WVU Preps For Utah’s Occasional Deep Dip Into Playbook

WVU Preps For Utah To Dip Deep Into Playbook


MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – When Utah finally dips deep into the playbook, West Virginia has to dip into its reservoir of self-control.

Though the Utes are an offense founded on fundamentals with a desire to primarily run the ball while mixing pass to pound opponents into submission, they’ll take a once- or twice-a-game gamble with a gimmick. That’s come off reverses or throwbacks, the exact plays that have hurt WVU against the likes of TCU, when the Horned Frogs used a pass to quarterback Kenny Hill for a key 48 yard touchdown in the 31-24 defeat.

That stress on the defense is exacerbated by the Utah’s general approach, which isn’t to big-play foes, but rather work downfield while remaining ahead of the chains. It creates a lull-like state before offensive coordinator Troy Taylor goes to the well for a more off the beaten path take. The difficulty is that because quarterback Tyler Huntley is a mobile threat, he adds to every dimension, including the potential to be used in a variety of ways in both the regular offense and trick plays.

“You have to account for the quarterback, especially the Huntley kid if he is the guy,” WVU defensive coordinator Tony Gibson said. “Then they get an extra hat and we need to be able to get an extra hat. But he can throw it well enough to hurt you. So we have spent a lot of time in practice talking about stopping the quarterback run game.”

The hat comment meaning when a quarterback carries the ball, as opposed to a running back, it allows for an extra blocker in the scheme. That forces the defense to have another defender in the area as well to math numbers. But when that quarterback can hand it off, then get outside as a receiving threat with the ability to create yards after the catch, it brings another dimension. That’s what Taylor has in Huntley, a 6-foot-1, 190-pound sophomore who has not only thrown for 2,246 yards and 15 scores with a 65.4 percent completion rate, but also ranks second on the team in rushing at 53.3 yards per game with four touchdowns.

Huntley amassed 647 yards in ground gains this year, but that number was lessened by the 167 yards lost to sacks and within the run game itself. Taken together, his passing and rush yardage per game is more than 300 yards, and that duel threat athleticism is a concern for the Mountaineers across multiple fronts. Add in that receivers Demari Simpkins and Darren Carrington have thrown four such trick passes this season, while Taylor has called multiple reverses and misdirection plays, and it sets up as though WVU will see a handful of such snaps in the bowl game.

“Obviously the Huntley kid can run it. They’re very physical up front and if we let them run the ball right down our throat, we’re going to be in trouble,” Gibson said. “We’re going to need to be able to stop the run and make them start throwing it.

“People get us on throwback stuff, or a reverse, double reverse pass because we want our guys always playing aggressive in getting to the ball. That has hurt us at times. But they will run a trick play. I guarantee you that.”

It’s a tough balance to continue to play assignment sound against a steady offense while knowing Utah could pull a unique play, especially with the multiple weeks of preparation. Gibson has considered using a spy for Huntley, but that often removes a defender from getting involved in as many plays as one would like. It also takes away part of the natural assertiveness of the odd front set.

“They’re like every team: They’re going to dip into the playbook a little bit and probably take advantage of our aggressiveness,” safeties coach Matt Caponi said. “One thing we preach is running to the football, and we’ve been hurt on some misdirections and some trick plays this year. So, we’ll have a plan for that. I’m familiar with Utah from when I was coaching out west, and they always have something up their sleeve. Hopefully, we’re ready for it and our guys are disciplined, expecting and able to make some plays.”

Gibson did note that, after the shellacking against Oklahoma in which the Sooners rang up 59 points – 45 in the first half – and averaged a school-record 12 yards per play, motivation for a bit of redemption shouldn’t be an issue.

“I thought we’ve had a few good days here,” he said. “I think our kids are into it, and that’s very important going into a bowl game. Everybody always says ‘What makes them go in a bowl?'” I think the team that usually wins those bowl games is the team that is most excited to play and best prepared. I think our guys have done a good job with that; I think they’re excited to go play a good opponent, so we’ll see what happens.

“Hopefully they were embarrassed after that regular-season finale and they can go out and redeem themselves a little bit. I told them how I felt about it. I don’t know if they felt sorry for themselves or if they got motivated by it. It wasn’t good.”