Let’s start by admitting that the situation that Chugunov was thrown into was far from ideal on Saturday. The weather was poor. The heavy rain that started and stopped combined with cool temps to make things difficult. Chuganov came on in relief of Will Grier who has thrown for 3490 yards this season, 34 touchdowns and was averaging 9 yards per completion. The offense that Chugunov was taking over has struggled to run the ball consistently since entering Big 12 play and in an overall sense has been streaky with its execution for the entire season. Making matters worse he was facing a defensive line and linebacker core in Texas that seemed to be a superior match for the offensive line of West Virginia.
Chugunov went 14-26 for 189 yards and one touchdown. He fumbled the ball twice, one of which was recovered at West Virginia’s six yard line by Texas and resulted in a touchdown two plays later. Those stats aren’t terrible but aren’t overwhelming either. Below we will examine good plays and bad plays that Chugunov made on Saturday to give some better perspective on the game.
His first throw of the game is a throw to Jennings on a wide receiver screen. The pass looks unexciting at first. Let’s watch it and think of the context of what is going through Chugunov’s head:
It’s 2nd and 9, your first attempt at running didn’t go well. You’ve just come into the game, you lack experience and you need 9 yards to gain a first. You’re going to have to throw the ball successfully or you’ll be punting.
Chugunov makes a quick and accurate throw across the width of the field and puts it right into Jennings’ hands. If Chugunov doesn’t make that accurate of a throw or takes longer to throw it, Jennings doesn’t gain the six yards that he does. This is a much harder throw than it seems. It requires Chugunov to throw from the far hash to the numbers and it has to get there fast. By him making an accurate throw West Virginia gets to 3rd and 3, a much more manageable down and distance situation. This is a very critical play for Chuganov to make and he delivers.
Here Chugunov shows some confidence and steps up and makes a really nice throw in tight coverage to Jennings for a big first down to get West Virginia to mid field on a 3rd and 5. Now, you can argue that this coverage is a little tighter than is ideal for a backup quarterback to throw into, but nonetheless he makes a good throw to Jennings with two Texas defenders in coverage. Coaches would like to have seen him not stare at Jennings the entire time through the route so the defenders aren’t following his eyes. Nonetheless, it was a good throw.
West Virginia only scored one offensive touchdown, but it was a thing of beauty. Here Chugunov has pressure coming at him, on a 4th and 5 with the game on the line and delivers an excellent ball to White for a touchdown. He showed great poise and ability to make a great throw when the team had to have it.
West Virginia is down 14 points with a little more than 12 minutes left in the fourth. The Mountaineers’ offense has failed to get on the score board at this point in the game. If West Virginia is going to win this game today this drive has to net some points. It is 3rd and 9, Texas is going to bring pressure and Chugunov has to know it. Despite this, he sits in the pocket with pressure coming from the side and directly into his face where he knows he is going to get hit. He is able to anticipate the break in Sills’ route and throws it before Sills is even clearly there. Below, you can see the picture of Chugunov about the release the ball and Sills just starting the break in his route.
This play is important as well because Chugunov takes as big of hit as a quarterback ever takes and not a legal one. The next play, Chugunov makes a tough throw to White. It isn’t a perfect throw as it is slightly underthrown but there is pressure to his left and he stays put and makes another big throw to keep this drive going. This shows extraordinary toughness and character. To stay in the pocket, deliver the throw and take that hit showed a great will to win and toughness. For Chugunov to come back and make another throw on the next play after that hit shows maturity and that he has a kind of confidence that you can’t teach.
This third down shows the lack of experience that Chugunov has and how it results in a poor decision. A screen pass designed for McCoy on this play is nearly intercepted and taken for a touchdown by Texas. Chuganov had pressure in his face but makes a poor throw and even worse decision. This pass needs to be either short of McCoy or thrown away. The blocking and execution by the team isn’t great here but Chuganov nearly compounds it.
Sills has a good opportunity here for a big play and first down but Chugunov misses the throw. The idea is correct in that Chugunov tried to lead the receiver so Sills could make the catch and run with the ball. However, the throw is simply too far ahead of Sills for him to make the catch.
Late in the game Chugunov makes a critical mistake that is common for an inexperienced quarterback. He doesn’t look at his progression properly and missed White who was wide open for a first down and a big play. Making matters worse the play results in a turnover when Chugunov fumbles. Without question, Wellman needs to make a better block here but Chugunov had time to get this ball to White, get the first down and avoid the turnover. Instead, Texas causes a fumble and recovers it on West Virginia’s six yard line where they punch the ball in two plays later, effectively eliminating West Virginia’s hope of winning.
Chugunov was placed in a really difficult situation. He was forced into a game where the odds were stacked against him in almost every way. He had several balls batted down from poor blocking, faced pressure from Texas and his receivers dropped three passes that should have been caught. Yes his throws were inaccurate at times and he missed an open touchdown on a Texas blown coverage. Late in the game, once he became comfortable and built some confidence he made some good decisions, showed poise and made good throws. A lot of his best throws were late in the game when West Virginia had to have them. He isn’t Will Grier but no one should expect him to be.
Ball security and making the throws he knows he can make will need to be his focus as he moves towards the Oklahoma matchup. The coaching staff will design a playbook around the throws they know he can make and that should help the passing game significantly next week. The maturity and resilience Chugunov showed against Texas will give the coaching staff and the team some confidence they may not have had before watching the game film.
If you’d like to see our video breakdown of how the defense faired against the Longhorns you can read/see it here.
Featured image courtesy Kelsie LeRose, BGS Photographer