The end of football season doesn’t mean an end to film study! We’ve still been hunkered down next to the clanking furnace under the gym, with our trusty 16mm projector clacking away. While several of the items from West Virginia’s 24-21 Liberty Bowl win over Army were very specific to the Black Knights’ offensive system, there were still a number of interesting plays to watch – including one that could have changed the outcome.
Join us for our final review of the 2020 season!
WVU had a tough time getting Leddie Brown untracked, as he gained only 65 yards on 20 carries. His first run of the day was the best one, and featured a different use of tight end Mike O’Laughlin, who halted his motion and functioned as a lead blocker on this inside run.
For some reason, WVU never used this exact formation again, although O’Laughlin did get close to the same position on one fourth quarter play. Here, he isos on the linebacker, and Brown is right behind him for a 13-yard pickup.
This play, along with the next, contributed heavily to head coach Neal Brown’s decision to go with backup Austin Kendall at quarterback. Jarret Doege had a sub-par day reading the field, and makes a bad decision in throwing the ball into Army coverage that had dropped eight.
Note that Leddie Brown, in check down position on the left side, is waving his arms desperately to get Doege’s attention, but he doesn’t see him. That wouldn’t have been a huge gain, but it probably would have been enough of a pickup to give the Mountaineers the option to go for a fourth down conversion. There was also the chance that Brown beats a one-on-one tackle attempt. Instead, Army defensive back Javhari Bourdeau drops off the flat receiver and undercuts the deeper route for a pick.
Similar to the last play, there’s nowhere downfield for Doege to go with the ball on this play, but he either doesn’t see the rusher break free right in front of him or doesn’t react quickly enough. Ball security, a problem off and on, rears its head again, and the Knights are in position for their go-ahead TD just before the half.
This isn’t all on Doege, though. WVU tackle Brandon Yates (50) has Army’s Malkelm Morrison (2) stopped, but for some reason turns away from him after his initial block, allowing Morrison to regather himself and get to Doege to force a fumble. It’s possible Yates thought Leddie Brown had him picked up, but against a four man rush, there’s no reason for Yates to look to help elsewhere.
The substitution of Kendall for Doege will always be the item that’s remembered from this game, but the big difference wasn’t that Kendall was far more accurate in his passing, but rather that he got the ball out quickly and didn’t make many bad decisions. Doege threw three passes that were well off target, and had four others that were far enough off the mark that they contributed to incompletions. On those four, receivers had a chance to catch the ball, even though it wasn’t in a good location, so in tracking those I assigned a half of an off target to the QB and half a drop to the receivers.
Doege wound up with a total of five off targets, while Kendall had 5.5 in eight fewer pass attempts. The receivers (and Leddie Brown) were assessed 7.5 drops on nine different opportunities.
That takes nothing away from Kendall’s performance, and the fact that he did not check out, and continued to prepare and give his best the entire time he was at WVU, puts him well above those who have opted out of games.
I just love this alignment – it hearkens back to days of yore in the mid-70s when the Mountaineers would often line up out of the muddle huddle on conversions, just to make sure opponents were paying attention.
Here, WVU has five blockers – four linemen and tight end O’Laughlin – on five Army defenders, and one of those takes himself out of the play with a rush toward the QB at the snap. All T.J. Simmons has to do is catch Austin Kendall’s pass, but the defining bugaboo of the 2020 receiving corps pops up again, and the Mountaineers miss out on what would have been two easy points.
While West Virginia didn’t convert points off the ensuing onside kick, it flipped field position and allowed WVU to continue to grab the initiative in the second half. Kicker Casey Legg hits the ball perfectly, about two-thirds of the way up, and he produces a nice bounce that makes it easier for Alonzo Addae, coming from the R4 spot, to recover.
What’s also priceless? Nicktroy Fortune’s reaction.
Mark this one down in the “Whew, that could have been a disaster” category. Trailing by three, Army has time to run the ball, but at some point you know the pass is coming. Still, a game-long diet of runs has the WVU secondary looking in the backfield, and Black Knight QB Christian Anderson hits tight end Chris Cameron behind the defense for a 32-yard gain.
It’s not a touchdown only because Cameron isn’t a speedy wide receiver, but what if Anderson had seen running back Braheam Murphy (15), who zipped past Fortune and was even more wide open on a parallel path down the sideline? If the pass goes to Murphy, the Black Knights are in the end zone and have the lead with four minutes to play.
Admittedly, there are plays like this in every game – missed opportunities often weigh as heavily as converted big plays in the outcome. And in close contests like this one, it is often just one or two such snaps that make the difference. Army often hits a huge run or two, and occasionally a big pass, but in this game WVU didn’t allow much in the way of splash plays. The Black Knights had just three plays that gained more than eight yards — this one, a 13-yard reception and a 13-yard run, and that fact was huge in the outcome.