WVU Offense Handcuffed After Grier Injury
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — West Virginia head coach Dana Holgorsen maintained that the Mountaineer offense wasn’t limited in what it could call after starting quarterback Will Grier was knocked out of the game with what looked like a badly broken finger. However, any realistic assessment of the plays run by WVU before and after that line of demarcation tells a different story. With Chris Chugunov getting his first taste of real extended action, and against one of the top defenses in the country to boot, there were parts of the Mountaineer attack that was stricken from the call sheet.
WVU did throw the ball deep a few times, but that’s not a difficult thing for a QB to execute, other than getting the ball on target. (The Mountaineers had receivers open deep at least four times, three of which would have been touchdowns, but failed to connect on any of them.) Instead, it was the tougher passes — the intermediate routes that require precise timing and accuracy — that went wanting.
“A lot of the misdirection, motion and timing plays got handcuffed a little bit,” offensive coordinator Jake Spavital admitted. “I thought Chugs was great on the sidelines in terms of communication. I tried to help him out and completely slow the game down and get him in the proper play.”
The Longhorns, of course, unleashed the dogs on Chugs, blitzing and showing numerous different fronts in an effort to confuse him. That’s not out of the ordinary Texas this year, but there were likely even more blitzes and switches than normal.
Chugunov did not back down, and took a number of hits, including an egregious shot to the head from taunting Texas linebacker Breckyn Hager, who accepted cheers and smiles from his teammates and smirked at the crowd after being ejected. It was Hager who made the “hillbillies drinking moonshine” statement earlier in the week in reference to the West Virginia crowd.
Spavital also explained the play on which Grier got injured.
“We had a package with the jumbo set,” Spavital said of the first quarter formation. “Dana said we had four downs [on this series] so we agreed we were going to run the bootleg on the first play and then come back and try to punch it in on the next one. That’s a play we’ve seen Will Grier make many many times. The design was a run. If you have an all-out blitz you have Sills on a slant, but the design was a bootleg and my thought process was to try to punch it in on one of the next plays.”
That explanation is a bit confusing, as the bootleg came on third and one, not on first down when four plays would be available. Spavital may have been right in understanding that he had four plays, but that set started just inside the ten-yard line. Crawford gained nine on first down and none on second, so perhaps the idea at the time was to try to catch Texas bunched up again.
It can be difficult to decipher the thinking, or even the statements, of players and coaches in the immediate aftermath of a tough loss, but Holgorsen was clearly upset that Grier ran the ball. The play looked as if Grier had the option to either hand the ball to Justin Crawford or keep it himself, but Spavital’s comments contradict that notion. Perhaps Holgorsen thought that, even after noting it was four-down territory, WVU should have run the ball inside on every attempt, but if so, that apparently wasn’t communicated clearly.
The question now is, will Holgorsen have a sit down with Spavital to clear the communication? How active will he be in correcting ‘some things that I have overlooked’, as he noted n his post game comments? This shouldn’t be taken to mean there major strife in West Virginia’s gameplanning or offensive meeting rooms, but clearly there will be some different approaches this week.