The Film Room: WVU – Texas Tech
There’s still no good explanation for the massive turnaround in West Virginia’s win over Texas Tech. The Mountaineers simply started playing better, and no one, from coaches to players, could pinpoint a reason. However, there’s no better explanation for what transpired before and after the turnaround that WVU’s execution on these two similar Texas Tech wide receiver screens.
Against the first screen on Tech’s first possession, West Virginia defenders play very passively. There’s no physical engagement of the blockers, poor pursuit angles, and a general air of reacting to the offense rather than forcing the action.
Now look at the second example from the fourth quarter. The alignment is slightly different, but watch WVU’s aggressiveness. Kyzir White (8) attacks the blocking wide receiver. He doesn’t stand in front of him and hand fight — he declares a side and bulls through to create havoc. That forces the passcatcher to move horizontally, and White gets off the block and pushes the play out of bounds.
Whatever the reason for the change, it’s something that West Virginia’s defense must have in order to be successful. The Mountaineers aren’t going to out-talent many foes. But when they play with the sort of edge seen in the second clip, they have a chance to be successful. They can’t wait until late in the game to do so, though.
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Looking for problems in special teams has become, to the chagrin of head coach Dana Holgorsen, something of a touchpoint for the media covering the squad. There’s some validity to his exasperation at times, because WVU is doing some good things on special teams, and those deserve mention too. This week’s example: kickoffs.
Out of bounds boots and mishits have drawn notice this year, so it’s only fair to point out the excellent job turned in during the Texas Tech win. Evan Staley’s placement was exquisite, with most every kick either making it deep enough for a touchback or coming down on or outside the yard numbers close to the goal line. That’s really difficult – the top of the numbers are only nine yards from the sideline, and hitting that area from 65 yards away consistently is a challenge.
Staley missed that target only once, but still got the ball on the hash mark, and a hold on Texas Tech negated a decent return (and made it happen in the first place). Staley had three touchbacks on eight kicks, and the Red Raiders had just 23 yards per return.
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Applaud now if you want to see this again. In the first quarter, WVU ran what looked like a developing zone read to the left, only to have Will Grier toss a shovel pass to Elijah Wellman inside. The play only gained three yards, due mostly to Tech’s winning play at the line of scrimmage, but this tactic is sort of like throwing the deep ball to keep safeties from crowding the line. Against teams that back off to defend against the downfield passing game, there could be a big gap available for Wellman on a future iteration.
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What’s going on here? A wildcat on third down and two from WVU? We’re all for innovation, but it’s tough to decipher the logic behind using this, given the game situation. West Virginia had been stifled on the ground by Tech all day, and moving Will Grier out of the backfield removes all doubt as to whether the play is going to be a run. (OK, so Justin Crawford could have thrown a pass. If that happens later this year, we’ll hearken back to this one as the set-up.)
But back to this situation. Grier motions out to the left and Tech doesn’t react one iota, leaving eight men in the box. The safety plays downhill, and Crawford has nowhere to run.
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Texas Tech did an excellent job against West Virginia’s running game for a couple of reasons. First, its defensive front got penetration and defeated blocks, or walled up and kept Mountaineer blockers from getting out to linebackers. This was a pure matter of execution, and one where it held the upper hand.
Second, the Red Raiders showed a four man defensive front on numerous snaps, often walking up a rush linebacker, or at times another backer, to create the a more crowded look. WVU offensive lineman Colton McKivitz admitted that this was a departure from what the Mountaineers had seen on film, and it caused some problems with blocking assignments.
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Texas Tech punter Dominic Panazzolo was a concern for West Virginia going in, giving his ability to punt in either conventional fashion or by employing a rugby style. That allows the Red Raiders to boot the ball to all parts of the field, employ different coverage schemes, and generally put the return team on the defensive. With the Mountaineers gaining momentum in the fourth quarter, WVU seized the initiative by putting back two returners — Marcus Simms and David Sills — to cover the field. Panazzola tried a low line drive kick designed to scoot past a return man and gain yardage, but Simms was in perfect position to scoop it up. That potentially saved a good bit of field position, and set West Virginia up for another fourth quarter touchdown.
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And now, the most fun play of the day. West Virginia’s two-point conversion has been discussed in terms of its timing, but there was a lot going on to examine.
First, fullback Elijah Wellman is lined up at tight end on the right side of the line. That’s rare this year, but not unheard of. Receiver Gary Jennings motions from right to left across the formation — another move that WVU employs occasionally. Justin Crawford is lined up left of Will Grier. David Sills is wide left, and Ka’Raun White is wide right.
This pre-snap look has conflicting reads. Timing patterns to the wideouts in their respective corners? Jet sweep to Jennings? Power run to the right behind the block of Wellman? All options as far as the defense is concerned.
At the snap, White goes to the back corner. Grier rolls right, but one of the keys is that Wellman releases and looks to block in the flat, with Crawford coming behind him looking for a pass. in fact, he runs right by a blitzer that has a clean shot at Grier, who saves the play by skirting his diving tackle. Tech has four defenders in the area, negating any chance of a successful pass or keeper by Grier, but that opens a throwing lane.
Meanwhile Sills is running a cross that starts shallow but ends in the back of the end zone. He speeds away from the corner who has him in man coverage, and gets deep enough to free himself from the linebacker that has dropped underneath him. Grier zips a perfect pass on the run into the narrow window, and WVU not only cuts the deficit to three but gets another momentum boost. Mountaineer Field is rocking at this point, and the team rides it to two more touchdowns and the win.
Texas Tech actually defends this play well. It had a shot at Grier in the backfield, and had defenders close to all the receivers. It took perfect execution for West Virginia to come away with two points, and that’s exactly what happened.