On Saturday, Mountaineer and Longhorn fans alike were spellbound by four quarters of captivating football in Austin, Texas. The suspense of the game’s ending created what many have called, ‘the most exciting college football game of the season.’ WVU pulled off a road win that hearkened flash backs to scenes from Austin in 2012, as well as the well-known upset of Oklahoma back in 1982. In this week’s exciting edition of “From the Film Room,” we’ll explore the exact plays that led to the monumental victory over Texas for the Old Gold and Blue.
The Mountaineers’ zone running game was a focus of the preview as well as a critical part of the offensive strategy for WVU. Late in the fourth quarter, Martell Pettaway took a zone run 13 yards for a touchdown. This play was a large reason why West Virginia was able to come away with the win. The Longhorns had seven players in the immediate box area, trying to stop the running attack. Despite their defensive efforts, exceptional blocking allowed the play to go for a touchdown. Tevon Wesco, the tight end, starts off by clearing the outside linebacker out of the way. The right side of the offensive line, comprised of Colton McKivitz, Isiah Hardy and Matt Jones, took care of the rest of the play side defenders. This created an easy path for Pettaway. This is the type of blocking that WVU has been searching for all season long. When it mattered the most, the line stepped up and willed their way to victory.
Kennedy McKoy and Martell Pettaway combined for 216 yards on the ground, an average of 8.3 yards per carry. This is a remarkable improvement from the Baylor stats that were discussed in the preview. Versus Baylor, the Mountaineers had a very misleading stat line. They had two large runs by Tevin Bush and Martell Pettaway that skewed the overall rushing stats. When you took those two carries out, the team averaged a mere 2.3 yards per carry. To have such a drastic increase in average, against a quality opponent like Texas, is notable.
Another key part of our preview discussed keeping pressure off of the offensive line, allowing Will Grier time to operate the offense. The play calling by Jake Spavital and the execution by the offensive line, held a team that averaged nearly two sacks a game, to zero. It is more impressive when you take into account that the offensive line’s most experienced player, Yodny Cajuste, was ejected in the first quarter. Kelby Wickline, who replaced Cajuste, stood in admirably, allowing the offense to run without disruption.
Coach Spavital called several plays early in the game to keep Texas’ defenders from applying too much pressure. Here, we have two examples from the first quarter. These plays were designed to alleviate pressure by preventing further blitzes by the Longhorns.
The first is a wide receiver screen. It is a heavily used play in the offense, but one that forces defenders to play all the way to edge of the field. This spreads them away from the box area, helping the run game, while also making them less likely to apply immediate pressure due to their distance.
The second play is a pass to Kennedy McKoy. By using a slow developing route, it punishes the Longhorns for sending a blitz. Texas attempts to apply pressure with an outside linebacker but Grier is able to quickly get the ball to McKoy. David Sills and Trevon Wesco are initially aligned to that side. The man defending Sills is in man coverage, so when Sills takes his route out of the area, the defender is forced to follow him. Wesco comes up field before moving into a crossing route. This upfield and then in movement, forces the zone area defender to step towards the tight end. These few steps inside are all that McKoy needed. The zone defender is now out of position and cannot catch McKoy.
The jet sweep motion with Tevin Bush was used extensively, working exactly as predicted. As mentioned in the preview, it forced Longhorn defenders to trail across the field to account for the speedy receiver. This kept them on edge the entire game, waiting for a quick touch pass.
The defense had their fewest number of tackles for loss by a large margin during this game. Despite this, WVU’s standout linebacker, David Long, was able to make a critical sack here, forcing a negative yardage play. He beats his defender one on one as he does, time and again, giving Ehlinger no where to escape.
The defensive secondary had a frustrating day against Texas. Despite menacing pressure from the WVU defense, the Texas quarterback, Sam Ehlinger, narrowly got the pass off in this clip below. The defensive backs were consistently outmatched and out positioned by the larger Texas receivers. Lil’Jordan Humphrey, Collin Johnson and tight end, Andrew Beck, all average between 6’4,” and 6’6” tall. This made a difficult match up for the undersized WVU defenders. A good sample is this play by Lil’Jordan Humphrey over Kenny Robinson. The safety stands at 6’2,” a respectable height; he puts himself in good position. The large Texas receiver is able to easily make an incredible catch over top of Robinson. Play after play, it seemed reminiscent of the 2007 Gator Bowl match up against Georgia Tech. Former Yellow Jacket, Calvin Johnson standing at 6’5,” tortured Mountaineer fans with similar grabs all day long.
In the last play of the game, Holgorsen decides to roll the dice. Grier converted the two point conversion by willing himself to the corner of the end zone. This play is one that will certainly go down in history in the minds of college football fans. In many ways, it has overshadowed the play before, which was really the more impressive one. Gary Jennings had been shut down all day, as he had one catch for zero yards, up until that point. With 16 seconds left in the game, the two combined for a 40 yard touchdown pass to the back of the end zone. Grier put the ball over top of the two defenders, with just enough space for Jennings to keep his feet in bounds.
Saturday evening, the entire world saw the Mountaineers snag an unbelievable, last second victory in front of 100,000 fans. The execution of the offensive line, leadership of Grier and return of a powerful running attack helped propel the Old Gold and Blue to victory. This week, West Virginia will face off against the Horned Frogs of TCU. The Mountaineers will need to continue their offensive exploits of the last two games, while tightening up on defense to come away with a victory.