Saturday afternoon was an all too familiar scene; a bad loss for West Virginia in a Big 12 matchup against Oklahoma. WVU played the Sooners well the first two years upon entering the Big 12, however, the last few meetings with Oklahoma have been painful. The weeks leading into the game this year had a different feel for the Old Gold and Blue. WVU had the quarterback, and the offense seemed better equipped to compete with Oklahoma’s star quarterback Baker Mayfield. After Will Grier broke his hand last week, everything changed about this game for the Mountaineers. Instead of traveling to Norman with one of the best quarterbacks in the country, West Virginia would be taking an inexperienced Chris Chugunov.
Offensive coordinator Jake Spavital put together a game plan designed to take the pressure off Chugunov’s decision making and arm. The Mountaineers installed a previously unseen wildcat formation using running back Kennedy McKoy. With this heavy ground game focus they ran the ball 51 times vs 20 attempts through the air. Spavital’s game plan is hard to criticize, as he was able to take pressure off of Chugunov. He did this by using standard plays from the WVU playbook and adding a wrinkle with the wildcat formation (see my WVU running game struggles article for more info on the wildcat formation). This new plan threw the Sooners for a loop and was the most effective strategy for the Mountaineers. This was designed to limit the amount of difficult throwing situations that the sophomore quarterback would be placed in, and it was successful. The wildcat formation was used 18 times averaging 6.33 yards per carry, while in standard formations with Chugunov in the backfield the offense only averaged 4.83 yards per carry.
Despite the help, Chugunov struggled in situations where he was called upon to move the chains for the offense. He missed throws to open receivers and couldn’t take advantage of opportunities that the Oklahoma defense gave him; ultimately completing an unexciting 10 of 20 passes during the game for 137 yards. More concerning was his inability to work through progressions of wide receivers. Often, he watched his intended receiver through their entire route. This is something defenses can easily key off of to either break up or intercept passes.
The injury to Will Grier forced the young Chugunov into a very tough situation. Playing on the road at #4 Oklahoma with only a week to prepare mentally and physical is a tall task for a true sophomore. He played with poise and seemed more comfortable in the pocket this week. In this tough environment he should be commended for the successes he achieved. Most importantly, Chugunov prevented any turnovers in the game and ultimately gave his team a chance to win. He played well enough for the Mountaineers to compete but sadly the defense was unable to slow down the Oklahoma offense.
Chugunov should be commended for making two great throws to the end zone. The first of these was to David Sills that the receiver was unable to haul in. Another throw to Ka’Raun White was knocked away by an Oklahoma defender. Chugunov also made a strong throw to Jennings for a critical first down where the receiver made a spectacular catch.
As the Mountaineers move toward the bowl game the health of Grier will be a hot topic. The wildcat formation that found so much success against Oklahoma will be unlikely to be duplicated in a bowl where the defense has weeks to prepare. If Chugunov is going to play in the bowl and be successful, the timing between he and receivers will be critical. The missed opportunities against Oklahoma cannot be repeated if the Mountaineers want to capture their eighth win this season.