The Film Room: WVU – Kansas State

The Film Room: WVU – Kansas State


West Virginia’s defense made numerous plays in the Mountaineers’ 28-23 win over Kansas State, and rescued the team from several precarious situations it was placed in by turnovers and special teams breakdowns. None was more important than the first and goal pickle it found itself in after a K-State interception runback nearly found the end zone, but three consecutive big plays limited the Wildcats to three points instead of seven.

The biggest? This second down option. Kyzir White single-handedly forces the pitch, then runs the tailback out of bounds. WVU pursued the play well from all angles, but White’s play was masterful. One player isn’t supposed to be able to stop an option to the wide side of the field all by himself, but White did.

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The Mountaineer defense mixed up coverages and blitzes masterfully, and even reverted to several classic zone blitzes. In this instance, WVU lines up with six men in the box, but Al-Rasheed Benton drops out before the snap, leaving a four-man front. At the snap, defensive lineman Adam Shuler drops into coverage, leaving just three players rushing and eight in coverage. A bit confused, K-State quarterback Skylar Thompson rolls out and launches a pass that was far too early. A more patient, experienced QB might have hit this ball, but it would have taken a veteran to do it.

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WVU was very leery of kicking off in the teeth of K-State’s return game, and executed a squib and a pair of pooches to keep the ball out of the mitts of Wildcat D.J. Reed. Why, then, did WVU punt to him? The Mountaineers got away with it early, as its first four punts were covered ok, with touchbacks resulting on two. However, West Virginia played with fire much too often in this play phase, and gave up returns of 45 and 30 yards on its final two punts. It brought back ugly memories of the 2015 game in Manhattan, when a kickoff return for a score gave the Wildcats the win. Score a zero for institutional memory and consistency in this play phase. A 35-yard punt out of bounds with no return would have been much more preferable.

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That wasn’t the only flaw with WVU’s special teams. The punt coverage squad got downfield pretty well, but was unable to find the ball on a pair of third quarter punts that hit on the one-yard line and then rolled into the end zone. The Mountaineers might have been deked by the fake fair catches of the K-State returners, but three players downfield never got a look at the ball until it was skittering through the end zone. They have to know, given the location the punt was launched from, to find the ball first and ignore the returners, who would have no option other than fair catching the ball.

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West Virginia’s receivers had several drops that caused interceptions and killed drives, but quarterback Will Grier wasn’t razor-sharp either. He had 13 passes that could have been considered off target. A couple of those were the result of pressures, but there were several relatively easy throws that were well off the mark. Grier said the wet conditions were not a factor, so this is definitely an item to track in this week’s game against Texas. It’s unfair to expect him to put every ball right on the money, just as it is to expect a receiver to catch every ball, but the percentages on both side were much too low in this game.

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Now for some good stuff. Two looks at Ka’Raun White’s 75-yard touchdown reception follow, and it’s a great read by Grier and route read by White that makes it happen. K-State blitzes the cornerback playing head-up on White, and the safety rotating over to cover takes a horrendous angle. (That seems to be a theme in secondary play in college football this year.) White never hesitates once he reads the blitz, and he’s off to the races to give WVU a lead it never relinquishes.

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West Virginia didn’t score in the second half – that’s the well-known story line of the game. However, WVU wasn’t a stumbling mess, either. It gained ground and first downs on all of those drives. Two were done in by dropped passes (the second was a bit high, but catchable). A third was a misfire by Brier, and the fourth? It might well serve as the microcosm of Mountaineer offensive failures the past couple of weeks. Gary Jennings is open for a first down pitch and catch, but Grier doesn’t see him. Protection breaks down quickly, Grier is forced into another wild scramble, and to top it off WVU gets a holding penalty.

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The Mountaineers managed to hold of K-State with several more big defensive stands, and noe were more critical than this pick by Kenny Robinson just outside the red zone. Robinson check to make sure there is no inside route demanding his attention, then breaks on the receiver on the slant well before the ball is thrown. That’s a veteran read and move from a true  freshman, and it likely saved the game for the Mountaineers.

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The action on what appears to be this simple post route is a thing of beauty. WVU motions Gary Jennings from right to left, and with  both Elijah Wellman and Justin Crawford on the left side of the formation, it looks like a jet sweep is in the making. All that make’s K-State’s free safety flatten out for just a couple of steps — and that’s all the room David Sills needs to get past him and catch the laser from Grier for the score.

This has to be about the tenth different way WVU has gotten the ball to Sills on a post pattern this year, and each has played off the last or off different looks to disguise what’s coming.

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Of course, we saved the best for last. There’s not much to analyze here, other than it’s another twins set on each side of the formation, with Sills working off the rub from Marcus Sims to get a bit of room. Give Simms credit for creating the pick with zero contact to the defensive back and avoiding the penalty, but of course that got lost in the spectacular display of ball and body control by Sills. Kevin White’s one-handed catch against Baylor and Daikiel Shorts’ toetapper in the back of the end zone last year were outstanding, but this play combined both of those features — plus it came in the rain. Nominations are open for a better grab in WVU history.