West Virginia faced a gritty Jayhawks team for homecoming this past Saturday. The offense struggled with turnovers which forced their defense into multiple, repetitive tough situations. In the fifth edition of “From the Film Room,” we’ll dive into some plays that will have significance as the season moves forward.
The Mountaineer offense failed to find rhythm as Will Grier faced continuous pressure throughout the game. West Virginia’s offensive line struggled: poor snaps, penetration and missed blocks plagued the group in route to giving up five sacks. Part of the reason for their struggles were well designed blitzes by the Jayhawks. Below, Kansas attempts to apply pressure on Grier with confusion. They drop a defensive end into coverage and send a linebacker blitz through the “A” gap. This forces Kennedy McKoy to pick up a blitzing linebacker right in the face of his quarterback. Grier exhibited great poise in his decision making by taking advantage of the blitz’s weakness. Grier recognized that his second running back, Leddie Brown, had released on a quick route out of the backfield. Compounding things for Kansas, Brown was now being covered by the previously mentioned dropping defensive end, a severe mismatch for the Jayhawks. Making matters even worse, the Kansas corner on that side was in man coverage and had followed his assignment out of the area, allowing Brown to go for an easy touchdown.
In front of a home crowd, Will Grier had, statistically, his poorest game of the season. Here, we’ll dissect what caused one his red zone interceptions on Saturday. Kansas shows six defenders for a possible blitz, pre-snap. West Virginia has six available blockers including the running back. Just like above, Kansas drops a defensive end and brings a linebacker, causing quick pressure right in the lap of Grier. Martell Pettaway is in position, but isn’t able to prevent the linebacker from breaking through. This pressure pushes Grier out of the pocket and forces a quick pass that is, unfortunately, under thrown. Sacks and pressure are often blamed on the offensive line but, in this case, it was a running back who failed to pick up the blitz.
It’s obvious that the reason Kansas chose to run these blitzes was because it isolated West Virginia’s best lineman, offensive tackles Yondy Cajuste and Colton McKivitz. By dropping the defense ends, Kansas left the tackles without someone to block and were able to take advantage of match ups against weaker blockers.
Here, the defense made a big stop when the Jayhawks went for it on fourth and one, giving their offense great field position. Defensive coordinator, Tony Gibson, sent seven defenders on a blitz. That decision paid off. Kansas attempted to run a read option giving their quarterback the ability to hand the ball off to the running back or keep it himself. Ignoring the fumbled exchange by the quarterback, the Mountaineers put themselves in position to stop the attack. The running back is quickly stopped short of the line of scrimmage by David Long and Dravon Askew-Henry. The quarterback, who looks like he wanted to keep the ball, would have been met in the backfield by a penetrating Ezekiel Rose and JoVanni Stewart.
Last year in Lawrence, the Jayhawks ran all over the Mountaineers as Khalil Herbert went for 291 yards and 8.1 yards per attempt in 2017. Despite Kansas having Big 12 leading rusher, Pooka Williams Jr., the Mountaineers’ defense stepped up and limited their running game to 80 yards and 3.1 yards per attempt this year. Here, the Jayhawks try a form of zone counter to mimic their zone running game. WVU uses six men in the box, stalls the offensive line’s push and David Long steps up to make a tackle right at the line of scrimmage.
West Virginia’s ability to stop the run will be critical as the team moves deep into conference play. Texas, specifically, relies heavily on their run game, especially the traditional counter run game. The ability to stop the run with six or seven defenders allows better pass defense and could be the difference against high-powered teams like Texas and Oklahoma.
West Virginia was able to escape the Jayhawks on Saturday, despite four turnovers and poor execution. Stout defense and blitz pick up will continue to be important as the Mountaineers travel to Ames, Iowa to take on Iowa State this coming Saturday. The Cyclones are coming off an impressive win against Oklahoma State and will be looking to carry their momentum into this weekend as they face the Old Gold and Blue.