The Mountaineers head to Austin on Saturday in a pivotal Big 12 showdown against the Texas Longhorns. Will Grier and his offense were able to get back on track against the Baylor Bears as they racked up 568 yards. While the offense exploded in the second quarter, the first was filled with field goal attempts due to failed drives. In this edition of “From the Film Room,” we’ll address what led to the success as well as what adjustments will be needed to win on Saturday.
The Mountaineer offense gained 172 rushing yards against Baylor, which on the surface, is an improvement. A deeper look reveals that 112 of those yards came to two carries: the 33 yard Martell Pettaway touchdown and the Tevin Bush jet sweep that went for 79 yards. When you separate those two carries, the offense averaged a meager 2.3 yards per carry. That simply won’t be enough of a ground game against a ranked opponent on the road.
Let’s outline the Martell Pettaway touchdown in the second quarter. The Mountaineer offensive line does a textbook job of picking up Baylor pressure on this inside zone play. Colton McKivitz, the right tackle, picks up the inside linebacker, who’s blitz should have sent him directly into Pettaway. Additionally, the two guards, Josh Sills and Isiah Hardy, do an exceptional job blocking the other linebackers.
This play is important for two reasons as we lead into the Texas game. The zone running game makes up the majority of the Mountaineer running attack and despite Baylor bringing pressure, the play isn’t disrupted. The offensive line is able to pick up the blitz, take advantage of gaps created by it, which leads to a touchdown. Pressure has been a problem for the Mountaineer offense in both the running and passing game. Texas has shown the ability to wreak havoc with their defensive line and linebackers. For WVU to win the game on Saturday, the Old Gold and Blue are going to have to establish a quality running game. If the offense can handle pressure like it did above, the Mountaineers will have a fighting chance in Austin.
Safeties and outside linebackers have the ability to help stop the run game if they can stay close to the box. The box is typically defined as the area between the offensive tackles, behind the offensive line extending to the back of the endzone and three to five yards downfield into the defense. The offense can limit their ability to help, by forcing them to defend the entire field and therefore, spreading them away from the box. There are several ways this can be accomplished. One of which is wide receiver screens, which WVU runs often. Another, which can be seen below, is the jet sweep. Tevin Bush’s speed makes him exceptionally dangerous, just as Tavon Austin’s did. Additionally, offensive Coordinator, Jake Spavital, uses the jet sweep motion to trick defenses. A player motioning across the offense, appearing as if they’ll run the jet sweep, requires the defense to account for that player, even if WVU runs a completely different play. This can be used to move defenders away from the point of attack or to simply cause confusion to the defense. Look for the jet sweep along with a jet sweeping motion to be used heavily this Saturday.
Another way that WVU can take advantage of Texas’s pressures is by having an effective screen game. The Alec Sinkfield screen shown here is a perfect example. Against Iowa State, the offense attempted to run screens but had very little success. The screen game will be crucial on Saturday to limit Texas’s ability to apply pressure.
Back to the Baylor game, WVU struggled in the first quarter to sustain drives. This was more apparent in the red zone, where the missed opportunities led to field goal attempts. Play selection and execution becomes limited on third down, especially those of longer distances. Here, Jovani Haskins runs a choice route against zone coverage. This allows Haskins to adjust the break in his route, based on the position of the defender. Additionally, it allows him to break at the distance needed to gain a first down. The ability to move the chains on third and long not only helps to sustain drives, but also helps with average starting field position. This type of execution is what the offense will need on Saturday to avoid punting and field goal attempts.
Will Grier and the offense bounced back against the Bears with 58 points, but things won’t be nearly as easy in Austin. Texas’s defense has allowed an average of 24.9 points per game, while the WVU offense has averaged 39.9 this season. Handling pressure in both the run and passing game will be paramount to the Mountaineers. Using both their screen game and jet sweeps should help to alleviate that pressure, but most of the responsibility will fall upon the offensive line. A big win this weekend is a must if West Virginia hopes to continue their quest towards their first Big 12 title.