MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Before you fire up the Bell & Howell projector, do yourself a favor. Re-watch WVU’s win over Texas for pure enjoyment. Revel in tough runs, both in the run game and after catches. Enjoy WVU’s mental toughness. And most of all, enjoy the further toasting of an already burnt orange crew as West Virginia zaps the Horns’ postseason hopes.
Now, on to the study.
We’ve watched a couple of breakdowns in WVU’s screen game in preceding weeks in this space – here’s one that’s executed very well. The Mountaineers use motion to get Reese Smith into blocking position, and Texas, in a zone, doesn’t shift appreciably. That allows Smith a one-on-one block on the corner assigned to Bryce Ford-Wheaton, and Jarret Doege recognizes this and quickly gets the ball to BFW.
Even though the pass is to the short side of the field, Texas’ end and outside backer don’t have time to get out to the sideline, and Ford-Wheaton completes the play by quickly getting upfield behind the block for a first down.
Also note all of WVU’s other movement — the entire offensive line, as well as running back Leddie Brown, are moving to their right as part of the RPO action of the play.
This was a fun one — Garrett Greene lines up in the backfield next to Doege, takes a handoff, and throws a pass. Not only does Greene get hidden a little bit in the shuffle of the substitution, there’s a lot more that could develop from this formation, as head coach Neal Brown admitted on Tuesday. Obviously Greene could run the ball, even though a blocker is subtracted with the use of two QBs, and the surprise factor is still there in the heat of the game.
One unnoticed aspect of the play – Greene makes a good read in selecting the correct receive to throw the ball to. He has both a short and mid-range receiver, and gets the ball to the latter — Winston Wright. Again, though, the options are numerous on this action. Roll him out with a tight end dragging short and either a cross or a post deeper behind him? A reverse? A throwback? We hope to see this set more in the final game(s) of the 2021 season
Here’s a good look at the base defense West Virginia ran Saturday. WVU played a three-man front and dropped eight on many snaps, and was first conscious of limiting the potential for explosive plays while also accounting for many of the injuries in its secondary, as head coach Neal Brown explained. WVU also used the cloud coverage concept with three deep safeties at times, and executed it very well while giving up just one big play in the passing game.
Here, bandit Jared Bartlett is off the line at the top, and safety/will ‘backer Scottie Young is in a similar position on the other side of the line.
When using its dime/rover/cloud options, WVU can look something like Iowa State, in which a light box is presented at the snap, but more defenders can get into running lanes quickly to jam things up. That happens here, as WVU starts with what looks like a good defense to run against, given Texas’ two tight ends, but the Mountaineers wind up with eight defenders close to the ball as soon as it’s snapped, and cornerback Jackie Matthews steps into the hole behind a blocker to limit Roschon Johnson to a one-yard gain.
And then, the opposite. Texas gets good blocking on this run into the boundary, but WVU does have a safety coming downhill with a one-on-one chance to stop Keilan Robinson for a short gain. There’s a bit of a bad angle, though, and the Texas back is able to hit the crease at full speed, giving no other Mountaineer defender a chance to track him down.
So many plays come down to this — one key block, one missed read — that swing the tide one way or the other. WVU had perhaps three such plays that it didn’t execute well that resulted in UT big gains, but that wasn’t enough to get a win for the Longhorns.
Here’s another look at how WVU changed alignments a bit on defense, but still used its base personnel throughout. This time Bartlett and Young, as bandit and will, are up on the line of scrimmage, with Josh Chandler-Semedo the lonely backer on the second level. This lets WVU attack gaps all along the line, but if there’s a quick pop of the first line of defense the three safeties have to fill quickly.
West Virginia meets the call on both fronts – the defensive line doesn’t get big penetration in the backfield, but there’s gap control across the board, and Chandler-Semedo, along with Alonzo Addae and Matthews, provide plenty of second level support. Johnson is limited to a short gain, setting up another passing situation that the Horns struggled to succeed in all day.
We’re including this one … well, just because. Leddie Brown has labored all year with few big holes or chances to rip off gains, and instead has powered through contact to maximize his yardage. He is outstanding at not only keeping his balance, but also in deploying stiff-arms and using his hands to stay off the ground, and his legs never stop driving. All of that is on display here, and it’s a treat to watch. We’ll miss it.
Also, notice the late reset of tight end TJ Banks. From his wing spot, he has an extra few steps with which to slide to the play side and get a kick-out block on the play side linebacker. That sets Brown up with the one-on-one that he wins, rather than having to face two potential tacklers.
In the second quarter, West Virginia swarmed a Texas inside run for a loss of four yards after the Horns had moved to the Mountaineer 29. Fast forward to the fourth quarter, and UT tries a similar, if not identical, play on third and six from the Mountaineer 28. Was WVU ready, with good scouting showing a tendency for this call in that area of the field?
Whatever the reason, WVU made perhaps its biggest defensive play of the game here. Texas tries to pull its backside guard to lead the run, but that leaves the center to try to get to his right and cut Dante Stills. Stills is just too fast, and he beats that block. The backside tackle has to be concerned with Bartlett rushing off the edge, leaving Stills a clear path into the backfield, where he stuffs Johnson, along with cleanup help from Taijh Alston, for a two yard loss. That put the Horns in fourth and eight, where Casey Thompson’s heave was easily picked off by Sean Mahone.
Had Texas gotten 2-3 yards on third down, the whole playbook would have been open. Instead, WVU’s heads-up play and another one-on-one win put the Horns in a situation that they couldn’t convert, similar to the other nine third- and fourth-down conversion attempts they came up short on in the contest.