The Film Room: WVU – TCU
So close. That’s the theme that continues to spring to mind following a review of West Virginia’s 31-24 loss to #8 TCU. Yes, the officials played a part. But there were also a handful of 50-50 plays, plus the usual sprinkling of Horned Frog trick plays, that let the home team pull out a win in front of a mostly disinterested crowd.
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Those two gadget plays loomed large, and although most of the attention was on the throwback to TCU quarterback Kenny Hill, the second might have been even bigger.
West Virginia hadn’t seen the QB throwback play on any TCU film — of course, that doesn’t mean it couldn’t defend it. One player diagnosed what was going on and made a valiant effort, and just narrowly missed holding it for a small gain. WVU linebacker David Long recognized that the path taken by KaVontae Turpin wasn’t consistent with the jet sweeps the Mountaineers had seen earlier in the game. Long intuited that Turpin was running backward more than laterally, so he immediately halted his pursuit and steamed toward the right sideline. Hill already had three blockers out in front, but Long made two excellent moves to slice past the blockers and get to Hill. However, he was left just enough off balance to allow Hill to counter with a spin move of his own and get past him down the sideline.
Long’s play should have been enough to allow a teammate or two to recover and get back for a tackle, but the pursuit angles and effort from WVU’s secondary at that point were extremely lacking. Hill danced into the end zone with little stress.
It should be noted, before moving on, that it’s much easier — make that MUCH easier — to diagnose option passes from the view of the press box or via TV than from the field. Turpin’s path strayed a couple of yards deeper than normal for a sweep or end around play, but that is very difficult to see from ground level. Figuring out that play early enough to counter it requires reading of the offensive line, and maybe even a sneak peak at the QB or another play heading in the opposite direction. Doing all of that is tough, but Long managed it, and nearly came up with a difference-making play.
The second came on fourth down and one on TCU’s final possession of the game, and the thing to note here was the nice setup and counter by the Frogs. Earlier in the game, Sewo Olonilua came in a a wildcat back and scored from two yards out. West Virginia actually defended that play pretty well, and only a leap and big stretch of the ball got Olonilua the two yards he needed. On this fourth down, the Frogs came out in the same formation and ran the same initial action, but this time Olonilua flipped the ball to wide receiver Jalen Reagor heading left on an end around.
Again, the Mountaineers had defended the play pretty well. Safety Kyzir White blitzed hard off the backside edge and chased the initial action down the line to guard against a cutback while trying to disrupt the action in the backfield. When Reagor got the pitch, though, he was so deep in the backfield that he was able to get around White and get upfield for the first down. This was one of several 50-50 plays, but perhaps the most important one, where TCU wound up with the upper hand.
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West Virginia’s passing game is very good, but it’s still missing the consistent ability to win 50-50 balls. Maybe that’s not the best description, for by definition a 50-50 ball has a lot of uncertainty, and no team is expected to win them all. However, WVU has been hurt by a shortcoming on these types of plays, especially on deep passess downfield that are contested.
Against TCU, throws to Ka’Raun White, Marcus Simms and David Sills were all batted away or failed to be secured when in close coverage. Contrast that with Reagor’s 45-yard scoring reception in the third quarter, or John Diarse’s 20-yard catch in the same period. Those are the kinds of plays that have to made a couple of times per game. In this battle, TCU came out with a decided edge.
There’s also the added problem of the cut-off route by a WVU wide receiver that caused an interception in the third quarter. On the play, Simms and another wideout appeared to get delayed while trying to rub coverage away, but after the brief hesitation no one continued deep for the ball. Quarterback Will Grier threw it deep according to his read, but it wound up being an easy interception for TCU safety Nick Orr. Head coach Dana Holgorsen confirmed that the pick was not Grier’s fault.
This isn’t to say the wide receivers were to blame for the loss.They did a lot right — for example, White recognizing a corner blitz and immediately attacking a lone safety with a deep route that resulted in a 76-yard scoring pass, Gary Jennings snaring passes in traffic, Sills coming up with a one-handed stab in the end zone for a score. It’s just a couple of more plays — here’s that theme again — that made the difference between a win and a loss.
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In our Kansas film review, we counted penetrations and stymies for the West Virginia defensive front, and the results weren’t great. In this game, the front was much better. In fact, it was almost a 180-degree turnaround. WVU’s front three created problems for TCU, and wound up with 15 tackles on the day. The Mountaineers started freshman Lamonte McDougle and limited substitutions to Ezekiel Rose and Xavier Pegues. Was that the reason for the improved play, or was it also a benefit of having Long and Toyous Avery back, providing better second-level support?
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Kicking mechanics are a bit of a mystery to most of us, but there wasn’t anything apparent that caused a pair of Mountaineer misfires. Mike Molina’s pushed 29-yard field goal attempt didn’t appear to have any bad flaws, but obviously something was amiss with that try. The last WVU kickoff of the game, also from Molina, went out of bounds so far up the field that there had to be a mishit or approach problem.
WVU switches at both punter and kickoff specialist in the game weren’t detailed in the postgame, but those will be followed up on during this week’s interview session.
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Finally, those calls. Two of them — Elijah Battle’s interception and the late hit on David Sills, were plagued not by an erroneous call, but by the procedures and decisions made after the play. There wasn’t enough certainty to overrule Battle’s pick as it was called on the field, and having a late hit flag picked up after a lengthy discussion was quite odd. Still, none of those matched the offensive pass interference call on Sills on West Virginia’s final drive. That was abysmal, and should result in a one game suspension for side judge Tuta Salaam.