent discipline, and it’s one reason West Virginia has been so successful on defense this year.
WVU is in another variation of the sets it ran all day to get the tight end involved in the run game, which, as offensive line coach Matt Moore noted, is increasing every week. Here, the tight end comes across the formation to kick out an edge defender, and all three of WVU’s blockers on the left side execute beautifully. Zack Frazier and Brandon Yates each get one-on-one wins, and Bryce Ford-Wheaton does a great job of tying up the cornerback and almost getting a pursuing safety in the same action.
Block like this consistently, and WVU has a chance against any opponent.