Film Room: WVU – Delaware State

Film Room: WVU – Delaware State

West Virginia’ coaching staff maintained that film study of the Mountaineers’ win over Delaware State would be invaluable, especially for those new to the playing field who need every snap of experience and the review of every step they make. We agree, so with that in mind we head for the corner room, fire up our old projector and review WVU’s win over the Hornets.

Delaware State unveiled a twist on an unbalanced formation that they had shown on only one play in its previous two games. In this, the Hornets lined up with a conventional tight end on one side, but augmented it with an extra back that was almost directly behind the tight end. They would then put two wide receivers together, either on the strength side or the opposite side of the formation.

These changes forced the Mountaineers into a base defensive call until they got their tactics figured out for combating the new look. It also put a cornerback in run support on the side opposite the wide receivers, although WVU at times did roll both of them to the same side if a straight man coverage was called. The extra blocker right off the line of scrimmage also caused some changes in run fits and the angles of attack from the offensive line – all things that were a surprise for the West Virginia defense. (It should be noted that the upback was the player who snuck out of the backfield uncovered for Delaware State’s lone first half touchdown,)

Given all of that, WVU’s defensive response was pretty good. The one blown coverage that resulted in an 83-yard pass completion for a score looked ugly, and DSU did have some success running the ball, so it wasn’t a perfect performance by any means. West Virginia did hold the Hornets to 10 drives of four plays or fewer, and gave up 10 yards or less on eight of them. Also, the field goal yielded by the Mountaineer defense came after a turnover, on a drive of minus one yard. That’s a win any way you look at it.

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WVU modified its kickoff return alignment from that it had shown in the first two games. Against DSU, WVU put just four players on the line ten yards off the ball, although two of those were pinched tight between the hashmarks and shaded toward the kicker. Two others, who were previously up on the line, were positioned ten yards behind the front line, and in the gap between the interior two and outer two players of the first rank.

Behind that it was the same, with three players spread across the field at the 25-yard line, Elijah Wellman at the 15 and Marcus Simms deep.

The move appeared to pay immediate dividends, as Marcus Simms returned the opening kickoff all the way to the Hornet 18-yard line. The interesting thing, though, came on the blocking of the three players at the 25-yard line. They didn’t head straight up the field from their respective positions, but instead looped and blocked opponents from different angles. The moves they made allowed Simms to get across the field from the position where he caught the ball, and also made it more difficult for the DSU coverage team to pick up their opponents until later in the return.

We’d also be remiss if we didn’t mention the great block thrown by upback Elijah Wellman, who cleared the way for Simms to hit the gap at full speed. It should be the least of surprises that Wellman threw a good block, of course.

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Freshman bandit Derrek Pitts was tagged for more playing time in this game, with defensive coordinator Tony Gibson noting that he and Marvin Gross were scheduled to alternate on each series. While Pitts is going through the normal growing pains of any freshman, he provides

Derrek Pitts

plays that show why he avoided a redshirt and will be counted on this year. One that stood out in our review was his play on a muffed Delaware State kickoff return. Circling behind the play, Pitts blew through a DSU player and made an all-out dive for the ball while the Hornet hesitated. It’s not the kind of thing that shows up on an highlight video, but it shows just how hard the state native plays the game. Keep that up, and good things are going to happen.

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Setup or revelation? Tight end Trevon Wesco played on just one offensive snap in the first half. After a summer of hype about the increased used of the tight end (some of it valid, some overblown) does this signal WVU’s true intentions? Or is it just a matter of what was expected to work against Delaware State, or some misdirection for West Virginia’s future foes? Stay tuned.

Wesco’s one appearance on an offensive play from scrimmage was on the 62-yard touchdown pass to Simms, so he does at least have a high efficiency rating for his time on the field.

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Last week, WVU special teams coordinator Mark Scott mentioned that some changes had been made on punt return. So, of course, we looked.  Against Delaware State, there were some new faces, including Ricky Rogers and David Sills as rushers.  The complete lineup showed Pitts, Jake Long, Sills, Quondarius Qualls, Rogers, Jovanni Stewart, Martell Pettaway and Shane Commodore across the front, with Elijah Battle and Hakeem Bailey out wide against the gunners. Marcus Simms remained the deep man.

WVU got good pressure on the punter, but did escape a really bad play when Sills was flagged for only running into the kicker on one play, rather than drawing the roughing call that it should have been. While such a penalty can be huge in a tight game, it should be noted that WVU had two chances to block punts, with Sills and Rogers showing the knack to knife through protection. The idea of putting cornerbacks out wide on the opposing team’s downfield coverage men is also a good thought — they are already used to reacting to, and hopefully impeding, the progress of opposing route runners.

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We’ve examined WVU’s use of twin receiver sets over the first couple of weeks. A couple more tweaks showed up against the Hornets, necessitating a bit more analysis. The Mountaineers threw quick screens a couple of times inside the ten-yard line, and sometimes lined up the pair of receivers very wide – almost up against the sideline. This allows for more time for the ball to get to the receiver, and more blocking time for his partner.  It does add in the sideline as a potential defender, but there was just enough space left on these plays to allow the receiver to slip upfield if the defenders chose the inside angle.

One other item that is making all of these plays successful so far — it doesn’t matter who is blocking. All four of WVU’s top receivers have shown the ability to do so, which makes it impossible for defenders to cheat when confronted with twin sets so they can shade their coverage to just one player who is likely to catch the ball.