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WVU Football Top Ten Plays of 2016: Number 8

Maurice Fleming seals the game against BYU

BYU v West Virginia Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images

The play: 2nd and 2 at WVU 28 (1:09 - 4th) Taysom Hill pass intercepted Maurice Fleming return for 2 yds to the WVirg 2

The setup: [Note, this is from Mike Casazza’s Good and Bad of BYU]

There’s 2:36 left in Saturday’s game, and to say the wheels are coming off is not accurate. The wheels are off and rolling down the Beltway. West Virginia, once up 35-19 with 11:27 to go, is now ahead by three points and stumbling off the field after a blooper turnover, a shocking error by either the most reliable player or the most reliable tandem on the team. It’s probably both. The Mountaineers were four yards and one or two plays away from putting away BYU.

Then WVU calls a freeze play, which is designed to make the defense, aggressive in the protection of its end zone, show its hand. A receiver motions from left to right, the quarterback throws out a hand gesture in the shotgun to trigger the defense and BYU shows something. That’s an if-then scenario. If the defense shows something, then quarterback Skyler Howard has a play he knows to call. So he saw the defender on his right dart toward the line and knew he had to execute the plan.

WVU does this all the time. You’ve seen it. You have. Near as we can tell, center Tyler Orlosky thought BYU jumped offsides and that a shrewd snap would get his team a free play.


Howard looks speechless. Orlosky is incensed. Dana Holgorsen, yeesh. When I was re-watching the game, I saw that look and audibly apologized to him. It’s a violent momentum swing. Remember, the Mountaineers were up 16 points and floundered and then recovered with what seemed like a game-clinching interception. They were 144 inches away from getting on the bus with a win.

Now that happens and the defense has to go against a percolating offense. It’s a quick change, WVU plays a Charmin quality zone and that surrenders the easiest 29-yard pass up the rail. Couldn’t even use the shadow of the goal posts as an ally.

A false start follows, and it’s first-and-15, but seconds later it’s third-and-4, and that’s followed by a 23-yard play, again to the right after quarterback Taysom Hill broke outside.

This is bad, gang. Howard and Orlosky are still carrying on on the sideline. Hill is on a roll. Momentum is wearing white. The ball is on WVU’s 28-yard line, but a 45-yard field goal is anything but certain given that BYU’s starting kicker was out and replaced by the original starter who lost his job. But who’s thinking field goal when you’ve got 1:09 left?

And then Hill makes, frankly, a risky decision. It’s the sort of chance you might take earlier in the quarter, when you’re trailing and rallying and need to force the issue a little bit, or earlier in the game, when the outcome is not on the line.

WVU played zone at the start of the drive and only went to man-to-man on the aforementioned third-down play when Hill rolled right and found a receiver on the sideline. It’s man-to-man again here, which is a bit of good fortune. Defensive coordinator Tony Gibson said he knew this play was coming. In fact, he tried to get his deep safety, Jeremy Tyler, to slide over to his right before the snap. That doesn’t happen, at least not to the degree Gibson wanted, probably because the order arrived so late in the period before the snap. But since it is man-to-man, the defenders are running with receivers, and that not only means Nana Kyeremeh is in position to tip the pass but that Maurice Fleming has to be on the lookout for the ball and that he’s in the vicinity to step off his receiver and catch the tip.

If it’s zone, maybe Hill drops that pass in a bucket. Maybe defenders aren’t around to tip or intercept the pass. (Aside: I do wonder if the outside receiver was supposed to be where he was. If he runs his route deeper, or if he doesn’t go as deep, Fleming isn’t in the area. Then again, it’s hard to fault the receiver him for seeing the pass and going to the ball. Being near the ball is, like, the key to sports.)

And then it was over. All the worrying was assuaged. All the writing on the wall was erased. WVU is 3-0 for the second straight season but dodged a wrecking ball for the first time in a long time.

Maurice saved the day and possibly helped turn the season for West Virginia. A loss to BYU means West Virginia’s best win is against 6-6 TCU. A loss also keeps WVU from being ranked as the polls failed to catch up to the Mountaineers. The team wasn’t ranked until after beating Kansas State. Fleming’s interception was an integral part of last years’ 10 wins.

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