The Film Room: West Virginia Mountaineers – Baylor Bears
West Virginia’s offense got back on track against Baylor, but what were some of the underpinnings to that success? Better blocking, to be sure, but there were also some tweaks to WVU’s motion package. The play of Trevon Wesco, both catching and blocking, was also a big factor. We look at those items, along with an interception that resulted from a previous play and more in this trip to The Film Room.
WVU put a player in motion on 10 snaps in the first quarter. Some of that was designed to reveal coverages and see how Baylor was defending the passing game, but some was also to set up the jet sweeps to Tevin Bush. West Virginia toned that down in the second quarter, with just three snaps seeing movement from receivers (and once from a running back), but some of that may be due to the fact that the Mountaineers scored so quickly. There were a lot of points, but not a lot of snaps, for WVU in the second.
After opening with two plays designed to determine Baylor’s early coverage schemes, WVU sends Gary Jennings in motion. There’s confusion on the Baylor side, as the corner and safety can’t decide if they are going to switch assignments as Jennings rounds the corner. Watch the safety (#29) make a signal that is likely meant to change the coverage, but the corner never gets the message. Both choose to cover Marcus Simms, leaving Jennings wide open for the early score.
West Virginia used its tight ends in a number of different ways against the Bears, and those extended beyond the passing game. Watch the blocking scheme in this clip, as Trevon Wesco (88) lines up at wingback on the left side of the formation. He steps inside to help block an interior defensive lineman, while right guard Isaiah Hardy (65) comes all the way across the formation to block the defensive end.
There were several such combinations and adjustments made to WVU’s blocking in this game, and it will be interesting to see if these sorts of tactics continue as the season progresses.
More on Wesco: He had a tremendous game, dragging tacklers after receptions and helping solidify WVU’s blocking game. He threw key hits on Tevin Bush’s 79-yard near touchdown, sprinting to the outside to handle one of the two Baylor defenders who might otherwise have made a play, and he was excellent in pickups as shown in the clip above.
WVU has moved Wesco all around its formations this year, but those alignment variations were even more noticeable in this game. Some were made to give the senior better angles in executing blocks, while others were designed to take advantage of defensive coverages in the passing game.
At 270 pounds, he’s big enough to handle defensive tackles, and quick enough to move to anywhere in the protection pocket that he’s needed. He might wind up being West Virginia’s most versatile offensive player, and that’s saying a lot.
Early in the game, WVU safety Kenny Robinson delivered a bit hit that separated the ball from the grasp of Baylor wide receiver Denzel Mims. Later in the first quarter, Mims ran a similar route, only to see the ball skip off his hands and into those of WVU corner Keith Washington.
Or, we should say, didn’t see it. Run the clip at half- or quarter speed, and you can see Mims turn his head to check for contact coming before the ball is secured. Without question, that earlier hit was on his mind, and it resulted in a downward spiral for the Baylor offense.
While West Virginia’s blocking was better, there’s still much to fix. Head coach Dana Holgorsen noted that several of the offensive linemen who are playing need to improve, and it’s plays like this that draw those observations. In many cases, it’s misidentification of the right target that is causing breakdowns. As shown here. a Baylor defensive tackle comes right through the A gap untouched, pressuring Will Grier and forcing a way-too-early throw.
Had Grier been able to hold the ball a couple of beats longer, he had an open David Sills on a post route in the middle of the field.
It’s these sorts of breakdowns that have to be eliminated if West Virginia has any hopes of beating Texas.
More on blocking: WVU made a heretofore unseen switch up front in the second quarter, moving Josh Sills to right guard and putting Chase Behrndt on the left side. At this point in the season there’s no magic bullet for fixing shortcomings, but the Mountaineers did have some of their better runs with this lineup.
Head coach Dana Holgorsen noted that Sills is the only player who would flip positions at this point, and that was backed by offensive coordinator Jake Spavital.
“People think it’s pretty easy to move from the left side of the line to the right side of the line. There’s actually a psychological effect to that and a practical aspect,” Spavital explained. “But I think he’s had plenty of reps at left and right guard. With his demeanor, nothing is really going to faze him. It was a pretty easy transition for him over there.”
Want to see a textbook move to defeat a block? Watch Darius Stills (56) at nose in this play. He absorbs initial contact but executes a classic swim move to get his left arm and shoulder behind the block, then powers through into the backfield to make the tackle.
These sorts of plays have been on the rise for the Mountaineer defensive front, which continues to get good penetration and tackles for loss in addition to keeping the linebackers behind them clean to make plays. This isn’t a play that will make any highlight reels outside of Bruce Tall’s defensive line room, but it’s indicative of the impact that the entire defensive front has had on games this year.
Sometimes turnovers occur due to great plays by the defense. And sometimes, they fall into your lap. The latter was the case on Shea Campbell’s interception in the second quarter, but by no means should it be chalked up to a fluke.
Campbell drops into his assigned position as the pass play unfolds, and has his head pointed in the right direction so that he can see the QB and watch for receivers coming underneath. He sees the back coming out of the backfield and begins to move forward, and then a pair of small Baylor mistakes occur. The back turns his head as the pass is released, and the pass itself is a bit behind him. The back is late to react to the off-target pass, and it comes right to Campbell, who also deserves credit for the quick reaction he showed in snaring the ball.
It’s difficult for a linebacker to be in defensive mode, lining up a pursuit path for a tackle, and then suddenly changing to grab a pass that isn’t in the air very long, but Campbell put that all together.
As noted about, WVU put someone in motion on 13 plays in the first half, including ten in the first quarter. Those plays resulted in 262 yards of gains (20 of which were negated by a penalty). Those results might seem to scream, ‘Wait a minute, why not put someone in motion on every play?’
There were some negatives mixed in, as WVU had a zero-yard rush and a 15-yard sack, as well as two incomplete passes. Motion isn’t an option against every defense, but it can help identify coverages and create different angles for the offense, as well as provide distractions for the jet sweeps that play off of them.
It seems blocking has emerged as the theme of this week’s film study, so we’ll cap it with one more.
Here’s Wesco at wingback again, and on the opposite side Baylor is trying to duplicate the three man-line with extra rushers coming from the second level that Kansas and Iowa State used in preceding weeks. This time, though, good pickups and an unfortunate path choice for the blitzing Baylor safety (#23) gives Martell Pettaway a clear hole. Isaiah Hardy rolls downfield to pick up the linebacker that dropped out of the box, leaving only one defender downfield to make the tackle. Pettaway’s change of direction leaves him stumbling to the turf, and the WVU run game has a successful clip to study.