The Film Room: West Virginia Mountaineers – Kansas Jayhawks
The game won’t be long remembered, but there were a number of instructive (and fun) clips to look at from West Virginia’s 38-22 win over Kansas. Hints for the future, a new twist on the option, and the best sack dance in WVU history are just some of the items on tap.
From the first play of the game, the West Virginia offense showed the communication errors that plagued it all day. Here, the Kansas right defensive end, who was lined up in a three-point stance on the line of scrimmage, and in a 3-man front no less, is left unaccounted for as he rushes the pocket. Will Grier gets the pass away for a completion, but is blasted for his efforts.
These are the kinds of mistakes that lead to losses. Opponents are going to make plays on their own, but gaffes such as this one will put marks in the loss column.
Kansas goes for it on fourth and one on its first possession, and West Virginia responds with — the stand-up defense?
Yep, all 11 defenders appear to be in pass defense mode, but it turns out to be a run blitz. All three linebackers, plus spur Dravon Askew-Henry, are in full-out rush mode. Even if the Kansas handoff hadn’t been botched, WVU had this play dead to rights, as it had two defenders in the hole where the back was aimed, and blitzers running free toward the quarterback.
If you were in the film room last week (and if you weren’t, that’ll be 50 push-ups), this play should look familiar. West Virginia pulls both its backside guard and tackle to lead LEddie Brown to the point of attack, and they clear a crease for a 40-yard run. Texas Tech was able to slow this play by crashing the backside edge defender, who got into the backfield on a couple of occasions to spoil it before it got started. This week, the Jayhawk end was just a half-step too slow, making the difference between an explosive play and a negative one.
That’s something that should remembered – the difference between success and failure at this level of football is often measured in one step or one extra bit of effort.
West Virginia lined up in a four-down lineman front on the first play of the game, giving hope to all of those fans who believe the three-man front is the root of all Mountaineer defensive failure. Alas for hat group, that was the only snap of the game to feature four big guys. The lucky participants were Jabil Robinson, Kenny Bigelow, Reese Donahue and Ezekiel Rose.
Was this just a deke to hide the fact that Toyous Avery was out, and to give the Jayhawks something to think about the rest of the afternoon? Perhaps so, and kudos to Tony Gibson if it was.
OK, it’s a WVU touchdown, but that’s not the reason for the review. The key to this play is Trevon Wesco, who didn’t catch the ball. Watch him from his left wingback position as he ties up the Kansas rusher, allowing Jovani Haskins time to run all the way across the formation from his opposite wingback spot and catch the ball in the open flat. It definitely helped that the Kansas linebacker on the play side decided to rush a rolling Will Grier late rather than chasing Haskins, but had he done so Grier would have had a running lane.
According to the rulebook, the snap on this Kansas fake punt was illegal. Rule 7-3-a-2 states: “The snapper may not lift the ball, move it beyond the neutral zone or simulate the start of a play.”
The snapper clearly lifts the ball and throws it in two separate motions. While we have no problems with trick plays here in the film room (other than announcers who continue to use the term “trickeration”), this one was illegal. It was all part of a terrible day on the field for the Big 12 crew.
We can’t get inside Will Grier’s head here, but our thinking is that he was frustrated with WVU’s inability to run the ball in the red zone. Did that lead to a couple of the forced passes that were picked off in the end zone? This pick was preceded by a loss of yardage on an inside run, and it wasn’t the first time on the day that happened.
Whatever the impetus, Kansas was also helped by the lack of a run fake, which allowed its linebackers to drop into the underneath passing zones a beat more quickly. There was no place for either Gary Jennings or David Sills to operate on their slants, and nowhere to throw that pass where either could have caught it.
Speaking of that red zone rushing attack: WVU had 11 rushing plays in the red zone against the Jayhawks. Overall the results might seem ok, as the Mountaineers totaled 30 yards on those carries. However, the devil, or in this case the bad news, is in the details.
On three of those carries, West Virginia had gains of 18, 10 and 9 yards. That’s great. But there was also a loss of four yards and three losses of three yards each, and all of those consisted of a barely-contested Kansas defender blowing up a play before it even got started. A no-gain and positives of two and three yards were countered by Leddie Brown’s massive second-effort for a one-yard TD, but there’s no sugar-coating this one no matter what the stats say. WVU continues to have problems getting a push in short-yardage situations. Is the solution to put that on the shelf and keep throwing it?
This is the best illustration ever of ESPN talking heads interrupting game action. That’s not the focus here, but this is emblematic of the terrible ways in which it intrudes on the game. But we digress.
What we’re looking at here is a a new school triple option, built off a Will Grier keeper on a previous possession. Grier has the handoff and keeper choices, but he also has David Sills out wide, who has a nice path after Grier draws the defense with his initial steps downfield. The great thing is that Grier can pitch the ball no matter how far he advances.
WVU ran a similar look earlier in the game, with the only difference being that Grier came in motion from the backside and got past Grier before the option action commenced. On that play, no one took Grier, so he dashed upfield for a substantial gain.
WVU will have to watch other teams using this play — Oklahoma ran it successfully against Texas last Saturday, and you can bet any team which has a QB that can run will be stealing implementing it.
Kickoff return chances have become more rare this year with the new touchback rules, and a continuing influx of kickers capable of booting the ball into the end zone. Marcus Simms got a chance on this one, though, and was just one tackler (the kicker) away from breaking it. WVU gets several good blocks at the point of the intended crease, and just needed to shade the kicker in one direction or the other to get the first kickoff return for a score in the Big 12 this season.
One other takeaway: WVU should be aggressive in allowing Simms to run back kickoffs, no matter where he catches them. The key is for him to not catch the ball while backing up or leaning backward. If he can catch it while stationary, or on a measured forward pace, taking the shot at a return is worth it.
It’s a mundane third and one. But who’s that at fullback? Logan Thimons? Trevon Wesco? Nope, it’s Leddie Brown — and in the I-formation no less. This isn’t a signal that Brown is changing positions, but it is something to watch for in the future. Either Brown or Martell Pettaway is a good choice for the upback spot in this situation, and they could also be lead blockers if WVU chooses to had the ball to the trailing back.
West Virginia dropped back to pass roughly 46 times against Kansas. We say “approximately” because there’s always room for debate as to whether or not a play or two was actually a designed run, but for our purposes the 46 is pretty solid. Of those, only 24 saw the combination of a good snap, good pass protection and an accurate throw. That WVU still managed to gain 332 yards through the air speaks to just how good the Mountaineers can be, but there were a ton of opportunities for yardage left on the field. Mistakes are going to happen, but a total of 22 breakdowns isn’t close to the efficiency WVU will need to win in the second half of the season.
There is simply no way on earth this call should have been missed. Sometimes, an official is blocked out and can’t see the play. Many other times, there’s only one official to make the call, because it happens in an area that only he or she is responsible for. But this one? The head linesman, the line judge, the back judge, the side judge and the field judge should all be looking at this area. Will Grier’s helmet was blasted from his head, and he was hit well after his slide, leaving two different penalty options to be considered — or apparently not.
Now Grier knows how Clint Trickett felt.
Derrek Pitts has done an excellent job, and put the team first, by moving uncomplainingly from bandit to cornerback and now back to bandit. He had a very good game filling in for Toyous Avery against Kansas, and his aggressiveness shines on this play.
Blitzing from a deep half, Pitts doesn’t give his intention away too early, but times his move well and hits top speed before any Jayhawk can react. Look at a diagram in Tony Gibson’s defensive playbook, and this is what you’ll see.
Plus, his sack dance is epic.
Somehow we managed to leave a clip of this out of our review, but WVU has changed its punt protection scheme. The Mountaineers are now using just a two-man shield, rather the the trio of protectors it formerly employed, in front of punter Billy Kinney. This shold help in getting an extra player down in coverage more quickly.