The Chalkboard: West Virginia Mountaineers-Oklahoma State Cowboys
RPO is the most recent football acronym to enter the mainstream – or, at least the football mainstream – lexicon. “Run-pass option” is on the lips of every commentator these days. Among coaches, these shortened terms are prevalent, dotting their quick-paced discussions of tactics that are, more than ever, at the foundation of the game.
WVU defensive coordinator Tony Gibson dropped another one this week, mentioning FSLs as one of the ways in which offenses are scheming to get linebacker David Long out of the action.
“Baylor did a lot of FSL, Texas ran a lot of it and TCU did some,” Gibson said. “So, they’re trying to pull him out of the box, and we have to make adjustments and get him back involved. We try to do our best to keep him in there, in that tackle box, so they can’t avoid him in the run game. But yes, people know who No. 11 is, and if they don’t, then they obviously don’t watch film, I guess.
FSLs are formations to the sideline – in other words, putting more receivers on the boundary, or short side of the field, than to the wide side. In conventional thinking, putting multiple receivers on the short side, especially in college where the hashmarks are wider, isn’t a good move, because it crowds them up and makes them easier to defend. With the advent of bunch routes and new concepts that use a cluster of receivers in a small area to target and confuse defenders, though, convention has been stood on its head. Simply, FSLs force defense to either commit more defenders to the short side of the field, thus opening up more space for a single receiver on the wide side, or to play in an outmanned status in the smaller space in order to defend the grass on the wide side. This is a vast simplification of FSLs, so X & O enthusiasts are encouraged to read more.
Against WVU, teams are putting three receivers into the boundary (one version of the FSL) in an attempt to force linebacker David Long out of the heart of the defensive formation. WVU’s adjustment to this formation was to bring the will linebacker (Long) out to help against the third receiver, but that, in turn, keeps him out of immediate run support. (One of the roots of the FSL was to scheme to take great defenders out of the middle of the action, because they couldn’t be blocked otherwise. Instead, these formations put those great players on the periphery.
WVU isn’t taking this lying down, of course. Gibson and his defensive staff are working on adjustments that would shuffle other defenders out if necessary in order to keep Long more centered, and closer to the ball at the snap. It’s all part of the great back-and-forth that defines offensive and defensive football as the 2020s loom.
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Oklahoma State has averaged more points per game over the last eight-plus years than any school other than Oregon. The Cowboys average 40.9 points per outing over that span, topping third-place Oklahoma’s 40.4. Oregon’s number is 43.1.
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TRAVEL NOTE OF THE WEEK: Getting to Stillwater isn’t much of a problem, even though it entails a 75-mile drive from Will Rogers Airport in Oklahoma City to the OSU campus. What’s fascinating, at least to me, is the regular grid pattern of streets and county roads that dominate the Oklahoma countryside.
There’s no mystery in why this developed. With a blank slate and few intervening geographic impediments, it was relatively easy to lay down a regular pattern of roads that intersected at right angles, and many of those remain today. Outside of major cities, many of these patterns are very regular, with intersections occurring at one-mile intervals.
For those that live there, it’s not a big deal, but for we visitors from the east, where most urban areas grew up out of a mishmash of de facto roads that existed before government-planned or controlled roads, it’s a different world.
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Speaking of travel, we’ll arrive in Stillwater too late to attend a speech that I’d certainly have been on hand for otherwise. Actor Gary Busey, a former Oklahoma State student, is scheduled for presentations at the OSU Student Union and another campus venue at 11:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m on Friday to promote his new book, Buseyisms. That’s a tome I’ll plunk down some dollars for.
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Oklahoma State kicker Matt Ammendola has missed five of his last six field goals, along with an extra point, over the past three weeks. That, after an 11 for 24 start to the regular season, might have him in a bit of a funk, but it’s too much to expect it to continue. The Cowboy junior has a career success fate of 75% on placekicks, and he’s weathered rough stretches before. In 2017, he had six misses in OSU’s first eight games before closing the season strongly with 11 consecutive on-target boots.
Just getting Ammendola on the field will be a win in some respects for the West Virginia defense. Both teams are very good and scoring touchdowns, not field goals. In ten games, the Cowboys have scored 51 touchdowns against 13 field goals. In one less contest, WVU has 48 TDs against ten 3-pointers. The team that can force an extra field goal attempt or two could very well be the winner.
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Will WVU quarterback Will Grier join the 4,000-yard passing club? Only one Mountaineer, Geno Smith, is a member, but at his current pace (assuming three games remaining) Grier is on track to … fall … just … short.
Grier currently has thrown for 2,961 yards. Give him his average of 329 per game over the last three, and he comes out with 3,948 yards.
Were one to ask him about it, there would be immediate dismissal of its importance, and in the short term that’s certainly true. Grier is not caught up in establishing records or racking up personal accomplishments for their own sake. It would be nice to see it happen, though, so just an additional 18 yards per game — or a fourth contest in the form of the Big 12 Championship — would be met with cheers from Mountaineer fans.
One warning, though. While Grier has thrown for more than 300 yards in 17 of his 20 games at WVU, one of those was against Oklahoma State. In last year’s game, he got close, with 285, but also suffered four interceptions. Is that a sign that OSU has something figured out, or will it provide a bit more motivation (as if he needs any) to reverse that showing this year?
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Oklahoma State is 4-1 in its last five games against AP Top 25 teams.
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OSU head coach Mike Gundy has blamed mistakes, specifically turnovers and penalties, as the main sources of his team’s inconsistency this year, which has led to a 5-5 overall record, including 2-5 in the Big 12 Conference. Those could play a factor again in this game which matches up two of the worst offenders in the league in terms of flags.
West Virginia is eighth in the Big 12 in penalty yardage per game, suffering 72.3 yards of walk-offs per outing. Oklahoma State is ninth with 73 yards per. Only Texas Tech, at 76.8, is worse.