With an open week upcoming, we pushed our usual Wednesday film breakdown back by one day. Never fear, though – we took our trusty 16mm projector in for a tuneup, and it’s humming along just fine in its usual spot on a stack of milk crates next to the boiler room in the basement. No fancy video setups for us!
There weren’t a lot of new formations or plays to look at in the opener. While wanting to get as much as possible on video for review, Mountaineers head coach Neal Brown didn’t want to tip any tweaks or changes to upcoming Big 12 opponents. Offensively, there was limited motion and not many exotic sets, and the defense was similarly straightforward. Even WVU’s bandits – VanDarius Cowan and Jared Bartlett – didn’t stray much from their base positions at the end of the defensive front. (In many games, they will often shift at times to a mid-field linebacking position.) Still, there were a few plays, and items, worthy of looking at in the Mountaineers’ 56-10 win over Eastern Kentucky.
We, along with everyone else, have beaten the “WVU must improve its running game” theme into the ground this year, and the Mountaineers wasted no time in showing off some improvements. On their very first play from scrimmage, Leddie Brown ripped off a 38-yard gain.
The yardage isn’t the only thing to note here. WVU’s offensive line does a good job of walling off the EKU defensive front and compressing them into a wad that has no chance of getting into pursuit.
Jackson Knipper (43), lined up as a tight end for much of the game, comes across the formation from his wingback spot to deliver an excellent kick-out block on the defensive end, and when the play-side linebacker takes one false step to the inside, WVU left tackle Brandon Yates has an easy angle to drive him off the play.
Finally, while Brown wasn’t happy with the consistency of WVU’s perimeter blocking in the game, both Bryce Ford-Wheaton (0) and Winston Wright (16) get good blocks to help spring Brown.
The counterpoint to that play came one drive later. WVU is in a similar formation, but insteads runs to the strong side, where Knipper is lined up. Eastern Kentucky is blitzing, with seven players committed to the attack.
While West Virginia can’t be expected to block everyone in that scenario, it also can’t allow a defensive tackle to rampage through a gap unscathed. That’s what happens here, and Brown is dumped for a five yard loss.
It was Brown’s only loss of the day, but head coach Neal Brown must have wiped it from his memory, as he said Leddie didn’t lose a yard from scrimmage in the contest. That’s OK – no one is going to remember every snap – but this is one WVU will review. If there is any zone read action to be executed, it could have happened here, as the backside defensive end was closing down the line pretty aggressively. And even if there wasn’t, that’s something WVU might show again with a QB run or bootleg off it.
Oh, that kickoff return. Brown said that “about four players didn’t do what they were coached to do” and it nearly cost the Mountaineers six points as EKU returner Davion Ross went 100+ yards untouched. As the camera angle didn’t include much of the mayhem, we instead offer Alonzo Addae’s slashing tackle on the ensuing do-over.
Coming from what looks to be the R3 position on the coverage unit, Addae beats an attempted block and is to the 20-yard line while Ross is just getting to the five. Cutting behind another blocker at the point of the return, Addae makes a hit at the 12 and cuts Ross’ legs from under him.
There are a number of times when a player in coverage gets an open shot at a returner, only to miss him due to poor technique or lack of aggressiveness. Addae does neither, and unleashes his force just as Ross is trying to slow to avoid him.
We’ll ignore that for the second consecutive kick; Tae Mayo was offside. However, the coaches won’t, as that’s a mental error that should be corrected immediately.
EKU didn’t have much go right, but the running of Colonel thumper Alonzo Booth was definitely a plus. After the Mountaineers showed that they wouldn’t be outflanked in the run game, the Colonels decided to try to break tackles rather than avoid them. Booth gained 45 yards, an average of 6.5 yards per carry, and the only problem was that head coach Walt Wells only called his number seven times. He should have gotten at least twice that many carries.
For WVU, as it was for many teams in their openers, tackling was a concern. The Mountaineers weren’t bad – and in fact were pretty good – on most occasions, but against the best backs, the “jump on them and ride them down” tactic doesn’t work.
Running back Alec Sinkfield’s game is built on his ability to slash – making a quick decision, cutting decisively and getting upfield. Below is just one of several illustrations of those abilities.
Again running out of a set with Knipper at a wing spot, the Mountaineers show their third different tweak from it. This time, Knipper goes against the grain to seal the backside. EKU has two defenders blitzing from that direction, and Knipper is able to slow one of them enough to allow Sinkfield the time he needs.
The blocking on the front side isn’t quite as devastating as it was on Leddie Brown’s initial carry, but there’s a hat on a hat, and no Colonel is running free on the play side. Most importantly, Sinkfield is assessing the situation from the start, and when he sees an alley between John Hughes (79) and Mike Brown (57) he’s one cut and into it.
Now run it again, and watch Hughes and Brown from the start. They have an initial double team, then Hughes slides off to get a second level defender. Center Zach Frazier gets an initial block, then passes him off to teammate James Gmiter while he gets downfield to impede linebacker Je’Vari Anderson (14) and clear more space for Sinkfield.
If WVU can execute its combination blocks like this, it’s running game won’t be a concern in 2020.
We close with Addae’s acrobatic interception, but again there’s more to it than just the catch, which was stellar.
On this third-and-16 passing down, Addae and cat safety Sean Mahone are playing deep on the hashes, with the corners also dropping deep. Just as the receiver on the right side runs out of the frame, he tries to sell a shorter route, but linebacker Exree Loe has dropped underneath the cut, so even if there was a thought of trying to throw it there, Loe was in good position to interrupt it.
Cornerback Nicktroy Fortune doesn’t get sucked in by that action, and he’s actually in great shape to defend the pass when Addae executes the full lay-out for the interception. Without knowing the exact coverage call, it can be tough to hand out kudos, but it sure looked like there were a lot more positives on this play than just the spectacular grab.