The Film Room: West Virginia Mountaineers – TCU Horned Frogs
It’s the Trevon Wesco Show! There were certainly other plays to break down from West Virginia’s 47-10 destruction of TCU, but the West Virginia native figured heavily in the Mountaineers’ offensive performance. Plus, his Owen Schmitt-style runs after the catch are just plain fun. Flick off the lights, pull up a metal folding chair and grab your clicker.
Even though WVU ran into a lightly-defended box early in the game, success was limited, often due to breakdowns. Here, WVU has five blockers against the same number of run defenders, which should be a recipe for success — and one of those is a late arrival via a blitz.
However, one offensive lineman fails to pick up a mid-field defender, allowing him to run unimpeded to the ball to make the tackle. This should have been at least a 10-yard gain, and Kennedy McKoy might have had a one-on-one opportunity against the free safety in the middle of the field. Instead, it’s a two-yard loss. It’s these sorts of misses that are keeping West Virginia’s offense from averaging 50 points per game.
Things have been getting better in the run game overall, though, and here’s a perfect example. It’s six on six, and every Mountaineer gets a hat on a TCU defender. Martell Pettaway isn’t touched until he’s 12 yards downfield, and he runs through contact for a 17-yard gain.
The entire O-Line blocks down to the right, and Trevon Wesco seals the backside with a big shot that puts Pettaway on his horse. WVU has used Wesco to block both inside and out this year, and against TCU the tactic was to use him to clean up rushing edge defenders.
Head coach Dana Hogorsen credited the use of tempo as a key in helping get things going against the TCU defense. So, we charted it. We counted as “up-tempo” any snap that came within 15 seconds of the end of the previous play, and a few others where WVU got to the line quickly and didn’t substitute. Of course, some of this is subjective, but it still illustrates the point.
In the first quarter, WVU ran nine plays (not counting the first play of each possession) at a regular pace, and only two at a faster rate. In the second quarter, there were ten “regular” snaps, but eight quick ones. With the game in hand, the pace lessened in the second half, especially in the fourth quarter, where the Mountaineers were running out the clock. Of the 27 chances for tempo, WVU used just three, and two of those came after first downs.
That last is an important factor to note. Five times in the game, WVU converted a first down, then hurried to the line with no substitutions. That’s usually designed to keep a specialty defense on the field that might be exploited again. It’s a common tactic, and one that the Mountaineers will see from Oklahoma State this week.
Wesco’s touchdown catch was a great setup off a pair of WVU staples. First, he’s at a familiar wingback position, with two stacked receivers outside him. This look often results in a run to the right, or a slant route to one of the outside receivers. The TCU linebacker at the 34-yard line guesses some sort of two-man route combination, and never reacts to Wesco’s release. The cornerback on the outside focuses on the WVU back releasing out of the backfield, and no one else notices a 270-pound mountain of a man slipping down the sidelines.
This sort of bust is rare in a zone defense, but WVU’s break in tendency clearly had the Frogs in the dark.
Marcus Simms’ injury status and usage rate contributed to WVU putting Tevin Bush and Alec Sinkfield back on kickoff returns. Three’s plus and minus here, as Simms can fly and has underrated moves in the open field. However, Bush was an accomplished high school return man, and this is a good way to get he and Sinkfield a couple more touches per game, even though the new kickoff rules are curtailing the number of return chances.
There’s no way to blame David Long for not coming up with this interception — the ball got on him very quickly and came out of a scrum of bodies. In fact, it’s just the opposite. Although Long has any number of plays to single out, this one shows one of his many talents.
Watch as Long, lined up at the will linebacker spot on the right side of the formation, reacts to the handoff action. The TCU quarterback clearly thinks he has everyone locked in on the run, but Long, more quickly than anyone else, sees that the handoff didn’t occur, and is dropping back into coverage a couple of beats before any other defender. He gets right into the throwing lane for the pass break-up and near pick.
Several elements come into play on this Wesco catch. First, there’s motion, which WVU has employed more in recent games. Tevin Bush comes across the formation, causing one of TCU’s safeties to react and move up about seven yards from pre-snap to the snap. He also drifts outside just a bit to maintain leverage against the possible jet sweep.
Meanwhile, the hybrid safety\linebacker in TCU’s 4-2-5 is coming on a blitz, which makes Will Grier’s read and choice an easy one, as the defender has made an early declaration as to his intentions. Wesco has Potomac Highlands-sized room to catch the ball, and of course he finishes it by making another potential tackler miss.
The RPO here is also clearly illustrated. If the hybrid defender stays back, the handoff can occur. Also, WVU can run this play or formation again with an eye on the deep safety — if he’s not so aggressive, the jet sweep is an option, and if he is, there’s single coverage on the receiver on the right side. In this case, the receiver is run blocking, but set that look up a couple of times, and a deep ball (“shot plays” in offensive coordinator Jake Spavital’s parlance) could be in the offing.
Both teams were plagued by drops in the passing game, with each missing chances for touchdowns among the miscues. WVU had three drops, including two on passes in the end zone to David Sills. He was also part of another incompletion where he slipped in his cut — that would have been a 20+ yard gain.
TCU had four, including a mess-up on a lateral that would have led to a pass downfield to a wide-open Jalen Reagor that likely would have been a TD.
The wind was a factor on deep balls as well as kicks, where TCU suffered two big self-inflicted wounds. It looked as if the wind made the ball drift on one of the deep routes to Sills, and it held it up on another TCU downfield shot.
Four receivers are withing ten yards of each other on this route, which might seem to make a bit of a crowded mess, but the design leads to a score. Earlier in the game, TCU had done a good job of switching defenders against crossing routes, so this time WVU uses Wesco as a pick. He does a great job of not making contact with his hands or doing anything that could be flagged, and with TCU in man-under coverage there’s no time for a deep safety to get there to help — and in any case, the one on that side of the play is distracted by the deep slant into the end zone.
The linebacker picks up the back out of the backfield, because if he didn’t that’s a walk-in score, and those passes have been a staple since the start of the year. Remember Kennedy McKoy’s stroll on a red zone swing pass against Tennessee? In any event, Gary Jennings, running the cross from the right slot, is as open as anyone can expect to be this close to the goal line.
Luke Hogan took over kickoff duties for WVU in the second half, and did a good job. Might he get more looks in the final three (or four) games of the year? At this point in the season, keeping legs fresh is important, and having someone to handle all three different types of kicks (punts, placekicks and kickoffs) is a bonus. It’s definitely the preference of head coach Dana Holgorsen, so long as the results are fairly close.
Hogan had three attempts in the second half. The first two, with the wind, were fair caught at the one- and five-yard lines, respectively. The last, in the opposite direction, carried 50 yards and looked to be a planned sky kick. It came down at the 15, and TCU managed a 12-yard return.
We just don’t buy the officials’ explanation that negated what should have been a WVU fumble recovery and return for a score. The ball was clearly out well before the TCU ball carrier hit the ground — in fact, he’s closer to vertical than horizontal when it does so. There aren’t any apparent whistles, either.
Even if there were, upon review if a fumble was deemed to have occurred, and is immediately recovered by the defense, then the defense gets the ball at that spot. At a minimum, that should have been the result here.
However, the official ruling was that the TCU player’s forward progress was stopped before the fumble, therefore the ball was dead. Why then, are no officials seen running in to stop the play? One is clearly visible in the frames, while the legs of one of the linesmen can be seen at the top. He’s not running in to mark the spot either. Seems like a cop-out.