The Film Room: West Virginia Mountaineers – Iowa State Cyclones

The Film Room: West Virginia Mountaineers – Iowa State Cyclones


Losses, of course, bring out much more commentary, not to mention angst, from the fan base, and it was no different in the days after West Virginia’s 30-14 loss at Iowa State. Some of the ideas and opinions expressed were good, and backed up by what actually occurred in the game, while many others were not. With an eye toward that, we examined and quantified one aspect of the Iowa State defense in an attempt to show what made it so successful.

There was a commonly expressed opinion that the Cyclones’ delayed blitzes were a key to confusing WVU’s offense. However, an examination of each snap showed that while many blitzes came from the second or even the third level of the ISU defense, very few of them were delayed. They may have taken a second or two longer to get home, but the blitzers were, in most instances, moving forward at the snap at a full out pace.

(As a side note, countering the chorus of those who rip the three-man rush and defensive front as a flawed scheme, ISU rushed only three defenders on 10 plays. One of those yielded a safety.)

In addition to the three-man rush, ISU rushed four defenders on 12 snaps. Only four of those could have been considered delayed blitzes, where one rusher clearly hesitated or wasn’t going all-out toward the backfield as the ball was snapped. Those rushes produced two sacks.

The five-man rush was the most prevalent, being employed 15 times. All but one of those were five men in the rush from the get-go. Again, a number of the additional rushers came from linebacker or safety spots. They produced five sacks. Finally, ISU rushed six defenders six times. These produced some pressures, but no sacks. ISU also rushed just two defenders on one occasion, a play on which WVU failed to complete a pass.

(A couple of notes here. First, the total number of rushes is greater than WVU’s official number of 42 offensive plays, because I included those that officially didn’t occur due to penalties. However, they were part of ISU’s defensive approach, which is why they were included. Second, some judgments had to be made on running plays. Was that linebacker really blitzing, or did he not react until after the hand-off occurred? Granted, there were some fine lines there, but for the most part these numbers reflect the Cyclones’ approach.)

What does this tell us? First, the Cyclones did a good job of overloading certain areas and getting rushers free. They did an even beater job of getting off blocks and producing pressure – WVU simply didn’t sustain blocks well. Finally, WVU wasn’t able to run against light defensive boxes of four or five defenders consistently – or anything approaching it.


This early play typified WVU’s struggles to put together good blocking and a good read of the pass defense. Wide receiver David Sills, in the slot at the top, is open on a slant, and an on-time pass would have resulted in a solid gain. Instead, it’s a negative play, one of the first of many, as quarterback Will Grier either doesn’t see Sills or skips the opportunity to get him the ball. Instead, it’s a sack, and the Cyclone defense gets a boost.


WVU spur Dravon Askew-Henry plays a perfect robber technique in this pass coverage. He drops off the slot receiver who he appeared to be locked onto with man coverage, passing him off to a deeper defender behind him and undercuts the out route. The timing of this is excellent, as it’s executed just as Iowa State QB Brock Purdy is readying his throw.


Head coach Dana Holgorsen noted that his players fell for pump fakes several times, and said that was something that defenders are taught to deal with in junior high. Probably so, but a well-executed fake is something of a lost art, and thus one that players don’t tend to see much of any more. Iowa State QB Brock Purdy has made it part of his repertoire, complementing his excellent ball-handling skills on RPOs and zone reads. It’s easy to say “stay on your feet” but in the heat of battle, it can be tough.


The wind was a tricky thing on punts and kickoffs. While the wind was negligible at field level, it was blowing flags straight out on the upper tier of the stadium. Punts and kicks that got up high appear to have been affected, and WVU struggled with that all evening. Marcus Simms, who had been improving on catching the ball while moving forward or at least stationary, appeared to misjudge at least two.


As good as West Virginia was in execution on its interception, it was just as bad here. The Mountaineers appear to be set to switch assignment if the receivers in front of them cross, but major hesitation leads to confusion and a wide open ISU receiver in the end zone. There was also a good bit of scrambling just prior to the snap, which might indicate all 11 defenders weren’t in the same coverage. This TD was gift-wrapped by poor coverage, and may have been the impetus for more hesitancy and less aggressiveness in later defensive possessions.


Contrary to claims that West Virginia didn’t run any screens to try to slow the ISU rush, the following screen proves the opposite. In fact, it was one of seven screens or quick swing passes that the Mountaineers tried. One out of every six plays, WVU went with this counter to the pass rush, and while it hit a few times, it wasn’t enough to sustain drives.


WVU defensive coordinator Tony Gibson expressed frustration that offensive pass interference wasn’t called on Iowa State tight end Charlie Kolar on this play. He did get away with a push on Dravon Askew-Henry that freed him, but the fact that WVU couldn’t get another defender close to him after the catch on a third-and-16 situation was also frustrating. To be fair, West Virginia’s receivers are pretty good at delivering nudges of their own, too.


We’ll try to end on a bright note. West Virginia defensive linemen Kenny Bigelow and Reese Donahue executed perfectly in jumping through and over the Iowa State line on this field goal attempt. Bigelow wound up getting the block, which was returned for WVU’s final score of the game. Their technique was not in violation of the leaping rule, which states: “It is not a foul if the player was aligned in a stationary position within one yard of the line of scrimmage when the ball was snapped.”

We might give the duo an assist on ISU’s subsequent missed field goal, as they applied pressure in the same manner. The ensuing kick was wide right and short.


Finally, the ugliness of WVU’s offensive game drowned out some good play by the defense, especially that of Shea Campbell, who moved over to mike linebacker to replace the injured Dylan Tonkery, who was out with a reported groin injury. Campbell wasn’t perfect, but he was stout against the run, and helped plug yet another gap in an injury-ravaged Mountaineer defense.

Home forums The Film Room: West Virginia Mountaineers – Iowa State Cyclones

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  • #72147
    Kevin Kinder
    Kevin Kinder
    Muskets: 8,975

    The Film Room: West Virginia Mountaineers – Iowa State Cyclones Losses, of course, bring out much more commentary, not to mention angst, from the fan
    [See the full post at: The Film Room: West Virginia Mountaineers – Iowa State Cyclones]

    #72198

    Ccteam
    Muskets: 68,349
    Rank: Heisman Winner

    First play you showed led me to this question: How many times did Grier pass up the 5 to 10 yard gain that would have resulted had he thrown the pass to an open Sills on the slant? It was there and he had time. Chose to hang on to the ball and the result was a sack. I remember multiple times that Grier had more than ample time to throw but ended up sacked, throwing incomplete or running for a short gain. That was the type of game and type of defense that WV needed to take the short quick pass for positive yardage and live another down. They wouldn’t do it. Second and 5 is way better than second and 15 or 20. Riverboat gambler was too greedy many times Saturday.

    #72211

    TonyAlto
    Muskets: 18,661
    Rank: All-American

    To adequately evaluate the overall aspect of the failure
    of the passing game and assign fault, we need to see the
    whole field and routes run on every play!
    The one play shown as a sample of failure doesn’t do it!
    Firstly, from what I can see, I don’t buy what people are
    calling “open” on that play! Sills was about as open as the guys
    where in the 3 red zone interceptions. Secondly, it looks like all the
    other guys are going long and not looking back!? We can
    generalize until thecowscome home.

     

    #72226

    Ccteam
    Muskets: 68,349
    Rank: Heisman Winner

    I beg to differ. Receivers rarely get more open in college football than Sills was on that play if Grier let it go on time. It would have been a short gain, but it would have been a gain. The play was there. He didn’t take it. I asked how many other times that type of pass might have been open, didn’t assume it was always there.

    #72231
    Kevin Kinder
    Kevin Kinder
    Muskets: 8,975

    First play you showed led me to this question: How many times did Grier pass up the 5 to 10 yard gain that would have resulted had he thrown the pass to an open Sills on the slant? It was there and he had time. Chose to hang on to the ball and the result was a sack. I remember multiple times that Grier had more than ample time to throw but ended up sacked, throwing incomplete or running for a short gain. That was the type of game and type of defense that WV needed to take the short quick pass for positive yardage and live another down. They wouldn’t do it. Second and 5 is way better than second and 15 or 20. Riverboat gambler was too greedy many times Saturday.

    I didn’t count this specifically, because many times the entire downfield isn’t shown, so you can’t really tell if a receiver was available or not. There were a few of those, especially on the 3rd and 2 in the 3Q when ISU put nine in the box.

    I think sometimes his view might have been blocked, and sometimes ISU covered really well. Usually when you get a massive breakdown like happened to the WVU offense, it’s not just one problem, and I think all of these that you and others listed here were in play.

    #72232
    Kevin Kinder
    Kevin Kinder
    Muskets: 8,975

    To adequately evaluate the overall aspect of the failure
    of the passing game and assign fault, we need to see the
    whole field and routes run on every play!
    The one play shown as a sample of failure doesn’t do it!
    Firstly, from what I can see, I don’t buy what people are
    calling “open” on that play! Sills was about as open as the guys
    where in the 3 red zone interceptions. Secondly, it looks like all the
    other guys are going long and not looking back!? We can
    generalize until thecowscome home.

    Totally disagree on that assessment. If Grier throws the ball after Sills first 3-4 steps, he catches the ball for at least a 5-6 yard gain. And if he beats the DB trailing him, it’s about a 30-40 yarder. If you disagree, that’s fine, but compare this to the play in The Film Room from the Kansas game on the red zone pick. The space between defender and receiver is totally different.

    In no way did I say this was the cause of the overall failure of the passing game. I’ve said exactly the opposite — there were many breakdowns, including the OL, Grier’s decision-making, , etc.

    #72235

    TonyAlto
    Muskets: 18,661
    Rank: All-American

    To adequately evaluate the overall aspect of the failure
    of the passing game and assign fault, we need to see the
    whole field and routes run on every play!
    The one play shown as a sample of failure doesn’t do it!
    Firstly, from what I can see, I don’t buy what people are
    calling “open” on that play! Sills was about as open as the guys
    where in the 3 red zone interceptions. Secondly, it looks like all the
    other guys are going long and not looking back!? We canj
    generalize until thecowscome home.

    Totally disagree on that assessment. If Grier throws the ball after Sills first 3-4 steps, he catches the ball for at least a 5-6 yard gain. And if he beats the DB trailing him, it’s about a 30-40 yarder. If you disagree, that’s fine, but compare this to the play in The Film Room from the Kansas game on the red zone pick. The space between defender and receiver is totally different.
    Sorry, but as much as I can see on the film, I’m with Grier
    on this! What’s Critical here is the timing and risk factor
    Considering field position. If the throw is off or tipped
    It could be 6 the other way!
    I hope he hasn’t lost confidence!

    In no way did I say this was the cause of the overall failure of the passing game. I’ve said exactly the opposite — there were many breakdowns, including the OL, Grier’s decision-making, , etc.

    #72239

    Cuyahoga Falls Eers
    Muskets: 32,880
    Rank: Heisman Winner

    For 5 games, Grier would check off options 1, 2, 3 and 4, then throw to an open or stronger receiver in 3 seconds. Didn’t give defenses time to recover after receivers’ stop and go or twitch and ditch moves. For some reason, Grier ran as far as 20 yards behind the line of scrimmage, with the ball still in his hands. Granted, the offensive line’s blocking was putrid. They were like tackling dummies for Iowa State to knock down or brush off. But Grier was SO not Grier. The 7 sacks and 12 or more tackles for losses were not all on Grier, obviously. But he DID contribute to the collapse. So did the receivers who failed to shake off the Cyclone defenders. The defenders don’t know where you going, but you do. That gives receivers about a 2-second opening, enough for Grier to look like a Heisman candidate with his golden arm.

    But not against Iowa State. And you can bet that every remaining opponent is analyzing what Iowa State’s defense did to WVU’s offense, chortling and copycatting the defense moves onto their play diagrams. And the Cyclones too often got sacks or tackles for losses with a Three-man line! That is unacceptable.

    WVU has to get this train back up the cliff and on the track for the Baylor game to avoid another Geno Smith freefall from 5-0 to 7-6. I’ll be in Mountaineer Field hoping and praying that it’s a Resurrection and not another horrifying Dissection.

    M agnificent Grier passes shredded Tennessee, 40-14
    O verhelmed drenched Youngstown, 52-17
    U nable to play North Carolina State because of Hurricane Florence
    N asty defense against Kansas State, 35-6
    T errific, then timid on offense against Texas Tech, 42-34
    A ntsy time for fans, vs. Kansas!, 38-22
    I ncomprehensible insanely indescribably inept offense against Iowa State, 14-30
    N ail Baylor
    E rectile dysfunction Texas
    E lectrify TCU
    R eam Oklahoma State
    S laughter Oklahoma

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