Yes, it was painful — probably more than watching it unfold in real time. However, that doesn’t get us out of the duty. We’ve looked at the Guaranteed Rate Bowl a couple of times through, and even amidst a low-scoring, low-energy game, there were enough items to serve as instructional fodder. The inclination is to, as one long-ago WVU bowl opponent noted, “burn the game film”, but the hope is that some learning will result from one of the more disappointing performances in recent Mountaineer memory.
Minnesota’s passing game got next to no attention in the run-up to the game, but the Gophers were able to complete enough to keep West Virginia from totally selling out against the run — with some coming against very soft coverage. On this third and nine early in the game, the Minnesota receiver has plenty of room to operate against the Mountaineer corner, and a late drop from the linebacker underneath allows a huge amount of free space in the passing lane. WVU ends up with two ‘backers on the short crossing route, which is well short of the first down, but allows an easy pitch and catch that continued the possession.
West Virginia’s screen game was one of the few offensive areas where the Mountaineers hoped to do some damage, but the Gophers’ hard press tactics, along with some less than enthusiastic blocking, kept WVU from its usual productivity.
In this clip, one UM DB is moving toward the line at the start of the two-man play, and the block effort on him doesn’t do much, as he beats it to the outside and forces the receiver back inside. Rather than the safety, who backs out at the snap, secondary support comes from the linebacker, who flies out to take away the inside lane. Even a defensive end has time to get out to help due to the excellent jamming job by the corner.
As head coach Neal Brown noted, WVU had a few decent results on screens, but plays such as this one more than offset those minor successes.
West Virginia’s season-long issues on offense were glaringly evident in the game. WVU receivers had eight chances to make contested catches of passes, and came up with exactly one. Add in a drop on its first drive, and the Mountaineers left 4-5 catches wanting. Granted, every contested catch is not going to be made, but 1 for 8 is going to lead to a loss almost every time.
Now add in the fact that Doege was under pressure on 19 passing attempts in the game (with several of those resulting in big hits) and WVU’s 18-31 mark in attempts and completions is pretty easy to categorize. This might have been the place where the absence of Leddie Brown, who skipped out of the game, was felt the most, as he was a solid pass protector. The lack of tight ends was also a significant factor.
Throw in a terrible heave by Doege that was intercepted (he was under pressure, but never had a chance to get the ball to a receiver,) and the deadly combination of mistakes and errors served as an unwelcome punctuation point to the 2021 season.
If you can’t take advantage of your opponents’ mistakes, you probably aren’t going to win. WVU misses a huge opportunity here as the Gophers are dazed and confused with their personnel, and wind up defending the play with only 10 men. Quarterback Jarret Doege never sees an uncovered Sam James to his left, and James never looks into the backfield or calls for the ball.
While the Mountaineers did get a first down on the ensuing run, this could have been something bigger — perhaps even a score? While it’s true that one UM defender was running out toward James, 11-on-10 should result in more than a four-yard pickup.
Let’s give WVU some credit for trying some tweaks in the game — and working on a couple more that will be held for future use after the right situation to call them didn’t come up.
Here, it’s the muddle huddle on WVU’s two-point conversion, and for those of us of a certain age, we can still hear Jack Fleming calling that formation in the mid-70s, when the Mountaineers routinely lined up with the kicking team in this manner to make sure the defense was covering it before reverting to a standard kicking formation.
Sorry, the mind was wandering. Minnesota covers the initial formation well, then blows up the possibility of any late development by getting two rushers into the backfield quickly, forcing Doege to make a late throw off his back foot that is knocked down by the defender. Running back Tony Mathis effectively eliminates himself from the play (might he have picked up one of the rushers or gotten into a route on the sideline?), and the play might have wound up better had Doege had the time to flip the ball to Winston Wright, stationed behind five blockers on the left hand side. Still, the key to the play was UM’s pressure, which forced a too-quick decision.
If anything sums up WVU’s pass protection and blocking this year, this one does. Minnesota shows six potential rushers on the line of scrimmage, but drops out three and winds up rushing the same number. Identifying who is crossing the line and actually rushing was a challenging task for West Virginia all year, and this shows some of the problems that were prevalent.
UM’s inside rusher crosses the face of the center and falls to the ground while attempting a spin, but he’s gained enough ground against little contact to get to Doege, who steps right into his grasp. Protection on the left is o.k. with a double team at first, but the chip from running back Tony Mathis serves more to take him out of a checkdown route, and there’s no clearing of any of the three rushers from their lanes.
The Gophers collapse the pocket on all fronts, and without a mobile QB, a sack results on a play in which there should be plenty of time to throw the ball.