On Tuesday, the Mountaineers will face a tough matchup against a stout Utah defense. This is a formidable assignment for the Old Gold and Blue, who are missing their starting quarterback and running back. Chris Chugunov will replace Will Grier at quarterback, and Justin Crawford’s role will be divided between Kennedy McKoy and Martell Pettaway, who together are more than capable of making up for Crawford’s absence.
While the task of replacing both of these offensive stars seems daunting, the weeks and many practices have given Offensive Coordinator Jake Spavital time to devise a game plan that will allow WVU to compete with the Utes.
Coach Spavital will need to establish the ground game early. In addition to rotating McKoy and Pettaway, speedy freshman Tevin Bush will likely get more carries and have a larger role in the offense this week. The wildcat formation West Virginia used with success against Oklahoma will surely make a return. To further bolster the running game West Virginia will use multiple running back formations and a tight end to gain a blocking advantages like it did in the Oklahoma game. This will allow senior Elijah Wellman’s blocking to be highlighted in his final game.
The advantage of using these formations of multiple running backs and tight ends will force Utah to commit more players to the running game and allow better passing situations for Chugunov. If Utah is forced to use two of their safeties to stop the running game, it improves the chances that Ka’Raun White or David Sills V will have single coverage.
Recent practices have given Chris Chugunov the opportunity to create better chemistry and improve timing with his receivers. Coach Spavital has devised route patterns and plays that favor the throwing arm of Chugunov. There is a considerable advantage in comparison to the Oklahoma game because they’ve had time to alter the playbook towards Churganov’s strengths.
If placed in favorable situations, the Mountaineers should be able to throw the ball against the Utes. If forced into tough long 3rd downs, Utah will be able to bring pressure and make it much harder for WVU to maintain drives. The Mountaineers must gain positive yards on first down, avoid penalties and costly turnovers in order for them to keep drives alive and put points on the board.
Utah uses a 4-2-5 defensive alignment that uses three safeties in the backend. Utah will want to make WVU throw the ball from the beginning of the game, and so will likely move one their safeties up into a standard linebacker look, to appear more akin to a traditional 4-3 alignment. The Utes have done a good job of bringing pressure this season, and will try to do the same against Chugunov.
Former quarterback Chase Hansen is an athletic strong safety for Utah. He brings good coverage skills, run support, and creates great pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Hansen has missed several games this season due to injury, but appears to be healthy enough to play in the bowl. Hansen is the exact kind of player that Chugunov will want to account for pre-snap. It will be important for West Virginia to throw the ball well enough that Utah cannot continually bring pressure in passing situations. To reduce pressure on Chugunov WVU should look to utilize the running back screen or jet sweep.
Utah’s defense has only allowed 139.8 yards in the ground per game this year. Despite the stingy run defense of Utah, West Virginia will have to run the ball well against the Utes in order to stay in this game. There should be some throwing lanes for Chugunov to take advantage of, as Utah looks to shut down the Mountaineer running attack. If the run game is successful enough to take pressure off Chugunov’s arm, and the team can avoid turnovers, WVU will have a good chance to win the Zaxby’s Heart of Dallas Bowl.