The Film Room: West Virginia Mountaineers – Texas Tech Red Raiders
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — West Virginia’s 42-34 win over Texas Tech contained numerous candidates for our review — so many that winnowing them down was a tough exercise. The following segments, and additional observations, were culled after a lengthy prep session in The Film Room.
West Virginia’s defensive line has benefited markedly from the ability to rotate seven players through the three positions, but that was short-circuited somewhat during the second half, when multiple players were injured or cramped up and missed time. The long-term good news is that all appear ok for duty this week. The bad news, at least for the second half of the Texas Tech game, was that those remaining faced more far more snaps than they had in any other two quarters this year.
While the snap numbers were spread out pretty well, there were instances when subs weren’t readily available.
“There was a time or two when I wanted to come out but couldn’t,” Donahue said afterward. “But everyone kept playing hard.”
Wide receiver Gary Jennings had an up and down day, with two uncharacteristic drops marring the sheen of a pair of touchdown receptions. His first TD grab shows his strengths in the way he operates in the middle of the field. Despite getting a big bump on his route, he not only maintained his path, but fought off the contact to make a very good catch. That’s not something many college receivers can do.
He’s not the only one with that ability, which is getting notice from other Big 12 coaches. Even when coverage is good, Jennings, along with Marcus Simms, David Sills and TJ Simmons, can all fight through contact and make catches.
Is this as fast as West Virginia has ever run a play after one that might have been reviewed? Granted, the first play was a third down, so WVU was primed to get the second one off quickly if it got the first down, in the hopes of keeping the same Texas Tech defensive 11 on the field. There was also the added benefit, though, of getting the ensuing play off before a review of the first one was triggered. While Jennings clearly did not fumble the ball, a stoppage could have occurred, which would have allowed the Red Raiders to change their personnel.
This wasn’t a huge moment in this game, but it is something to keep in mind for the future. Even though the Mountaineers don’t operate at nearly the pace they used to, they are still capable of it, and that’s a good option to have in their collective back pocket.
Last week, WVU set up a deep touchdown strike to Marcus Simms with an intermediate route on the preceding play. Apparently, Texas Tech wasn’t paying close attention, because the Mountaineers followed a similar pattern on these back-to-back snaps.
First, Simms runs a stop route against a Tech defender playing eight yards off the ball, and makes a 14-yard gain after Will Grier gets him the ball quickly. On the next snap, the cornerback is up in press coverage, and when Simms gets a clean release off the line, there’s only the safety to be worried about. Unfortunately for the Red Raiders, the defender’s attention is turned to the opposite side of the field, giving him no chance to close on the speedy Simms as he races by the corner for the catch and the score.
There was something in the air, or the water in Lubbock on Friday night, at least in the rooms where the wide receivers slept. Both West Virginia and Texas Tech pass-catchers had trouble grabbing passes that they usually snare without a second thought.
For WVU, the count was six very catchable balls that didn’t find their way into the cradling hands of their intended targets. Four wound up as incompletions, one was negated via a holding penalty, and the sixth, while caught, cost WVU a first down when the ball ricocheted off the helmet of T.J. Simmons back to David Sills. Sills made the grab, but was a few yards short of the first down marker.
WVU’s four drops would have totaled at least 70 yards in gains.
Texas Tech fared little better, with four drops of their own, including one that bounded into the hands of WVU safety Kenny Robinson. So, in a way, it might be argued that the miscues evened themselves out, but it was still shocking to see all of those passes hit the turf.
Simms was the only WVU wideout that wasn’t afflicted, as Simmons, Gary Jennings and David Sills each had two get away from them.
Texas Tech’s first touchdown of the day might look like it was all on WVU cornerback Keith Washington, but was he expecting a bit of deep help? Washington does flip his hips early and turn to run with Tech wideout Antoine Wesley, but you can also see a glimpse of free safety Kenny Robinson first rolling back to the middle of the field as a single-high safety before biting up on a receiver in the middle of the field. Toyous Avery was also playing coverage underneath, so it looks like there was a misstep somewhere along the way.
This is pointed out not to cast aspersions on any one player, but to note that the closest defender to the ball might not always be the guy who made a misplay. All of these things unfold quickly, and defenders in zone coverages must make split-second reads and decisions. Mistakes are going to happen — the important thing is to limit their numbers.
This is an RPO — sort of. While quarterback Will Grier almost always has the option to throw off looks like this, the setup is designed to make the defense think pass and then run it. It’s more of a conventional draw play, but still all part of the evolution of offensive football.
“That’s what we were doing there,” Kennedy McKoy said. “Will can throw it, but it’s set up to give a pass look, then hand it off. We had thrown several passes before this play.”
Note Grier’s exaggerated look to his right, which makes second level defenders hesitant. This is also one of the best-blocked plays on the day — the Mountaineer offensive line walls off bot the defensive line and two linebackers, creating a great seam for McKoy, who executes a great dip on Tech safety Vaughnte Dorsey to get to the goal line.
The initial cross in this passing route between David Sills and Gary Jennings is a staple of the WVU passing attack. The Mountaineers use twin receivers on numerous plays, and one of the ways they separate coverage is by the use of the early cross. In this instance, Texas Tech does not switch, and both defensive backs actually do a good job of sticking with their assignments.
There’s only one flaw, though. Defensive back Douglas Coleman, moving over to cover Jennings down the sideline, naturally has his back to Grier. That makes the back shoulder throw an automatic, and Jennings attacks the ball and snares it. Coleman did get his head around as Jennings neared the top of his route, but it was too late for him to make a play on the ball, which was already on its way.
WVU cornerback Keith Washington had an epic first game, and he set the tone for it with a series in the first quarter where he single-handedly recorded a three and out.
On Tech’s third possession, Washington broke on a pass intended for Antoine Wesley and nearly picked it off. On second down, Demarcus Felton got the ball on a draw, but Washington swooped over and limited the damage to six yards. You might have thought Tech would try to stay away from the junior college transfer at that point, but nope, here came another pass to Wesley. Washington got a hand into Wesley’s catching frame and deflected the ball to force a punt. Has there been a better defensive series for one player in recent memory?
Of course, social media focused on WVU tackle Yodny Cajuste breaking out into a boxing stance at the conclusion of this scuffle, because, well, the majority of those on that scene are only focused on what gets hits, or can be consumed in a five-second span.
The real takeaway from this, however, is more serious. First, Cajuste and fellow combatant Eli Howard should have both been ejected. This wasn’t the garden variety push or shove. Each threw clear punches. Second, Cajuste, as a senior leader, simply can’t do things like this. It doesn’t matter what the other guy did — you have to keep your cool. Without question, some future opponent is going to try to bait Cajuste into a similar reaction. Hopefully, this will be a lesson learned.
While the design of this completion to Trevon Wesco is nice, it’s included because, well, it’s just fun to watch the big guy rumble down the field.
“I felt the guy trying to strip me,” Wesco said. “That’s why I kept spinning. Coach (Dan) Gerberry didn’t single this out much, but he did say this is how we need to run with the ball when we get it.”
Gerberry usually isn’t so understated. This was outstanding — Wesco protects the ball and gains 21 yards after initial contact.
The woes in the passing game weren’t all concentrated on the aforementioned receiver drops. Quarterback Will Grier threw seven passes that were off the mark, including two that would have been touchdowns of 36 and 34 yards, respectively.
There’s definitely a busted coverage here, which is too bad, because WVU was primed to stuff this Texas Tech red zone play. The Mountaineers force quarterback Jett Duffey to roll to his left, and both Dylan Tonkery and Dravon Askew-Henry are ready to lower the boom. Duffey is rescued by De’Quan Bowman, who releases off the line without being touched. Not only that, as he crosses the goal line into the end zone, no West Virginia defender is even looking at him. He has plenty of time to pause, see he’s unmarked, and then meander into the end zone that’s about as wide open as the West Texas scrubland.
West Virginia ran the ball several times while pulling both the guard and the tackle from the backside, and after a couple of initial successes, Tech began countering by crashing a backside linebacker as soon as he read the pull. Here, Red Raider Riko Jeffers gets a free run and rides Martell Pettaway to the turf before the play can develop.
WVU will have to counter that tactic in one of a couple of different manners, either by assigning a blocker to protect the back side or by utilizing an RPO.
“It turned into a guessing game with them,” offensive coordinator Jake Spavital said. “I thought Will was managing it very well. That’s where a lot of those RPOs were coming from – the slants to David Sills and T.J. Simmons. I know that T.J. dropped one of them, but there was a pretty good line of how Will was managing it. Then, they started blitzing everybody on it. We ended up changing our thought process and getting away from that. When you pull the guard and the tackle, the backside edge is going to condense tremendously – it is. It gets into some gray area. Just based off where we were up front and from a schematic standpoint, that’s a pretty efficient play for us.”
We include this clip because it’s akin to a Bigfoot sighting — WVU linebacker David Long missing a tackle.
“The sad thing is we had him ten yards in the backfield.” defensive coordinator Tony Gibson said of the play, on which the Mountaineers had four rushers behind the Tech offensive line. Unfortunately, three of them wiped themselves out, leaving Duffey room to run. Long and Dylan Tonkery both looked like they were in position to make the tackle, but hesitation, along with Long’s shoulder tackle attempt allowed him Duffey to escape.
“That play was on me. I felt like he was going out, but that was just a bad play,” Long said. “That was a bad play by me. It was a good play by him. I needed to make the tackle, and I screwed it up instead of just throwing the shoulder. I look more at the misses than at the makes.”
That, of course, is one reason Long is a great player. No excuses, takes responsibility, and gets back after it.
“It’s hard to get mad at him because he had 15 tackles and three TFLs,” Gibson added.
Texas Tech quarterback Jett Duffey was criticized for a bad throw on Keith Washington’s interception that sealed the game, but it’s likely that he didn’t see the Mountaineer defender at all. Washington slipped under the intended receiver late, and while the field level angle below isn’t completely from the perspective of the quarterback, it’s clear that linebackers David Long and Dylan Tonkery, as well as one Tech offensive lineman, were obscuring his view to at least some degree.