Saturday’s dreary weather and hard loss will inevitably suggest for some that the defense played poorly. While it certainly gave up more yards and points than what would have been preferred it wasn’t the disaster that some would assume looking at the box score. The film revealed a few plays here and there that defined the game in positive and negative ways for Old Gold and Blue.
The defense had some success early on, holding Texas to 0-3 on third downs in the first quarter. However, on the first play of the second quarter Texas hit a huge play on third down. Robinson was playing man coverage, and was beat on a deep pass for fifty yards to Hemphill-Mapps. Robinson is a true freshman and has had some solid play for the Mountaineers, but on this particular play he struggles to stay with his man and locate the ball in the air. Instead of West Virginia forcing Texas’ fourth punt of the game, the Longhorns got a fresh set of downs deep in Mountaineer territory.
Later that drive Texas was able to convert a critical fourth down, where Ehlinger rushed up the middle to the WVU four yard-line. On this particular series, the Mountaineers played great on first and second and goal. Defensive Coordinator Tony Gibson made the correct defensive call on third down, but Daniels missed a critical open field tackle on a Texas tight end. The Longhorns could have been stopped on the three yard-line forcing a field goal, but the missed tackle gave Texas the touchdown. Missed tackles and poor technique has plagued the Mountaineer defense in 2017 and this game did not break that trend.
Late in the second quarter, poor tackling and technique again allowed Texas to convert a critical third down and maintain a touchdown drive. Tonkery and Benton made critical technical errors that allowed Ehlinger to scramble for a 15 yard gain and converted a first down, rather than a 12 yard sack for a loss and a punt. Tonkery missed a sack on a blitz and Benton took an acceptable pursuit angle. However, because he lunged instead of breaking down, he missed Ehlinger and the chance to stop him for no gain. These errors on third down allowed Texas to keep their touchdown drive alive.
In the picture below, if Benton could have kept Ehlinger from getting to the sideline he would have prevented this first down. Benton actually making the tackle wasn’t critical, since simply breaking down the play and slowing Ehlinger could have stopped the drive.
In some way this play defines West Virginia’s day defensively. In the two prior plays WVU thwarted the Texas offense to force a critical third down. Then WVU allowed poor technique and failure of discipline to allow Texas to slip away.
In the video below Texas running back Young runs to the left side for a thirty six yard gain. Here the Mountaineers lose contain; this is due to Kyzir White blitzing on the backside and Reese Donahue coming too far up field. This is simply a blitz called at the wrong time. In his press conference, Tony Gibson stated he was expecting the quarterback to roll out for a pass from what he had seen on film. This blitz and loss of contain allows the Texas running back to gain substantial yards.
In the highlighted play below and on second down, Texas shows a Wildcat formation with a wide receiver in at quarterback. Doing this allows them to use the running back and tight end in the backfield as lead blockers. Along with five offensive lineman gives Texas seven blockers in front of the ball carrier outnumbering the West Virginia defenders committed to the box. Despite this Tonkery and Long make beautiful plays to stop the run for no gain. Tonkery refuses to let the running back block him, slowing the ball carrier down and Long’s great speed allows him to beat Texas’ right guard and make the tackle. Only the Texas ball carrier’s toughness keeps this from being a two yard loss for the Longhorns.
On the second offensive snap of the second half Long makes a fantastic play stopping a run where he not only beats the Texas right guard, he flattens him and then makes the tackle. The Texas right guard, Jake McMillion is listed at 6’3” and 300 pounds. David Long is listed at 5’11” and 228 pounds. Thumping the starting right guard of Texas and making this tackle is one of the most impressive plays a Mountaineer has made this season. Texas gets a two yard gain, but this easily could have been a six yard gain without any exaggeration. This also certainly sent a message to the Texas offensive line. This is indicative of Long’s excellent play all game. In fact, Long makes a nice tackle on a wide receiver screen the very next play to force a Texas punt. This was a huge series for the West Virginia defense, forcing a three and out on Texas’ first possession of the second half.
On the whole, the West Virginia defense played well against Texas. However, they allowed a few plays to dictate the outcome of the game. Great plays became overshadowed by a few broken plays and technical miscues allowed Texas to gain large chunks of yards and points. The film revealed a defense that played hard and would make great plays on first and second down, only to allow conversions on third down. For example, as described above, the Mountaineers allowed themselves to get sucked up on third down and allow Ehlinger to rush for a pivotal first down late in the second quarter.
The defensive line held up and played well against the Texas offensive line, including their All American Connor Williams. The linebackers stood out as a unit. Benton, Tonkery and Long all made plays that kept the Texas offensive on its heels. Tonkery’s pressure led to the pick-six by Robinson near the West Virginia goal line that gave the mountaineers some much needed momentum. However, throughout the game Ehlinger presented a large challenge with his elusiveness and speed.
The star of the game has to be the play of sophomore linebacker David Long. All the linebackers played well, but in play after play Long stood out causing havoc on the field. Last year, as a freshman he made sixty five tackles and he doesn’t appear to be suffering from any kind of sophomore slump.
Featured image courtesy Kelsie LeRose, BGS Photographer