The Film Room: WVU – Texas
The play that defined the season, others that highlight the gap between a #1 and a #2 quarterback, and more are cued up in a tough trip to The Film Room.
It’s The Play of the 2017 West Virginia season, and unfortunately is wasn’t a good one. The bootleg that resulted in the loss of a touchdown, the ball and Will Grier pretty much defines WVU’s football fortunes so far. We’re in coach mode here, so we certainly don’t view this as being the end of the year. Oklahoma will be tough, but there’s still a bowl game for a better sendoff for the seniors and a better outlook over the offseason to win, so this shouldn’t be construed as writing the entire campaign off. However, it’s hard to imagine a play that better illustrates the 2017 campaign.
There was some debate and confusion after the game as to the sequence of events on the play, and the first and goal series. So, we present all three plays with a look at each.
First, WVU runs Justin Crawford in a trap play (watch Colton McKivitz pull from the right side to the left to kick the defensive end), but Crawford makes a nice read and hops outside for an eight-yard gain. On second down, Crawford is stopped for no gain on an inside run as the Mountaineers go heavy with seven offensive linemen and two blockers in the backfield. While this is a little counter to offensive coordinator Jake Spavital’s post game description of running the bootleg first then coming back inside, it should have been to the liking of head coach Dana Holgorsen, who professed to want to run it there. Crawford hops outside just a bit instead of following Elijah Wellman and Trevon Wesco inside — there might have been enough room to score had he taken that inside path, but that’s a tough second-guess.
Then came the fateful third down. The call, according to Spavital, was a bootleg run all the way, unless Texas blitzed heavily. If that occurred, a quick post or slant to wide receiver David Sills was the option. That’s unfortunate, because for one of the few times on the day, WVU blocked a run heavy front inside successfully, and out of the same formation as the previous play. Watch as Justin Crawford hops through a gap – had he been handed the ball, he would have scored standing up.
That’s just the start, though. Not only does Grier bobble the ball right at the goal line (that’s a pretty heavy judgment call that stretches the definition of “incontrovertible evidence”) but he touches it while out of bounds, making it a touchback. In the space of a millisecond, the Mountaineers lose seven points and their quarterback.
Was this a good play call? There’s no problem with it here. WVU had just been stoned for zero yardage on second down. It might have been better to make this a rollout with a pass option, but Grier has executed plays like this in the past. It’s 100% hindsight about the injury. If you are going to play, injury is a potential on every snap. Also, WVU’s offense had already come down to Grier making something happen off a scramble – removing that from the attack would have been crippling to begin with.
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This is not going to devolve into pick on Chris Chugunov day. Backup quarterbacks operate at a huge disadvantage in terms of preparation time – they get maybe 20% of the snaps in a week, and rarely does that include a trip through the entire game plan, or more than a few reps per play at most. That, not lack of talent, is one of the bigger reasons for the gap between the starting and backup QB, and it’s evident on these plays.
On the first, wide receiver David Sills has inside leverage on the deep coverage. Instead of laying the ball out in the open middle of the field, though, Chugunov throws it back toward the hash over his head. That may be the original design of the play, but if Chugs throws it to the right hash instead of the left, it’s a big gain, and maybe a score.
On the second, at the snap, wide receiver Gary Jennings, in the slot, suggests an in or out route, which would put him in his normal area of operation. However, on this play he instead breaks upfield and is open. Chugunov, though, hesitates for just a second, taking one extra hop in his setup. That fatal delay allows a Texas defensive back to recover and bat the ball away.
That missed bit of timing is what Spavital was talking about when he said those types of plays are often removed, or limited, in the game plan when a backup QB comes in. There just hasn’t been the practice time available to hone the timing and feel required for these throws, and it shows markedly here. Can Chugunov make that throw? Without a doubt. But this is the first time he’s done it in a college game that was still undecided.
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Now, that onside, or if you are Holgorsen, “surprise” kick. The timing of the call can be debated, but there’s no doubt that the hole in the Texas coverage existed. There’s a much bigger gap between the outside and inside players on the left side of Texas’ front line than the right. Part of that is due to the positioning of the ball on the kickoff, but it’s probably bigger than it should be.
As Evan Staley approaches the ball, the far left player on the front line is leaning back downfield, and the second line player is a good eight yards from the 45, where the ball has to get to. WVU has one player within six yards of the line, and running full speed, while the UT player is just recovering to move forward.
Unfortunately, the ball isn’t kicked quite far enough toward the sideline, and the inside Longhorn is able to lasso it with a diving stop. At the point when he touches the ball, WVU has two players that would have been in position to grab it, had it just been wide enough to get by UT’s one hope of recovery.
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The WVU defense has a pretty good game, but on three long touchdown drives it collapsed. It was sort of an all-or nothing day, for Tony Gibson’s troops, and in honesty, the 21 points it was responsible for shouldn’t have been too much to overcome.
On this play in the red zone, West Virginia’s secondary is far too passive. There’s no pressing of the receiver on an obvious block attempt, no aggressiveness once the ball is in the air. A missed tackle, one of many that the Mountaineers had on the day, and the Horns walk into the end zone.
WVU is clearly expecting run on this play, but it does cover fairly well. Only a mistake by Kenny Robinson, who has the far inside slot receiver in man coverage, allows a big play. Robinson turns and runs with the receiver well, but at some point was guessing the route would cut sharply outside, as he undercut it on a couple of steps. That allowed the deep throw. Without knowing the call, it’s impossible to determine whether Robinson was expecting deep help, but some credit goes to Texas here, which breaks tendency with run-first QB Sam Ehlinger at the controls.
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Finally, the Butterfly Effect was in full force on this first quarter play. If Ka’Raun White catches this ball, the path of the game is altered, and the play on the goal line later in the quarter never happens. Of course, White can’t be blamed for losing Grier, but this one will sting for a long time,
Grier, as he so often has this year, circles away from pressure and finds White breaking free in the middle of the field. Catch it, and there’s one defender to beat, and White would be running at him in the middle of the field with the option to fake and move either way. Ouch.