Trouble Areas Change Quickly For WVU
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Heading into Saturday’s Big 12 game against Texas Tech, one of the potential trouble spots under scrutiny for the Mountaineer football team was cornerback. While WVU did have four players who had been getting time and playing fairly well through three games, this was going to be their first test against a team that was any sort of threat throwing the ball.
As it turned out, though, the secondary wasn’t a problem at all. In fact, it was one of the strengths, turning in three interceptions, holding Texas Tech well under its passing yards average and making the play that rescued the game, in the form of Keith Washington’s 51-yard pick six. Josh Norwood was a force before being ejected for a targeting call, and both Hakeem Bailey and Derrek Pitts were solid in relief roles.
As often happens, though, another problem spot popped up. That came on the offensive line, which had played well for the most part through the first three games, albeit with a bit of concern in the run blocking area.
On the plains of West Texas, the line had its worst 30 minutes of the season, exacerbated by the absence of guard Joe Brown, who was out at the end of the Kansas State game, sitting on the bench with an ice bag on his neck. He didn’t make the trip to Lubbock, and that may well have been a contributor to WVU’s issues up front. Isaiah Hardy, who West Virginia had hoped to redshirt after he was forced into playing last year due to injuries up front, again had to come off the bench when Chase Behrndt, the starter at guard, was rolled up from behind and had to come off the field.
It wasn’t a disaster for West Virginia.. Pass protection was excellent in the first half. There were some good runs, especially the weaving 38-yard score by Kennedy McKoy and a nice inside 12-yard pop by Martell Pettaway. However, there were also plenty of negatives. McKoy, Pettaway and Leddie Brown were all stopped for losses on what appeared to be missed assignments, and Tech got on top of the Mountaineer running game in the second half, allowing just 15 rushing yards during the final 30 minutes.
There were also penalties in critical situations. A holding call negated a first down completion to Gary Jennings in the fourth quarter when the Mountaineers desperately needed to burn some clock to help stifle the Tech rally, and a false start turned a fourth-and-one situation at the Texas Tech 32 into a fourth-and-six in the first quarter. WVU was up 14-0 at the time, and that forced a punt instead of a potential 21-0 lead. Not included in official penalty yardage — an ugly 12 flags for 115 yards — was an ineligible lineman downfield call that was declined.
“I was upset abut mine (the illegal lineman downfield call). I knew I was downfield,” tackle Colton McKivitz said. “Holding, false starts, that just means you aren’t focusing. Those were key situations in the game to keep our defense off the field, and we didn’t do our part.”
McKivitz was frank in admitting that West Virginia lost its concentration after sprinting out to a 35-10 halftime lead.
“I think it was just that lack of focus We kind of settled in thinking it was going to be an easy second half. I don’t think guys were focused 100%. That starts happening, your technique isn’t there, and that is kind of what showed,” he said.
Tech likely changed up its points of attack defensively, and got more pressure on Grier in the second half, but that, according to McKivitz, also went back to some issues on the part of the line.
“I don’t think it was so much their pressure,” he said, in reference to Tech’s defensive approach, and not the result of their efforts. “We did a fairly good job keeping Will (Grier) clean in the first half. There were some missed ID points on our part.”
There lies a telling statement. Rushers came through cleanly on a handful of occasions in the second half, and some of those were due to missed assignments on pickups. Others of course, have to be credited to good plays by the Red Raiders, but combined with the lack of energy mindset that dominated the second half, WVU’s offense sputtered.
Thus, after a week in which the defensive secondary was the cause for concern, this week’s preparation for Kansas will include more looks at the offensive line, with Brown’s health and a path for improvement for focus and performance up front in the spotlight.