The Film Room: WVU – Baylor
Our initial perceptions of the WVU – Baylor game differed from those formed after a review of the film, starting with the success of West Virginia’s “quick game”.
So named because of the common factor of getting the ball out of the quarterback’s hands quickly, WVU ran 12 plays that could be classified in that manner. Most were wide receiver screens with at least two other receivers serving as blockers, but there were also three with no blockers in front. We find that our thoughts on the success of those plays were overly influenced by the result of the last three such attempts, which resulted in a catch for no yards, a drop and an incompletion. However, West Virginia was actually pretty successful on these plays overall. It’s just the shortcomings on the last trio that marred the perception.
The first nine such plays resulted in eight completions and a total of 53 yards gained. While those aren’t huge gainers, they sill average almost seven yards per completion, and in many ways these plays are the same as sweeps with running backs. The only difference is that the ball gets to the perimeter quicker, and the blocking matchups are wideouts against defensive backs rather than pulling linemen against a defensive end and a linebacker. Most every team in the nation would take that average.
These plays also serve as setups for later action. In the clip below, Gary Jennings picks up five yards, and after catching four such routes, he faked one and went deep for a long completion that set up WVU’s final touchdown.
Many fans were unhappy with WVU’s last two such plays, but both had roots of success. David Sills dropped a second and seven ball that would have likely gotten about three or four yards and set the Mountaineers up with a short third down conversion. WVU then went back to a swing pass to Kennedy McKoy with Sills and Jennings blocking down to the inside which had gained 17 yards in the second quarter. This time Baylor defended it well, but it wasn’t a poor call — just a difference in execution.
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WVU tempted the clock with this last second of the half strike from Will Grier to Sills for what turned out to be a huge score. Had the ball been bobbled or not directly gone to the ground in the event of an incompletion, the half might have expired. Sills, though, snared it surehandedly, aided by a much-too-deep drop from the opposing Baylor defensive back that opened the post exchange route. Watch as the inside defender bails out before the snap and never recovers positioning.
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Sometimes player get more out of a play than what they should — give credit to Marcus Simms on this one. He makes a nice cut off the inside defender’s hip and snares a pass on a short dig, but then makes a remarkable spin move to avoid a tackle, regains his balance, and sprints away from another mesmerized defensive back who paused to adjust his tackle attempt.
This play also highlights the way WVU’s twin receiver sets work off each other. Sometimes they run exchange routes, sometimes it’s those screens, and sometimes one receiver is simply a decoy, as in this case. Watch Sills as he appears to be taking off on an outside release, then simply stops short. Did the free safety peek at him for a second, distracting his tackle attempt?
Note too, that both Ka’Raun White and Gary Jennings pretty much don’t run any route at all. That freezes the defensive backs on their side and allows room for Simms to run after the catch.
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Now we get to some of the bad stuff. When Toyous Avery went out of the game after being injured, WVU was left to try several different players at bandit. Neither Corey Winfield, who was recently moved to safety after a career at cornerback, nor Dravon Askew-Henry, who moved down from free safety, have played much at that spot, and that definitely helped Baylor’s comeback. West Virginia was limited in what it could call with its patched-up lineup, and there were coverage busts as well.
In the clip below, it’s impossible to tell which player was responsible for covering the Baylor running back out of the backfield, but somebody certainly should have.
WVU’s secondary then compounds the issue with poor angles and a weak tackle attempt at the end of the run. Poor execution plus a shaky effort is never going to achieve much. WVU continued to fight personnel issues throughout the second half.
The Mountaineers continued to shuffle their defensive fronts, with Darius Stills and Jalen Harvey getting the bulk of backup time. The twist this week as that Sills went to nose in some passing situations, while Harvey was the nose subbing in for Lamonte McDougle on base defense downs.
As an aside, McDougle had to be the most frustrated guy in the world, when, after getting held more than a cowgirl in the Texas Two-Step, he was flagged once for defensive holding.
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With some momentum now, Baylor goes for an onside kick. West Virginia’s front line, as it did earlier this year and which we highlighted, was retreating too early. Reggie Roberson tried to recover, but a bad hop and a looming Baylor player kept him from any shot at the ball. Sometimes a bad bounce or a muff of the catch can’t be helped, but WVU never even touched the ball. That’s an execution problem, and it must be addressed. The two players closest to the ball on the kickoff just can’t be bailing out before they see the ball go deep.
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Just a couple of snaps later, confusion reigns again. West Virginia linebackers either missed or didn’t receive their call, and when both David Long and Al-Rasheed Benton choose wide right blitz and fill paths, there’s a gaping hole and an offensive lineman to take care of Xavier Preston. Another poor angle in the secondary, and the Bears are off untouched to the end zone.
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Just in time, though, the defense recovers. Xavier Preston is unleashed to do what he does best — sic the ball. That can’t always be the call, but on this set WVU defensive coordinator Tony Gibson returns to what he does best — forcing the action. Preston maintains outside leverage on his rush to protect the edge, and that also opens up an inside gap for Benton to push up into. When both Baylor backs stay in to block, Preston gets past the attempt and records the game-saving tackle. The Bears had just two receivers in the pattern once they committed to max protect, and with six defenders dropping into coverage the Mountaineers had this play stuffed — so long as one of their rushers defeated a block.
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In addition to getting the defense healthy again for next week, WVU must do better at keeping offenses in a hole when it gets them there. Baylor completed three passes for first downs on situations of second and 15, second and 19 and second and 13,, and those gains totaled 99 yards. Another 18 yard completion on third and 19 set up a fourth down conversion success. If WVU is to have a chance to defeat Oklahoma State, it can’t give up first downs every time it gets the Cowboys behind the chains.