In a new series this year, From the Film Room, we will be reviewing a few critical plays from each week’s game. This is meant to give fans a better look into the few moments that changed the game and may be critical as the season progresses.
West Virginia entered the season with a lot of questions. One of the biggest questions being their defensive line. On Saturday, the group comprised of young talent, relatively unknown stars and graduate transfers, distinguished themselves. The defense had 12 tackles for loss and 7.5 of those were by defensive lineman. Darius Stills recorded 2.5 tackles for loss and Reese Donahue recorded the Mountaineers’ only sack, along with another tackle for loss. Kenny Bigelow, the graduate transfer from USC, set the tone on the first play of the game. He made a quick swim move, to flash by the center and get to the Tennessee quarterback, before he could execute the screen pass. Typically in these plays, the ball leaves the quarterback’s hand so fast, that defensive pressure is never felt. Here Bigelow is so swift, he is able to make the play while delivering a crushing hit to the opposing single caller and the Volunteers.
Here, David Sills V and Will Grier connect on a beautiful touchdown. This is a choice route where Sills can break several directions based on the reaction of the safety. In this instance, the defender is flatfooted and steps towards Sills, thinking he’ll stop in and cut-back towards Grier, or break for the sideline. Sills reads the body position of the safety. The safety is aggressively anticipating his route, however, being flatfooted at the time, Sills is able to sprint past the poorly positioned defender. This gives Grier an easy throw for a touchdown, over the head of Sills, to a safe position.
Josh Norwood, the junior college transfer who started his career at Ohio State, has showed to be an important addition to the WVU secondary. This play is important because of the heavy reliance upon wide receiver screens in Big 12 offenses. It is used extensively across the league as an extension of the run game and as a way to set up other passing plays. Norwood, on this play, avoids being blocked and makes a textbook open field tackle. If the Mountaineers can stop wide receiver screens, like this one, they will severely limit the playbooks’ of other Big 12 teams.
The offense needs to find a rotation of receivers who are able to make plays, so defenses cannot key on Sills and Gary Jennings. There were eleven different receivers that caught passes from Grier on Saturday. The development of serious receiver threats outside of Sills and Jennings will make the Mountaineer passing attack exceptionally harder to stop. In this clip, Marcus Simms runs a crisp slant route, fights off a defensive back and then runs for a significant amount of yardage after breaking the tackle.
Reminiscent of the 2017 season, the biggest struggle with WVU’s offense Saturday night was a lack of running game. Head Coach, Dana Holgorsen, challenged the team after watching film, stating that the run blocking during the game wasn’t good enough. This delayed hand off to Martell Pettaway shows effective run blocking. Here, the offensive line neutralizes a blitz by the defense that includes a twist stunt by the interior two defensive lineman. A consistent run game will be necessary for sustained drives as well as to help bleed the clock in games when the Mountaineers have the lead. This becomes more important when The Blue and Gold face other powerful Big 12 offenses, where time of possession becomes even more critical.