WVU Backs Off Heat, Cools Down Texas Tech Offense
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – West Virginia had to back off in order to turn it on defensively.
Having allowed 28 points and 338 yards in the first half, coordinator Tony Gibson scrapped the pressure plans and rushed just three linemen in the second half, instead choosing to drop eight players into zone coverage. The look flummoxed Texas Tech, and their lack of composure in the passing game took their point production with it as the Mountaineers allowed just a single score in giving the offense an opportunity to stage the comeback.
“We made some adjustments at halftime,” Gibson said. “We didn’t pressure. We quit blitzing. I blitzed them one time in the third quarter and they scored a touchdown on the run. I said ‘That’s it. I’m going to drop eight and make this kid find it. He didn’t do it. Drop eight and let guys go to the ball.”
That kid was Texas Tech quarterback Nic Shimonek. A solid pocket passer, Shimonek nevertheless failed to find his targets after the shift in philosophy, and his performance plummeted as WVU went away from its trademark blitzing and pure man coverage into a zone that featured three linebackers and five defensive backs in coverage. That gave the Mountaineers a numerical advantage, and it paid dividends when Shimonk completed just seven second half passes after hitting 17 for a whopping 252 yards and four touchdowns over the initial quarters.
“I threw the whole playbook at them,” said Gibson, who left nothing unused in slowing the nation’s second-highest scoring offense entering. ”
West Virginia also went away from its third down packages on obvious passing plays. Instead, it left its base unit on the field because Texas Tech had surprised the look by running the ball and exposing a lighter group for first downs. The decision was made after the Red Raiders gashed WVU for runs of 10, six and 12 yards in taking the 35-17 lead early in the second half.
“When it wasn’t working,” Gibson said of when he finally decided to terminate the look. “They ran the ball a few times and kept the drive alive that they scored on the second half. Those are our best players, the 11 we have out there, so why pull them off on the crucial downs. I do it to try and get a breather, but we only played 72 snaps so we were good.”
West Virginia also played some mind games with Texas Tech head coach and play caller Kliff Kingsbury. When the Raiders substituted, Gibson did the same. That slowed the pace – officials require the defense to be given a reasonable time to sub if the offense does the same – and kept Tech from building significant momentum.
“They were subbing, so we would sub just to slow them down tempo-wise,” said Gibson, who has now held Tech below its season average in points for four straight years, all WVU victories. “I think it ended up catching up with them in the second half because they didn’t tempo us and they were trying to get the perfect call. It worked out for us more than them.”
After allowing four touchdowns on Tech’s first five possessions, the Mountaineers allowed just one over the final eight, with four punts, two missed field goals and an interception by Kyzir White.
“Zone coverage instead of man. Let guys see the ball,” Gibson said. “Effort is a part of it. I say that every week. Our guys came out of the gates slow. It just wasn’t clicking. We got it fixed. I am disgusted with how we played in the first half and really proud of how we played in the second half. That was a tale of two games.”
Now West Virginia has building momentum heading to a night road contest at Baylor. The win kept the program in the mix in the league standings at 2-1 and from having a major psychological barrier to hurdle in what was a nine-game losing streak to Top 25 teams. That’s all dashed now, wiped away by a win that’s even bigger than it seems on the surface.
“It’s a 60-minute game, four quarters,” linebacker Al-Rasheed Benton said. “You have to be able to play until there are triple zeros on the clock. Guys realize that’s why you come to West Virginia, for that opportunity to go out and play in a tough Big 12 game and win. Guys locked in and got that mentality.”
Now it if could only be captured consistently.
“What we need to figure out is the first half of TCU and the second half of Texas Tech,” Gibson said. “Fourteen points would be all right every week.”