Initial Exploration Leads To High-Caliber Offense As WVU ‘Passes’ Test

WVU Sorts Through Baylor Looks, Finds Formula For Passing Test


WACO, Texas – Initial exploration gave way to high-caliber offense for West Virginia in its win over Baylor.

It was, as coaches and players explained before the game, the exact type of proverbial chess match they expected, with BU head coach Matt Rhule mixing coverages and fronts, and not settling into a pattern in any of the previous games. That left WVU in investigation mode for much of the first quarter before the Mountaineers scored three touchdowns in little more than 15 minutes of play spanning both halves to forge a 24-6 lead.

“We wanted to establish the run, but we didn’t know how they were going to play us,” offensive coordinator Jake Spaavital said. “They are a team that moves in an out of a lot of different fronts. In previous games they were all over the place with their fronts, so we wanted to call some base plays early just to get a feel for how they were playing us. I thought the run game was working effectively on those first couple drives from the start.”

West Virginia quarterback Will Grier (7) hits David Sills with a touchdown pass with one second remaining in the first half

West Virginia amassed 493 yards – four shy of Baylor’s 497 – with 118 of those coming on 29 rushing attempts. But the Mountaineers never truly got chunk plays via the run as they had against the likes of Texas Tech and Kansas save a couple 15-plus yarders by Kenndy McKoy and Tevin Bush. Bush had one carry for 16 yards when he bounced outside and followed the block of tackle Yodny Cajuste downfield, while McKoy busted a 20-yarder late in the third quarter.

Otherwise, the Mountaineers were workmanlike on the ground, averaging three yards per carry with 82 total yards on 27 attempts. It appears more and more that WVU is primarily a passing team with the ability to mix the run, but not often directly rely upon it. That style can work, as shown, and it has in the past in the earlier versions of head coach Dana Holgorsen’s offense.

“At times they were playing us with a heavy box, but we found some formations where we could get a light box and we were running the ball decently in those sets,” said Spavital. “We have to find a way to run the ball better. We are still working through things.”

Starter Justin Crawford failed to gain traction in the contest, and finished with just 30 yards on 10 carries. The senior lacked the pop of previous outings, and the coaches said they thought he might be worn down from the load at 104 carries over the first seven games. That’s an average of 15 per game – not much for backs of the past, but perhaps right at what Crawford can handle with his frame and musculature.

McKoy rushed seven times for 55 yards, which was his second-most this year. Martell Pettaway added 16 yards on four carries.

“They were loading the box up at times and we did have some hiccups in terms of blocking,” Spavital said. “We are a momentum team and when we started playing behind the chains, we weren’t very good at all. But we are going to continue to try to run the ball and throw the ball on the perimeter.”

Which is exactly what West Virginia did. The Mountaineers relied upon the passing game – namely the connection between Will Grier and David Sills – to exploit an advantage against Baylor’s secondary. The Bears struggled not only with Sills, who tallied 136 yards and three touchdowns on seven catches, but with Gary Jennings as the slot wideout worked the middle of the field and down the seams.

Due to the numbers in the box, Sills and Jennings were able to find holes in the coverage, and Grier helped them take advantage, hitting 25 of his first 31 passes for five TDs and the 38-13 lead over the first 44 minutes of play. But because of a couple drops, combined with just nine fourth quarter plays, the Mountaineers’ offensive efficiency took a nosedive in the fourth quarter, when it failed to score and netted just 11 yards.

Part of that was solid defense by Baylor, which continued to change pressures and coverages throughout. But part was also self-inflicted mistakes by West Virginia, as well as an inability to grind out tougher yardage when BU was daring it to throw.

“We came out and moved the ball pretty decent and the fourth quarter it just came down to three-and-outs,” Spavital said. “We couldn’t find a rhythm. The thing I like about this group is they find a way. We aren’t playing very many guys, maybe 12 to 15 a game. They battle. They are good at figuring out the flow of the game. I still think we haven’t played our best ball yet, but that’s something we have to do, keep getting back to work and find answers when we stall out.”

In all, West Virginia poked and prodded the Bears for the 375 yards passing, and a per-snap average of 7.5 yards per play. That’s right where Holgorsen likes that average, and it frankly should have meant a points total somewhere in the 40s had WVU been able to finish the game and not hit a lull on all three sides of the ball. Still, the Mountaineers’ 493 yards of total offense helped set a school record for most average yardage through seven games at 539.4.

“We never have any panic,” Spavital said. “It’s more about finding solutions. I’m pretty even keel on game day. Will is the same way. A lot of our kids are the same way. When we do have a dull moment we have some vocal leaders who can step up and get them going a bit. I like how this group works together to find solutions if we aren’t moving the ball.”

Take a listen as Spavital details West Virginia’s pair of touchdowns just 20 seconds apart from one another spanning the two halves. Both were connections from Grier to Sills, but in vastly different circumstances. The two scores put WVU ahead 24-6, and continuing the building momentum that carried throughout the third quarter and a 38-13 lead. (Note: Spavital’s play descriptions begin at the 2:30 mark.)