The Film Room: West Virginia Mountaineers – Missouri Tigers
Trips to the film room often aren’t pleasant, and that’s certainly the case this week after West Virginia’s 38-7 loss at the hands of Missouri. Take heart, though — you only have to watch these eight clips. We’ve been through the entire contest multiple times.
West Virginia defensive coordinator Vic Koenning noted that Missouri did a good job with its cut off blocks in the first half. These blocks, entirely legal so long as they are not accompanied by a simultaneous block up high, often prevented backside pursuit against Tiger runs, and in some cases created logjams of Mountaineer defenders.
Even when not employing that tactic, however, MU typically ruled the line of scrimmage. In this early run, the Tigers mosh several interior run defenders together, building a wall that its running back can easily scoot behind. West Virginia’s upfield penetration is too late to affect the play in the backfield, leaving those defenders unable to make a play.
Contrast that last clip with this early look at the Missouri defense against the run. By the time WVU running back Kennedy McKoy gets the ball, two Tiger defensive linemen are three yards into the Mountaineer backfield, and those aren’t guys rushing wide off the edge. They have burst right through the interior of the line. It’s pretty much a giveaway that a play has not been blocked well when there are almost as many offensive linemen facing backward as forward.
Adding insult to injury, the Tigers have another defender a yard across the line. McKoy manages to skirt the penetration and split two more defenders for a three-yard gain, making something out of nothing, but repeated instances such as this led to another anemic rushing performance for West Virginia. Also note that the wideout at the top of the screen totally misses his blocking attempt, allowing yet another defender to get to the play — and he assists on the tackle. Head coach Neal Brown emphasized that everyone, not just the offensive line, has contributed to the poor rushing attack so far, and this is just one of many examples.
The Mountaineer passing attack has been more productive than the rushing game, but there have still been mistakes aplenty. On this first quarter interception, Kendall throws behind receiver Tevin Bush, who inadvertently tips the ball to a Missouri defender. On such a short pass, accuracy shouldn’t be an issue, but there have been enough slightly off-target passes to disrupt several plays.
That’s a phsyical mistake, though, and one that will happen from time to time. The mental mistake here was far more egregious in Brown’s eyes, who noted that Kendall threw the ball to the wrong teammate. Watch the middle receiver on the inside of the trips formation at the top of the screen. He settles into a vacant area in the MU defense, and a pass thrown to him would have resulted in at least a six- or seven-yard gain, putting WVU in scoring position. Instead, it’s the spark that ignites Mizzou’s onslaught.
West Virginia’s coaches noted that the Mountaineers missed five sacks and 22 tackles on the day — certainly enough to have at least kept the score closer and WVU in the game longer. While some credit has to go to Missouri quarterback Kelly Bryant, who has made a lot of defenders miss in his college career, poor fundamentals did WVU in time and again.
In this clip, Darius Stills has both hands on Bryant, but helicopters off him as Bryant twists away and rolls out to complete a pass downfield. The play results in a first down inside the WVU 15, rather than the third and 28 that should have been, and the Tigers are on their way to another touchdown.
After the game, Stills admitted that he didn’t break down in good tackling position, which allows a player to arrest his momentum to avoid flying by or off of the tackling target. West Virginia was also foiled by reaching for tackles, and by going high rather than at mid-thigh, where more effective takedowns can be made.
After the game, Brown outlined what teams have been and will be doing to WVU – outnumbering it by one in the box and setting up one-on-one situations that the Mountaineers must be able to win in order to move the ball. A survey of West Virginia’s running plays through the first three quarters supports that assessment. On 15 runs during that timeframe, only twice did WVU have an equal number of run blockers to the number of Tiger defenders in the box. The match-ups were different, ranging from five blockers against six defenders to seven against eight (the most predominant count) but the upshot is that teams are coming downhill against the WVU run game without too much worry about covering receivers behind them.
The Mountaineers did try to counter this by calling 22 passes in the first half (four wound up being sacks or scrambles by Kendall), but with two of those resulting in interceptions, as well as a handful of drops and misfires, those attempts had no loosening effect on the Tiger defense.
Hearken back to last week’s Chalkboard, when we noted that a run to the right was serving as a setup for an option back to the left. Well, it didn’t take long for that to materialize. Here, Austin Kendall fakes a handoff to Martell Pettaway and options out to the backside with wide receiver Tevin Bush, who starts in motion to the right, then reverses field to act as the pitch man.
This play should have gone for more yardage, but a couple of items got in the way. First, Kendall may have pitched the ball a bit too soon, although getting it into Bush’s hands isn’t a bad thing. (Props, too for Kendall continuing to run downfield in search of a blocking target.) Second, tight end Mike O’Laughlin picks the wrong target to block of the two Missouri defenders in pursuit. Had he just impeded the Tiger that was further outside Bush may have been able to run behind him, and his screen might have also tied up the MU teammate inside. As it was, this was a good play, but it had a chance to be an explosive one. If Bush gets to the sideline, WVU might have been set up in scoring position — or the play could have gone to the house, as only one more MU defender was on that side of the field.
This next may seem a bit minor, but it speaks not only to this play, but West Virginia’ lack of synchronization on offense. On fourth and five, Kendall gets the snap, but his slot receiver hasn’t even moved by the time the ball gets to him, and hasn’t crossed the line of scrimmage until Kendall is into the second step of his drop. Given Mizzou’s six man blitz on the play, with a seventh quickly following when he sees both backs stay in to block, a quick pass is called for. However, the receiver never gets to the first down marker, and is quickly covered, preventing a throw. Kendall is quickly buried by the rush, even with a seven-man max protect package, and WVU remains scoreless.
Lost in the one-sided game was West Virginia’s attempt “to steal a possession” in the words of Brown. On the opening kickoff, WVU attempted a pooch kick against a Missouri return configuration that appeared to leave an area of the field uncovered. However, Evan Staley’s attempt was off-target, and just like a pass that sails wide of a receiver, it ended up being an easy catch for a Tiger blocker.
There’s no problem with the call here — Brown knows he is going to have to be aggressive and take chances in order to compete. This was just another instance of the execution falling a bit short of success.
Here’s a look at one of Missouri’s cut blocks. Watch the Tiger left tackle, who gets into the legs of WVU’s Reuben Jones and knocks him off his feet. That provides a clean running lane for the MU back, who is able to sprint past while Jones is scrambling to get back to his feet. Combined with good blocks that move WVU’s nose and tackle out of the picture, there’s no stress on the runner until he’s well into the secondary.
Finally, a WVU highlight, but it was more the result of a Missouri miscue than anything. Watch as the Tiger cornerback completely whiffs on a jam attempt of George Campbell at the line of scrimmage, allowing the senior to waltz downfield unopposed for an easy catch and trip to the end zone. That’s not to say the design of the play wasn’t good — it was. Watch Bryce Wheaton cross the field on his route in the opposite direction to distract any potential deep help against Campbell.