The Film Room: WVU – Oklahoma
What can we learn from the film of West Virginia’s loss to Oklahoma? There wasn’t much on the defensive side, other than the Mountaineers had one of their worst fundamental games in terms of executing the basics, but there are some funt hings to look at in what they did on the offensive side of the ball. Come down the hall past the dripping pipes and into the back room of the field house, fire up the projector and open up the notebook as we list out items that should be addressed during bowl preparations.
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We’ll get this one out of the way first. How on earth did WVU not expect Kyler Murray to carry the ball on Oklahoma’s first play from scrimmage? Understandably, the defense can’t sell out all 11 players against a quarterback run, but there was zero doubt that Murray would get the call. Somehow, no one on the field thought that covering the keeper on the zone read was a good idea. (Linebacker David Long termed it “a total bust”.) The defensive end crashes down, there’s no linebacker scraping outside, and Murray has a 40-yard dash that’s pretty much like a training run during a summer conditioning session, with about as much threat of being hit.
This terrible break in coverage set the tone for the afternoon. West Virginia wasn’t within a zip code of numerous receivers, took bad pursuit angles and only managed to get one legitimate pressure on Baker Mayfield. He completed an eight-yard pass anyway.
No one expected the Mountaineers to shut down the Sooners, or even hold them under 40 points. But this was a non-competitive appearance, and that was what sparked Tony Gibson’s eloquent “we sucked” speech following the contest. Bowl games are all about caring, and somehow the WVU defense has to have more than three or four players invested if it is to avoid another embarrassing showing.
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Offensively, West Virginia emptied the playbook. In addition to the wildcat series and onside kick discussed below, the Mountaineers also tried a hook and lateral (it was actually going to be a double lateral, as Gary Jennings was trying to push the ball to Justin Crawford running up the sideline). It also pitched the ball out to Crawford on its second drive of the game deep in OU territory. Both of those were fumbled and lost. Coincidence? Perhaps. After all, the Mountaineers handled the ball extremely well in the wildcat, with no bobbles. But it clearly needs some more polishing on executing laterals.
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Trailing 14-3, senior linebacker Al-Rasheed Benton precipitated a massive collision with Oklahoma fullback Dimitri Flowers on a fourth and one at the WVU 15-yard line. Benton hurt his shoulder on the tackle, and although it was an excellent hit and takedown, Flowers managed to pick up two yards for the first down. Helped off the field, Benton watched the next play, totally frustrated, as his replacement gets a bad jump and takes a bad angle toward Rodney Anderson on an outside run. Anderson swept into the end zone as Benton screamed in anguish and actually attempts to get back on the field, even though the play was over. Head trainer Dave Kerns had to restrain Benton and get him back to the bench for treatment.
There’s no questioning how hard Benton played, or how much he cares, and this would have been a nice vignette for ESPN to show, had it not had 37 cameras trained on the Eddie Haskell antics of Baker Mayfield.
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Now that wildcat for WVU. Of course, it needs a name, and we’ll work on getting that for the future if it remains part of the West Virginia attack. Kennedy McKoy, who took all but one of the 19 snaps the Mountaineers ran from the formation, said it wasn’t much different from taking a handoff in the backfield. He told us the reads were the same, and that things looked pretty much the same whether he was taking the snap directly or getting it from the quarterback. So, what was different? For one, it was the initial formation. On many of the wildcat plays, Trevon Wesco was in as a tight end, and Elijah Wellman lined up in the gap between Wesco and the tackle. This gave WVU an unbalanced line, and allowed them to execute some different blocking angles. Oklahoma never really adjusted to it, and only got one tackle for loss against it.
Watch as Wellman and Wesco on the right side of the formation in the clip below, get out to second level defenders. A guard (in this case Grant Lingafelter) pulls and kicks out another defender, and McKoy is off to the races.
Justin Crawford also got one snap in the wildcat, and the Mountaineers threw two passes from it, with McKoy handing the ball to Ka’Raun White in motion, who then flipped it to Chris Chugunov for a pass. The line slid left to form a wall, and Oklahoma played it for a run both times.
ESPN belatedly tried to catch up to what WVU was doing by providing a wildcat play counter late in the game, but it was three off in the number it put on the screen. It was likely too busy setting up another apology for the Oklahoma offensive lineman Dru Samia who was ejected for hanging on to Adam Shuler’s facemask and throwing a punch at him. Talking head Brian Griese was appalled that Shuler had actually knocked Samia down and was standing over him to keep him from getting up while the play was still underway.
But back to the wildcat. This set and play series should remain a part of West Virginia’s offense, even if a miraculous healing occurs and Will Grier is able to play in the bowl game. WVU has plenty of things it can do out of it (like having McKoy or Crawford hand the ball off to the receiver in motion, or even throw a pass), that should give the defense more to prepare for.
WVU also used Wellman in the guard-tackle gap on a number of other rushing plays, and again the different look and blocking angle paid dividends. OU helped in several cases, like the one below, by playing one high safety and shading a linebacker far outside the box, perhaps in anticipation of power sweeps. He’s so far away that all he can do is make a diving tackle attempt after the runner, Crawford in this case, is well downfield.
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Only one thought here on the onside kick that the Mountaineers nearly recovered. Initially ruled good, the replay official substituted his own judgment for that of those on the field, and decided that Evan Staley touched the ball before it went ten yards. While Staley definitely began his slid before that mark, there was no defnitive video evidence that showed he actually touched the ball before it reached the line. His right hand was up, but there was no way to tell when the actual touch occurred. The only clear video shot of the play was apparently captured from the International Space Station, and nothing closer showed the point of contact clearly.
Did this change the outcome? Probably not. But WVU had some offensive momentum at this point. Say it gets a score there. The game might at least have been more competitive in the second half. But again, that’s not the point. Only DEFINITIVE video evidence is supposed to be used to overturn a call on the field. As soon as someone says, “I think” or “It sort of looks like”, then the review should end, and the call on the field stand. We’re rapidly moving toward the point where no calls are made on the field at all.
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There was a great deal of boorish behavior in Norman, and it’s summed up neatly at the end of Kennedy McKoy’s touchdown run. Watch as one of Oklahoma’s “Ruf-Neks” steps out to direct some commentary at McKoy after he scores. That’s part of the game?