The Chalkboard: West Virginia Mountaineers – Youngstown State Penguins
Those “ors” on the depth chart last week weren’t a stratagem, at least so far as the offensive line is concerned. Matt Jones and Jacob Buccigrossi split time at center, with the former getting the start, while right guard was also a time-sharing option with Joe Brown and Chase Behrndt, who is also listed as the backup at right tackle, getting almost all of the snaps. Both of those positions bear watching this week, but keep a couple of things in mind while doing so.
First, it’s not necessarily important for one player to win the job outright. If both are playing well, and continue to improve, then that’s certainly acceptable, and in some ways a strength. Centers sharing time does fly in the face of the continuity factor in terms of snapping, but that isn’t such a big deal for shotgun snaps, which constitute 99.5 percent of West Virginia’s play starts. So long as the shotgun snaps are on target, that’s not an item to worry about.
The issue of continuity is one that can be raised, and it might be a more difficult factor to evaluate. Grades for offensive linemen are done on an individual basis, but can a “group effectiveness” rating also be factored in? Does the offense run more efficiently when one lineman is in over another? Making these judgment calls can be difficult, but they are the choices that can make a difference in a close game.
This week should not give us one of those, so it’s a good chance to really zero in on the composition of the offensive line as it jogs out to start each series. Who gets the snaps? Which group results in the best play and produces points? There are several different ways to analyze these results, and while a final determination won’t be made this week (and likely never gets absolutely decided upon), there could be some clues as to which players are moving toward a bigger role in the future.
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It’s the 80th anniversary of the first game in the long and storied WVU-Youngstown State series … er, scratch that. The Mountaineers hosted the Penguins way back in 1938, but it took 78 years for game two to be played. The Mountaineers won the first contest 27-7 under head coach Marshall “Little Sleepy” Glenn in a season that was mostly notable for being the first time the Alma Mater was sung. Don’t know it? Listen up here, and learn those lyrics:
Alma, our Alma Mater,
The home of Mountaineers
Sing we of thy honor
Everlasting through the years
Alma, our Alma Mater,
We pledge in song to you.
Hail, all hail! Our Alma Mater,
West Virginia U.
Now back to the games. YSU’s second trip to Morgantown resulted in a big scare for WVU, which trailed 14-7 in the early going and and went to the half tied at 14. Seventeen third-quarter points pushed the Mountaineers on to a 38-21 win, but perhaps the biggest thing coming out of that game is that it gives Dana Holgorsen plenty of warnings to throw at his team this week.
Meeting number three is a night game, which should give fans plenty of time to rehash last week’s game and look forward to this one. The temperatures will be positively football-like, with a forecast high of just 70 degrees , but there is a 30-40 percent chance of rain through the afternoon.
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Travel Note of the Week: Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for driving to the state’s flagship institution of higher learning. Interstate 79 from the south is full of one-lane construction zones, and not all of those can be closed for the weekend, as many involving milling and paving. The late start time will help thin out traffic, but if you are coming from that direction, allow another hour at least.
Coming from Pennsylvania, there is the long-running construction work where I-79 and I-70 converge, with attendant slowdowns there too. I-68 coming in from Maryland looks the best of the three, but it seems like every year the first game offers some new challenges in getting to town.
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Like WVU, Youngstown State got a pair of graduate transfers in the offseason, and both, like the Mountaineers Kenny Bigelow and Jabril Robinson, started in game one. Quarterback Montgomery VanGorder (Notre Dame) and offensive tackle Charles Baldwin (Kansas) joined the program in January.
VanGorder was primarily a holder on placekicks in four seasons with the Irish, but he took full advantage of his first start at Youngstown. In a very efficient showing, he threw for 234 yards and three touchdowns while completing 66% of his passes. He also did not throw an interception.
While the Penguins are expected to try to duplicate Tennessee’s tactic of ball control to keep the Mountaineer offense off the field, that doesn’t mean they won’t throw the ball. A short- and mid-range passing attack will likely be mixed in with the running of Tailback Tevin McCaster, who had an impressive 166 rushing yards against Butler.
From West Virginia’s perspective, this will be a good thing to see. The Mountaineers did well early on against the steady diet of Tennessee out routes and short hitches, but faltered a couple of times later with missed tackles and a failure to close quickly. If YSU chooses to attack this way again, it will be a good round of experience for the WVU cornerbacks — provided that they play more consistently.
It got just about zero attention, but Tennessee got a hand on a West Virginia punt due to a near total collapse in protection on the Mountaineers’s first attempt. Multiple protectors took off into coverage without first checking their protection zones, and WVU was lucky that the punt still had enough momentum to go forward, rather than bouncing around in the backfield.
As well as the Vols executed their game plan in the first half, they never got the big momentum-shifting play that could have sent them into halftime with a lead, and this was a whisker away from providing that chance.
Following the play, West Virginia made a couple of personnel chances on the unit. That’s an area to watch this week, and the first evaluation is a simple one. Does WVU hold its ground and check the rush before flying downfield? Granted, coverage is important, but protecting the punter is job one.
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Youngstown State co-defensive coordinator Richard McNutt remains on paid administrative leave while an internal investigation continues into an unspecified issue. McNutt did not coach in the Penguin’s opener against Butler, and his status for the WVU game is unknown.
While his status doesn’t appear to have anything to do with the current issues at Ohio State, McNutt has ties to the school. He played there under Jim Tressel, who is now Youngstown State’s president.
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Can we get off the angle of Gary Jennings not scoring a lot of touchdowns despite making a ton of catches? First, it doesn’t matter who scores, so long as drives end in touchdowns. Granted, you want any player to score when he gets the chance, because it eliminates the possibility of a mistake later in a drive that negates a TD opportunity. But this ceased to be a story a long while ago. It was worthy of mention, because it was an oddity, but by continuing to play it out it makes it seem like it’s a problem, when it’s not.
There were a couple of reasons that Jennings only scored once in 2017. Some of it was just luck or happenstance. He caught several passes and made runs inside the ten- and five-yard lines, but came up just short of the goal line. Second, he wasn’t used as a vertical threat a great deal last year, and in the red zone David Sills was (quite properly) options one, two and sometimes three. None of this indicates a deficiency — it’s just the wan the game played out. In a sense, it’s kind of like a team forcing four fumbles and recovering none. Sometimes, the ball just doesn’t bounce your way.
To his credit, Jennings takes all of the questions about it in stride.
“The thing is, they kind of keyed on it that play,” Jennings said of his TD catch against Tennessee. “They backed off a little bit, but (redshirt senior quarterback) Will (Grier) still had the trust in me to use my technique, and he put a great ball over the outside shoulder where the defender couldn’t get it. He makes those plays all the time. So, it’s nothing new for me.”
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Both teams will be looking to improve on their abilities to lock games away in the fourth quarter. WVU was driving and looking to do so against Tennessee until Kennedy McKoy’s fumble gave the Vols one more chance. YSU led 21-7 with fewer than ten minutes to play, but couldn’t kill the clock, as Butler scored 17 points to upset the Penguins.