Saturday night saw an abrupt end to West Virginia’s undefeated season and their chances of making the college football playoff. Credit, certainly, should be given to Iowa State: their coaching staff put together a solid game plan that their team executed well. In this edition of “From the Film Room,” we’ll focus on the struggles of Saturday night in Ames as well as what has to change during the bye week.
The Mountineers’ defense failed to tackle and struggled to get off opponents’ blocks all night long. They have a lot to improve upon, but still performed at level that gave WVU the opportunity to win. With Kenny Bigelow’s blocked field goal, the defense scored the same amount of points as the offense. The real underlying issue resulting in the loss was a lack of offensive production. Will Grier and Jake Spavital have received heavy criticism in the days following this game, but they’re not entirely to blame. The offensive unit, as a whole, performed below their potential. Blocking in both the passing and running games was exceptionally poor, while receivers struggled to give Grier viable targets.
Consistently, West Virginia faced long distances on second and third down. Much of this was because of a struggling run game that failed, time and time again on first down. Here, you can see a delayed hand off zone running play. This is a staple in WVU’s playbook. This play shows West Virginia’s inability to handle disguised pressure, paired with Iowa State calling the right play at the right time. There was no obvious pressure pre-snap, so Grier had no reason to audible. Iowa State on the snap sent a well-timed blitz through the backside B and C gaps. Yodny Cajuste was responsible to block the B and C gaps using a hinge block. He misidentifies the play and takes on the linebacker coming through the C gap. First priority was to block the inside threat, then work outwards. This mistake allowed the B gap blitzer to make the tackle for loss. Despite that, WVU failed their play side assignments. This means that even if Cajuste had blocked correctly, it still would have failed. The timing of the play call by the Cyclones was perfect, but it was poorly executed by the Mountaineers.
This power running play is stopped short due to poor blocking at the line of scrimmage. The right side of the offensive line fails to get any push downfield, giving the backside guard and tackle no where to go when they pulled around. Additionally, the fullback blocked the outside of the two threats on the right side, allowing the unblocked linebacker to hit the running back in the backfield.
Here, Iowa State is running a 3-3-5 alignment, almost identical to WVU’s base defense. They bring a deep safety blitz that allows them to apply pressure. The Mountaineers’ play design is for the offensive line to slide their protection to the right. The offensive line executes their blocks but that specific linebacker is the responsibility of Grier. With the line sliding to the right, there is no one to block that linebacker if he blitzes. The scheme of the pass protection makes him the quarterback’s responsibility to recognize. Grier sees him too late, doesn’t have enough time to get rid of the ball and takes a sack. This ball needed to be thrown earlier or thrown away.
This sack is caused by the offensive line struggling to block an interior twist stunt that uses two linebackers. West Virginia has six blockers and Iowa State only rushes five. The center and two guards fail to pick up the pressure coming through the two A gaps and it gives Grier no where to escape. The receivers here are well blanketed by Iowa State as they were all night. It looked as if he was going throw it to David Sills on his second read but the receiver slipped and the defense got to Grier. With pressure up the middle and no where to throw the ball, there was nothing Grier could do.
The running backs have struggled blocking pressure for several games. The offensive line does a great job blocking here but Kennedy McKoy misses his block and it leads to an easy sack. This is a spot where once Grier was out of the pocket, he could have thrown the ball away to avoid the sack. The focus should be on the missed block, not on Grier to throw the ball away.
The WVU offense as a unit has struggled since halftime of the Texas Tech game, which makes ten consecutive quarters. The defense is not without fault for the loss on Saturday but without better offensive production, the Mountaineers will fail to achieve the successful season that they are capable of having. The entire unit has to improve, specifically the run and pass blocking. Coach Holgorsen has a well timed bye week to help the offense sort out their woes and get them back on track before facing off against Baylor on October 25th in Morgantown.