The Film Room: West Virginia Mountaineers – Oklahoma Sooners
If last week’s trip down the stairs to our corner was painful, this one is absolutely brutal. West Virginia battled hard, but missed several chances (and had one stolen) in its loss to Oklahoma on Friday night. Still, for those that aren’t tossing the bowl game in the trash, there are still some things to be learned from the 59-56 defeat.
This might be the most innocuous play of the game, but there are still a couple of interesting aspects to look at. It’s third and one, and WVU is in the I formation. Not only that, but the fullback isn’t Logan Thimons or Trevon Wesco. It’s Leddie Brown, who gets the handoff more quickly than Kennedy McKoy would have done at the back of the I. That proves to be important, because WVU center Matt Jones is pushed into the backfield. Brown gets the handoff quickly enough, though, to skip around the penetration and get the first down.
Also notice that Oklahoma didn’t react to West Virginia’s motion. That’s something the Mountaineers will file away for the bowl game, as could look to create something in the passing game in a similar situation.
Here’s Oklahoma in the FSL — remember that from last week? Three wide receivers into the boundary, which is designed to draw WVU linebacker David Long out into coverage. However, the Mountaineers have adjusted, and have put Long over on the wide side of the field, while shifting a safety over to help on the initial coverage of the bunched receivers.
All that looks great — but it’s negated by the sheer speed of OU quarterback Tyler Murray, who runs untouched for a 55-yard score. Long is blocked by Sooner running back Trey Sermon on the blitz, and after that there’s only one Mountaineer defender with a shot.
And no, I don’t think that’s a hold on the Oklahoma receiver downfield. He’s squared up, and has his hands inside the frame of his opponent. In any event, that’s not the point here. What is important is that no matter how good the design, it can all be wrecked by one player with superior skills. Watching this, WVU fans should have a better understanding of how Pat White made fans of the opposition feel.
WVU’s safeties, despite an interception from Kenny Robinson, didn’t have a great game. There were far too many bites on shorter routes, and a couple of broken coverages. We see the former here, as the safety in the middle of the field breaks downhill to cover a crossing route, while another takes outside leverage against an Oklahoma receiver with far too much room to operate on the inside.
Was the latter expecting help, or was it just a physical error? Either way, allowing a receiver to get behind a defense that is dropping into deep thirds coverage at the snap is a crusher.
We’ll never get an explanation for how this wasn’t targeting. Whoever was in the replay booth, and in the Big 12 command center in Dallas, should be made to offer one, though. It’s clearly a hit with the crown of the helmet, which is one of the indicators for calling the foul.
To be clear, here is Rule 9-1-3 from the NCAA Manual:
“No player shall target and make forcible contact against an opponent with the crown of his helmet. This foul requires that there be at least one indicator of targeting (See Note 1 below). When in question, it is a foul.”
There are four indicators in Note 1. One of them states:
“Lowering the head before attacking by initiating forcible contact with the crown of the helmet”
So, not only did every reviewer not think that this hit came with the crown of the helmet, they thought it was without question.
What might be a bigger shame was the voyeuristic way ESPN continued to show Simms after he went to the sidelines and was trying to return to the game. One clip and one comment was enough. To keep showing it displays just how crass the networks have become in their pursuit of sensationalizing anything it can get its hands on. It’s worse than Twitter.
There was some grumbling about West Virginia’s decision to on-side kick with 4:20 left to go in the game while trailing by just three points. That was led by ESPN’s on-air talent, which called the decision “way too early”. Apparently, they weren’t watching the game, and failed to notice that WVU was having very little success in stopping Oklahoma.
Just for the record, the Sooners had 11 meaningful offensive possessions, excluding a kneel down to end the first half. They scored six touchdowns, one field goal, had two turnovers, punted once, and knelt on the ball to end the game. They gained a total of 102 yards on the two drives that ended in turnovers. By what reasoning did anyone think West Virginia could stop OU and get the ball back?
The pick call on David Sills, which negated a WVU touchdown, was a tough one. Sills puts up his hands as he contacts the defender in an attempt to show he’s not trying to take him out, but it looks bad, and that’s probably why it is called. The Oklahoma defender also grabs him and takes him down during the play – perhaps that’s a savvy move on his part to help draw the flag once he realizes he can’t get to Gary Jennings on the outside.
One other item to consider is that Sills didn’t need to contact the defender at all, and he’s smart enough to know that. Does that provide support for Sills’ statement that he was just trying to run his route? Without being able to crawl inside anyone’s head, the video becomes the sole basis upon which to judge. This one falls in the “some officials will call this, some won’t” category.
Rewatch the last clip. Then watch this one. There’s a pick here, but it’s legal, because the pass doesn’t cross the line of scrimmage. It’s a surprise that more teams don’t run action like this, especially against blitz-heavy teams, where linebackers or safeties aren’t waiting to break up the short pass. WVU is rushing seven here, which plays right into the design — assuming that it was drawn up that way.
Remember the failed WVU QB sneak against Oklahoma State? West Virginia makes an adjustment to its alignment in a similar situation. Trevon Wesco (88) lines up between the guard and tackle on the left side, which puts him in position to start the push of Will Grier into the end zone. Backed by Logan Thimons (42), both are able to shove Grier to paydirt after he was initially stymied.
Also different from last week, OU’s defensive line is head up on West Virginia’s center and guards, rather than in gaps. The blocking here is a little different too, as the Mountaineers totally ignore the two outside OU defenders in favor of the pushing tactic. It worked, but it looks strange.
And, then there’s the capper. The penalty call on the block by TJ Simmons will long be remembered by Mountaineer fans, and despite attempts to explain it away by ESPN, the flag should not have been thrown. Again, we go back to the rule book
Rule 9 Article 7 c states: “It is illegal for any player to be clearly out of bounds when he initiates a block against an opponent who is out of bounds. The spot of the foul is where the blocker crosses the sideline in going out of bounds.”
1) Simmons was clearly inbounds when the block was initiated.
2) The OU defender was clearly inbounds when the block was initiated.
There is NOTHING in the rule which states that the block has to cease when either player goes out of bounds.