The Film Room: West Virginia Mountaineers – Youngstown State Penguins
West Virginia kept its schemes and tactics well to the basic side in its 52-17 win over Youngstown State. Certainly, there were some blitzes, and a few concepts designed to attack what the Penguins presented, but the game was more about getting some backups reps on the field and continuing to work with the offense to take what the opposing defense presented.
That still leaves a good bit to look at though, so let’s head down next to the boilers in our old school film cave to take a look.
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This play is very innocuous, but it shows perfectly what the Penguins did for much of the day on defense. There are only six defenders in the box, and zone coverage behind it. (On many snaps, some of which you’ll see later, the count in the box is five and sometimes even just four.) QB Will Grier makes the appropriate decision and hands off for an eight-yard gain.
That may not be exciting, but it’s winning football.
The film room is all about learning from mistakes, and this is one of the few less-than-optimal decisions on the day. WVU sets up a deep route for William Crest (16), who is hoping to draw single coverage while more attention is paid to the receiver stacked behind him in the twin set on the left side of the formation. Did QB Will Grier not see the free safety lurking deep downfield, or was it an unconscious push to try to get the ball to a player who has given everything he has to the Mountaineer program? Either is understandable, but the throw here should probably have been made to Marcus Simms on the right sideline.
While WVU was basic, as noted above, on defense, it didn’t totally get away from some of the tactics that make it difficult to prepare for. The sight of defensive end Jabril Robinson dropping into coverage while middle linebacker Dylan Tonkery blitzed from behind him was one such instance. Robinson, by the way, looked quite spry as he got into his coverage zone, then adjusted as the quarterback moved in the pocket. We’d love to see what he looked like running the ball if he picks one off. Ezekiel Rose, who also caught and returned a kickoff last year, is another defensive lineman with the mobility to execute the zone blitz tactic successfully. Hey, is that a recipe for a jumbo backfield?
West Virginia went to two tight ends for this red zone run, and it couldn’t have worked out any better. Trevon Wesco (88) at wingback takes out not one but two defenders, and Jovani Haskins (84) blows his opponent into the end zone. Granted, there’s a little luck involved too, in the fact that one of Wesco’s opponents takes a bit of a bad angle, but watch the start of the play. Wesco takes an influence step to the inside, which gets the Penguin defenders leaning that way. That gives him a slightly better angle to execute his block, and the result is six points for Alec Sinkfield.
Will Grier saw it all happening before it unfolded, as he signals ‘Touchdown’ while Sinkfield is still at the 10-yard line.
Many defensive reads today come right at or after the snap, and here’s a perfect example. Pre-snap, this looks like a run read, as YSU has six defenders spread out to defend the goal line. But as WVU center Matt Jones gets the ball on its way, both a safety and a linebacker blitz, making it six rushers. Running back Leddie Brown (4) executes an excellent pickup, giving receiver Gary Jennings (12) time to slide back inside into the area vacated by the blitzing ‘backer for one of his three scores on the afternoon.
Youngstown State had some success with quarterback runs and zone reads, which may have been something that Mountaineers weren’t 100 percent ready for. Penguin QB Montgomery VanGorder made good decisions in riding the handoff, and on a couple of occasions pulled the ball back and had open field in which to operate. These plays will definitely attract the interest of Kansas State, and later in the season, Oklahoma, both of which use these types of runs extensively.
One thing sets up another, and here we see the result. West Virginia has been mostly patient in attacking the YSU defense, but now it goes for the kill shot. Part of this is sheer athleticism, as Jennings simply blows by the Penguin secondary, but after a half of seeing most passes thrown in front of them, the white-clad defenders are taken by surprise as Jennings sprints downfield. With four deep in coverage, plus a linebacker dropping downfield, there’s no way an over-the top scoring pass should result.
This play was called back due to a somewhat cheesy holding penalty, but it’s still instructive. First, it’s a zone read by WVU. OK, so no one thinks Grier is actually going to keep the ball on these plays, right? Well, tuck that thought away for future reference.
In addition to Leddie Brown’s explosive burst and get-off-me stiff-arm, take note of Tevin Bush’s (14) block in the middle of the play. You’ll see something similar again.
So now here’s that zone read reference. Grier actually keeps the ball after the defensive end, who checked up at the corner to cover Grier on Brown’s previous run, dives down the line in pursuit of Brown. Grier reads and keeps it.
Now, granted, he then drops it, and the play winds up being a one-yard gain. It probably wouldn’t have gone for more than three or four yards if he hadn’t done so, because another defender came crashing down hard. However, this play does several things. First, it puts it on film, which will make future opponents at least consider the possibility that Grier is still a threat as a runner. That won’t be a primary task, but you can bet WVU will be watching in future games to see if they are totally ignoring the keeper threat.
This also raises the issue of protecting Grier from injury. The Mountaineers aren’t going to run him five or six times a game, but they aren’t going to pass up an obvious hole in an opponent’s game plan. Also, there’s Grier’s competitive nature to consider. He understands going out of bounds or sliding to avoid a hit when there’s no chance of making more yardage, but we’d bet we haven’t seen the last of him taking on a defender either.
This should have been a four-yard loss in the red zone. Instead, Leddie Brown turns it into a six-yard gain. The freshman had several broken tackles against the Penguins, and this one highlights what happens. He spins as he takes the hit, which seems to lessen the impact and prevents the tackler from wrapping him up. He keeps his feet under him on the move, which is important in maintaining his balance. Can he do the same against Big 12 defenders?
Also, there’s that guy Bush (14) again. Watch his block from the slot on the right side of the formation as he stones his opponent. He’s listed at 5-foot-6 and 160 pounds, and even that might be generous, but he’s a bulldog as a blocker.
Just so we don’t get complacent, we end on another teaching note. Defensive coordinator Tony Gibson called this play “embarrassing,” noting that with the score and game situation what it was, the only thing he wanted was to not give up any deep completions. The YSU receiver runs a double move, WVU corner Josh Norwood bites, and safety Kenny Robinson plays too flat, and thus gives up any chance he has of getting over to the pass.
The good news is that this probably got shown three or four times in succession in the corners and safeties rooms, and it’s a lesson that will hopefully resonate in future weeks.
No tactics to analyze in this one, just a horrendous no-call on an obvious pass interference situation against the Penguins. The case can’t be made that the officials were letting things go, because holding calls were made on more than one borderline play. There was also an interference call against WVU late in the game that involved no contact before the ball arrived.
In these clips, it’s evident that the Youngstown State defender pushes and reroutes Marcus Simms while the ball is in the air. What are you looking at, man?