WVU Seeks More Explosion On Offense

West Virginia wide receiver Winston Wright beats the OSU defense for a 70-yard touchdown (Pat Kinnison photo)

It’s a whole lot easier in football to move down the field if an offense can pick up big chunks of yardage in a single play rather than marching in small increments.

Since Neal Brown took over as West Virginia’s head coach prior to the 2019 season, the Mountaineers have put together 58 scoring drives. Only six of them lasted longer than a dozen plays, including two this year – a 16-play, 96-yard series that took 7:18 against Eastern Kentucky and resulted in touchdown, and a TD drive of 15 plays and 70 yards at the outset of the Baylor game that ran 6:09 off the clock.

College offenses usually have a tough time nickel-and-diming their way down the field, because something bad – negative-yardage plays, penalties, turnovers – often throw the drive off track if enough plays are run.

If a team can pick up big chunks of yardage through a single explosive play, that makes life much, much easier for an offense.

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In the Brown era at WVU, though, explosive plays haven’t been easy to come by.

Last season West Virginia’s offense had 46 chunk plays of 20 yards or longer – 40 passes and six rushes. In the first three games of 2020, the Mountaineers have 11 such 20-yard+ plays – eight passes and three rushes.

That contrasts with WVU’s explosive 2018 offense, which featured big-play specialists like Will Grier, Gary Jennings, David Sills and Marcus Simms. Of West Virginia’s 79 scoring drives in that 8-4 season, only two took more than 12 plays – a 14-play, 82-yard march over 5:27 against Youngstown State and a 13-play, 81-yard series over 2:42 against Oklahoma. Both resulted in touchdowns.

That 2018 West Virginia squad didn’t need lengthy, time-consuming marches, because it was capable of striking quickly from anywhere. In that 12-game season, the Mountaineers had 80 plays that covered 20 or more yards (64 passes and 16 rushes).

Thus WVU averaged 6.67 plays of 20 yards or longer in 2018, 3.83 in 2019 and 3.64 so far in 2020.

It also should be noted that it typically is much easier to hit big plays through the air than on the ground. Since the start of the 2018 season, 112 of West Virginia’s 20+ plays have been passes, while just 25 have been runs.

Thus as Brown is looking for ways to generate more splash plays, he generally looks to the skies.

“We do have to be able to throw the ball down the field better – 100 percent, absolutely,” WVU’s second-year head coach stated.

Most of West Virginia’s big plays in 2020 came against Eastern Kentucky, where the Mountaineers had six passes and three rushes of 20+ against the FCS foe in the season opener. West Virginia had two such chunk plays against Oklahoma State (both passes) and only one against Baylor – a 25-yard Alec Sinkfield run. Its longest pass play against the Bears last Saturday was just 14 yards, though WVU did total 211 yards through air on 30 Jarret Doege completions.

“We had some opportunities against Oklahoma State, and we only hit (a couple) of them,” said Brown. “I didn’t do a good enough job in the Baylor game of getting them called. I’ve got to do a better job; that’s on me. We probably had less than three opportunities against Baylor, and myself as a playcaller, I have to do a better job with that. In the second half, when I got a feel how that game was going, I didn’t want to put us in that position.”

West Virginia did pull out a 27-21 double overtime victory against Baylor last weekend at Mountaineer Field in a game that was tied 14-14 at the end of regulation.

West Virginia receiver Bryce Ford-Wheaton (right) snares an overtime touchdown reception over the reach of Baylor’s Mark Milton (37)

What exactly constitutes an explosive play is up to interpretation. Most coaches will tell you an explosive play is a pass of 20 yards plus or a run of 10 yards plus. Most statisticians, like those at West Virginia, list all plays of 20+, no matter if it’s a run or pass.

Some people think even bigger.

Brown was asked the other day in a press conference about WVU’s lack of explosive plays of 50 yards or more.

“There aren’t a whole lot of people who have those,” the coach snapped back.

Indeed, they are not prevalent. The Mountaineers have just one this year – a 70-yard catch-and-run for a TD by Winston Wright at Oklahoma State – and five last season – all passes. WVU’s big-play attack of 2018 had 13 (10 passes and three rushes).

Certainly 50+ is asking a lot, but more gains in the 20-yard range are something Brown badly wants to increase.

“Moving forward, to win games, we do need to (make explosive plays),” admitted the Mountaineer coach.

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  • This topic has 14 replies, 10 voices, and was last updated by Vulash.
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  • #125072

    It’s a whole lot easier in football to move down the field if an offense can pick up big chunks of yardage in a single play rather than marching in sm
    [See the full post at: WVU Seeks More Explosion On Offense]

    #125081

    Doege has been good on the short passes.  Haven’t seen him hit guys in deep in the seem yet.  That’s just not his game.  So, 10 – 15 yd toss and hope for 5-10+ YAC to move the chains.  That’s his game so go with it.  Bringing the TE into the equation helps a lot.

    #125083

    I have to be honest this article,  and specifically Browns quotes, really concern me.  I thought the ONLY area on offense we improved on from the OSU game was not continually killing drives by forcing the deep pass.  To see Brown say he thinks that’s a mistake is alarming.

    Now I’m not the type that thinks you should only run a few things that work.   When the running game isn’t working there is good reason to keep trying.  You also can’t never stretch the field deep.  You need to show balance.   I get that.

     

    But against OSU we tried far too much and forced it.  I don’t agree with that at all.  Also, there were at least 4 drives,  possibly 5, we were driving very well and then got behind the chains due to suddenly forcing deep balls.  To argue that its hard to sustain long drives (it is) and give up on a drive when you’re driving just because its hard is defeatist and I do not agree with it.  If you see something,  or occasionally mix in a deep pass, that’s fine.   But to have the mindset that long drives aren’t going to happen and therefore even when it’s working you change to forcing something else not working (just because it works for other teams) is just wrong.  I know that isn’t exactly what was said,  but between the article,  Browns quotes, and the choices in the OSU game that’s the message.

     

    Furthermore,  you need at least three things to successfully throw it deep.   You need protection,  which we don’t have.   You need a QB with some degree of deep accuracy,  such we don’t have.   And you need WRs that can either get separation, or win jump balls.   We don’t have that either.

     

    So while its hard to sustain long drives,  its a hell of a lot harder to force deep balls when you lack significantly in all three areas.   If we want chunk plays its going to come on runs or short and medium passes that break long.   At least until things improve.   Does that suck?  Yes, but its what we have.  Playing to your weakness is not a good strategy.

     

    #125084

    Typed that on my phone.   Please ignore typos.  I just want to add – especially when you have our defense.

    Greg even says it well in his synopsis above “if you can pick up”.  I agree, but we can’t yet.

    #125092

    I agree.  Can’t give away downs if you are WV’s offense.  Need positive yards on nearly every down.

    #125144

    well said Vulash. I thought bringing in Brown was a good choice, that being said as soon as I read that he was a WR in school. And after his 1st season at WVU I thought NO NO not another Dana H. Really doesn’t his play calling look the same ??? Doesn’t the run set up the pass ??? You want to pass fine…put a TE at each end of the line, have a legit fullback(235lb) back there with the(210lb running back), hell, defenses would not know what to do…right. Then if you run the ball(5..6..8 yards a carry)pass to the TE, you will more than likely use up most of a period as well as wear out the other teams defense. Instead of WVU’s D being warn out because of the 3 pass and punt play calling of the past 9 years.

    #125148

    I personally was not wanting to get rid of Dana but his pattern of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory I found extremely frustrating.

    I was not sorry when he moved on and I was, and remain, very happy with the Brown hire.

    We are better than last year at this point of the season and I expect us to improve as the season goes on, just like we did last year.

    Getting better from season to season and improving over the course of a season is all you can ask of your coaches.

    #125150

    If you can’t complete deep balls the defense will not respect the threat and just jam everyone up tight. You have to hit some deep passes or it will be difficult to run and defenses even with less talent will be able to bottle you up.

    Think of it in basketball terms. You don’t hit some outside shots they’re not going to respect that and clog up the lanes with body’s.

     

    #125154

    A couple points.  I don’t want my thoughts to be misinterpreted,  I am a still a fan of Neil Brown.   I won’t give up on him before 4 years at least unless he does something entirely inappropriate,  and I don’t see that happening.   However,  I was alarmed by that statement.

    I was neutral on Dana, I don’t tend to suffer from the grass is always greener syndrome and he was okay.  I do think he peaked though,  and didn’t mind him going either.

    I did clearly say I understand needing to threaten deep for balance.   That’s not my issue.   My issue is 4-5 drives in one half that were working, failing because you suddenly forced it deep every time.   Now there is an article and supporting quotes from Brown that imply that forcing it deep is the only way to reliably score.  Neither take into account the rest for the defense,  and the talent you have.  You want to occasionally take shots to keep the defense honest?  I’m down.   You want to adopt an offensive philosophy that the short game is only there to set up chunk plays and we’re going to keep trying to force those despite lacking the talent to do so at every position, well then I have a major problem with that strategic decision.

    Offensive philosophy should not be made entirely in a box based on sport wide statistics without accounting for your own talent.

    #125156

    When all you have is lemons, then why the hell not make lemonade?

    I agree that we need to have EITHER, not both, but either a TE or FB in the formation every offensive snap (exception being the 2 min drill or trying to position for a game winning FG).

    Then run the hell out of Leddie as long as he’s getting you positive yards.  Mix in traps, counters, read options, FB leads, TE lead on counter treys, what have you.  If they are going to walk down the defense anyway, then encourage them to.  What you do by this is that Doege can really sell the run fake and play to his strength, one that we’ve seen him demonstrate – the quick slant to a WR with the afterburners turned on.

    When the slants loosen the D up, then show the slant, clear the zone and slip the TE down the seam.

    We would also still have all the array of crossing routes and little pics that we’ve been using.

    In other words, make lemonade.

    #125157

    I appreciate the astute observations and opinions of (almost) all of the posters at BGN, though it is possible Allen is simply a short, quirky, bald man.

    I’m personally going to simply trust the climb, which is still in its relatively early stages.  I don’t think Brown and his assistants will ask the WVU players to do things they have zero chance of being successful at.  But you have to stretch your immediate talents if you are going to develop and improve.  It is always a choice between how much you challenge your own players and how much you challenge the other team’s players.

    The next 3 games will tell us a lot about whether Brown is making good decisions about this particular team.  Kansas at home, TT on the road, KSU at home.

    #125162

    I don’t see this team generating those chunk plays being discussed. Sure the odd big play will happen but the abilities just aren’t there to create such plays with any regularity.

    Brown not a homerun hitter out of the backfield.

    Doege not very good on deep throws.

    Solid, talented and deep at receiver but who among them is a true game breaker?

    I hope I’m wrong but my expectations aren’t that high when it comes to generating big plays.

    #125165

    Vulash said:::  Furthermore,  you need at least three things to successfully throw it deep.   You need protection,  which we don’t have.   You need a QB with some degree of deep accuracy,  such we don’t have.   And you need WRs that can either get separation, or win jump balls.   We don’t have that either.

    Agree with some things.  Doege’s game isn’t the deep game.  Needs a LOT of work to be adequate here.  OL is getting better.  Much better than last year but still not good enough.  WR’s are good and I don’t know that the deep game problems are on them but we’ve had a couple of drops.

    To sustain drives with the very short game it will take drives of 10-15+ plays each and every drive.  Most teams that are scoring 5 or 6 times usually have a couple drives of 3-5 plays, a couple with 6-9 and a couple 10+.  We just don’t have the luxury of scoring in a few plays.

    That being said, we still need to take a deep shot every once in a while to keep the D honest.  But…… take it at the opportune time knowing that most times (every time?) we won’t be successful.  Taking the deep shot from deep in our own territory on 2nd and long is a recipe for disaster.  We did this a few times already this year.  That then puts us in another huge hole with 3rd and long.  Even I know enough to not put that into the playbook.

    Doege is very good at those short slant, outs and quick hitters over the middle.  Do the things that you are good at.  If it’s working, keep on doing it.  Getting the TE’s into the rotation can be nothing but good.  Hopefully those big chunk plays can come from these short passes and getting big YAC’s.

    Finally, we are getting a ground game going.  Leddie is hitting the holes.  OL is getting some movement up front.  But that break away run isn’t in his game either.  Small chunks and keep the chains moving.  I’m not yet ready to sign off on Alec as the threat to back up Leddie.  Let’s see what he does against some better D’s.

    #125168

    I’m hoping this 2020 team has the offense to keep ahead of chains with a developing run game.  Maybe get a player or two an open lane in dink n dunk pass game.

    D side of ball feels confident at the moment.

    #125171

    I agree with everything you said Butlereer.   I also think we have talent at WR, I just haven’t seen that talent materialize in the area of winning jump balls or consistently gaining separation on deeper routes.   Our mid and short passing game and running game behind Brown are our strengths when we aren’t turning it over.

    Id love more 3-5 play scoring drives,  but since that isn’t our strength i don’t think we should go into games with the mindset that that is how we must score.  If we get a good look deep,  great, if the timing isn’t going to kill our drive.

     

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