The Film Room: West Virginia Mountaineers – Oklahoma Sooners
Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but there’s only one Film Room. Join us for a look at our trip to Norman as we break down the highs (ok,there aren’t a lot) and the lows of West Virginia’s loss to Oklahoma. Driving lessons for the Sooner Schooner included.
Here’s a look at one way in which West Virginia is trying to prop up its running game with different tactics. It’s the familiar jet sweep, whch counts as a pass in the stats, but are for all intents and purposes runs. WVU’s first two plays of the game resulted in 27 yards from this play. They perhaps went to the well once too often, as they tried it a third consecutive time, only to see the Sooners drop it for a five yard loss. You can’t, however, blame the attempt. An average of 13.5 yards per snap is something the Mountaineers haven’t seen over many stretches this year, and there will continue to be variations of this play in future game plans.
WVU uses two tight ends as lead blockers here to help the line, with a couple of benefits. First, it keeps the line from having to get to the perimeter and throw blocks, which has been problematic. The more mobile tight ends are able to get to opponents more quickly, and provide Sam James with a lane in which to operate. The blocking isn’t perfect, as both tight ends go for the same defender, but that did provide an outside lane that could have been even more productive. Still, this is a play that can be successful against defenses that are backed off in coverage.
Head coach Neal Brown mentioned “communication problems” with some players during the game, although that is a polite description of a pair of plays, the first of which we look at here.
“We had one guy that didn’t get a coverage call, and he didn’t give it to the field, and that happened on an Oklahoma touchdown,” defensive coordinator Vic Koenning said. “One of the safeties didn’t look to the sideline and get a coverage call. I don’t know how you can play a play without knowing what the dadgum coverage is. He’s my responsibility, and I have to continue to correct him. That’s my job. I haven’t seen or heard of anyone do that in a long time. It’s just been a bevy of mistakes. You just can’t do that.”
Errors of that sort have to happen to produce receivers as open as the Sooner on this play. As always in the film room, this isn’t intended to call out a specific individual. The lesson here is that while OU had a talent advantage, they were also greatly helped by West Virginia mental errors. Here, WVU cornerback Nicktroy Fortune is clearly expecting inside help, as he plays with outside leverage on the OU receiver. Unfortunately, none comes, resulting in a touchdown pass that 90% of those in attendance could have thrown.
Run game problems are illustrated in the clip, but it’s not just the fact that the Mountaineers are spilled for a five-yard loss. There are four defensive linemen on this snap, and all four are at least 3-4 yards across the line of scrimmage by the time Kennedy McKoy gets the ball. Two linebackers playing downhill add in to the mix.
The takeaway? If opponents are able to stop the run with a five-man box, they can also put more defenders on pass defense, which makes it more difficult for any makeup to occur in the WVU passing game. The Mountaineers, with six blockers on this play, don’t control any point of the line of scrimmage.
WVU has employed motion and resets on almost every punt this season, so seeing Dante Bonamico execute such a move across the formation wasn’t a telltale on the Mountaineers’ successful fake punt in the second quarter. Bonamico’s move brings a defender with him, and creates a better blocking angle for the line, as well as clearing a route for him as he comes back to take a pass from punter Josh Growden for a first down.
“We’ve been working on that. The overhand throw is not natural to him,” Brown said afterward.
Growden is presumably more comfortable throwing the ball underhand, owing to his Australian Rules Football background. That wouldn’t be illegal, and would definitely make some highlight reels, but he does a good job here of leading Bonamico with his short toss.
The crash of the Sooner Schooner in the game wasn’t the first in Oklahoma history. Back in 1993, a nearly identical scene played out, with a smaller Schooner of the day rolling over after attempting too tight of a turn on the artificial surface at Memorial Stadium. The exact same scenario played out on the natural grass surface last Saturday, with a bigger, and presumably even more top-heavy, Schooner failing the rollover test after a Sooner score. Again, an overly tight turn was the culprit, despite an OU official statement that blamed the wreck on “weight distribution among riders in the rear of the wagon”.
While that might be so, it’s clear that the real cause was excessive speed and a too-tight turning radius.
WVU threw nine passes that we’ll qualify as deep throws (20 yards or more) during the game. A couple were on the red zone border, but were throws toward the back pylon, so those get included here.
Four were off target enough to prevent completions, with one an underthrow that allowed a trailing OU defensive back to break up the pass. Three of those incompletions were overthrows, including a couple that would likely have been scores.
On two other attempts, the receiver was blanketed, with no real shot at a completion. Another resulted in pass interference on the defense, which counts as a win for the offense.
The final two, one of which is shown here, resulted in completions, although this one was nullified by a brace of offensive penalties by the Mountaineers. However, this is a perfect illustration of what Neal Brown means when he says his receivers have to win some 50-50 balls.
For the game, WVU’s receivers made two catches, with one disallowed, and got a defensive pass interference call on another. That’s just not enough to offset the run game woes, although the catches by Ali Jennings and Isaiah Esdale, along with the previously-demonstrated performance of Sam James, shows that the potential is there. How big of a step is it from potential to completing four or five such shots?
Remember those communication issues from above? They also come into play here. Josh Chandler is a key performer on the punt team, picking off rushers before they can get to the shield and then motoring downfield for tackles. It was on just such a play that he was injured in the first half.
Fast forward to the third quarter, and WVU is backed up inside its own 10-yard line. You can see WVU’s shield protectors trying to communicate with someone out of the frame, but whatever the intent, it doesn’t work. We can assume that the target of the communication was Chandler’s replacement. Two OU rushers come directly up the middle at one shield blocker, who doesn’t make contact with either. Thud, blocked punt, touchdown. While the blocking whiff contributed, it was communication prior to the snap that lay at the root.
“When you get people injured, that leads to players that haven’t played together. Josh Chandler goes out, we didn’t do as good a job communicating, and we leave a guy unblocked,” Brown summarized. “I’m not even sure they had a block on.”