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What I Think After West Virginia’s Rollercoaster Win Over Kansas Jayhawks

For some, this win feels unimpressive. For me, this win showed resiliency.

West Virginia v Kansas Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images

For many, this game should have been over at halftime. West Virginia went into the locker room holding a 22-point lead. West Virginia won the game by 22. The halftime margin and the final margin were the same. So why are all of our hands wrung out like laundry?

I Think the run defense is a combination of things

When I write these articles, I try to watch the game two ways. First, I watch the game as a fan like all of you. I let my emotions take over and I enjoy the game that I always have. I get angry when the team makes mistakes and I shout for joy when the team does well.

When I wake up the next morning, I try to watch the game objectively. I now know the outcome of the game, so I’m watching for techniques, tendencies, and to see if how I felt during the live viewing of the game is the same on a second watch.

  • Kansas used West Virginia’s diamond formation in a manner I have not seen before. It almost looked like an inverted wishbone offense.
Original wishbone formation

This is the original wishbone. It can be traced back to the 50s but is regularly given credit to Emory Bellard as the true founder. The idea of the formation was to give the offense two blockers to one defender, essentially giving the running back an extra blocker.

Kansas did this on their opening drive. Instead of the quarterback under center, they moved the quarterback to a shotgun distance [where the running backs are in the picture] and moved the fullback [now a running back] to a pistol formation.

Next, Kansas set its wide receiver out as wide as possible, imitating Baylor’s wide splits. This helped to draw at least two defenders completely out of the play. Once the play began, Kansas would pull a guard. This gave Kansas three lead blockers on their run plays. No wonder they ran for a billion yards. It was nearly impossible to overload a side when you have three lead blockers before you get to the running back.

  • The defense run blitzed and over pursued way too much. Several times I watched as our linebackers gave away our blitz before the snap. Then, when the play began, we got linebackers into the backfield only to watch them run right past the running back leaving a clear void. Khalil Herbert did an amazing job of seeing these voids and cutting back into open space. On Herbert’s long touchdown run, Al-Rasheed Benton simply got greedy and thought Herbert was going outside. Benton voided his responsibility and darted outside. Herbert cut back inside and with no deep help, he raced for a long touchdown.
  • The running game was a complete departure from their norm. I’m not sure if Kansas used the formation before, but coming into the game, Kansas ran for 328 yards on 91 carries (3.6 YPC). Herbert had 19 carries against Ohio, but only 3 carries against Southeast Missouri and Central Michigan. I’m not sure we could gameplan for Herbert to have the kind of game he did.
  • We clearly gameplanned for Peyton Bender to throw the ball. When I was preparing for the week I kept thinking the keys to the game were slow down Bender and keep the Kansas defensive line off Grier. Those two things happened and West Virginia won by 22. Coming into this game, Bender was actually 3 yards ahead of Will Grier in passing [1,030 to 1,027]. It was expected he was going to throw the ball. When he did, Bender was ineffective. In the first half, as the Mountaineers built their lead, Bender completed only 5 of 13 passes [38%] for 50 yards and a pick-six. In the second half, as Kansas tried to climb back into the game, Bender completed 12 of 19 passes for 147 yards with 1 touchdown and 1 interception. When Bender throws the ball, Kansas scores. When he hands the ball off, they produced only 13 points.

I Think the team is tired of playing easy games

The past three weeks have been a horrible stretch of games. No one minds playing one cupcake team, especially early in the season. Playing two, teams become lackadaisical. Playing three and you can tell the team was going through the motions. In the second half, I don’t think the team was trying very hard.

West Virginia has never been a team that has so much talent that their second team is able to just run over people at will. When our second team has been on the field this season, the execution has been lax. The talent disparity between the two teams has been much closer. In the third quarter, with our first and second teams going through the motion, Kansas was able to claw its way back into the game. The team will need to play hard for 60 minutes if it plans to keep up with the rest of the teams on its schedule.

I Think I like seeing the team experience some struggles

Yes, it is very fun to watch Will Grier load up and chuck it deep. Yes it is fun to watch the offense score every possession and the scoreboard light up. However I was more impressed that the team, after getting up 22 to end the first half, was able to fall asleep and then wake back up. Not just offense either. The defense experienced a lull in the third quarter. As the third quarter came to an end, the defense got itself back together.

The defense began to slow down Herbert and started putting Kansas in third down situations where Bender had to pass. Now the gameplan to stop Bender looked smart. When Kansas cut the lead to 42-34, the defense stepped up again with back to back turnovers. First LaMont McDougle busted through the line to hit Bender before he threw a pass. Dylan Tonkery has to advance that ball. Every loose ball needs to be picked up and run back for a score. Make the officials tell you to stop!

Then on 3rd-and-8, Dravon Askew-Henry just NAILED Jeremiah Booker as the pass arrived, knocking the ball into the arms of Benton. Two crucial drives for Kansas both resulted in turnovers and ultimately led to West Virginia touchdowns.

I Think injuries are affecting us

Officially, NCAA teams are allowed to travel with 70 players. For West Virginia, at least four of those players (David Long, Toyous Avery, Grant Lingafelter and Jacob Buccigrossi) did not see any time on the field, even though they typically would. Then West Virginia experienced several in-game injuries. Kyzir White was injured and ended up leaving the game. Brendan Ferns was injured, and now appears to be headed to surgery for a shoulder separation. Mike Daniels and Marvin Gross were also injured during the game. Don’t discount all of these injuries in terms of how the defense is performing.

Third quarter, for example. WVU defensive coordinator Tony Gibson lacked his best cornerback (Mike Daniels), his top blitzer (Kyzir White) and White’s backup (Marvin Gross) — fresh injuries to exacerbate the absences of Toyous Avery and David Long.

“It’s an eight-point game,” Gibson said, “and we’ve got all our 2s out there.”

As if playing four freshmen on a critical series wasn’t worrisome enough, Elijah Battle, one of Gibson’s seniors, pushed a receiver out of bounds and gave Kansas the ball near midfield. The Jayhawks already had scored 17 straight points to pull within 35-27, and now they were one Herbert handoff away from the equalizer.

I Think the offense is balanced

Other than Virginia Tech, which required us to throw the ball so much, the team has thrown the ball less than 40 times in their last three games. Overall, they have thrown the ball 161 times in 4 games [40 attempts a game]. They have run the ball 169 times [42 times a game]. They are right at a 50-50 split. I see some of you on Facebook, Twitter and in the site comments wanting us to run more.

Let’s be realistic. We have Will Grier. His single best asset is his right arm. The talent in that right arm is not made to hand the ball off 70 times a game. It is made to throw the ball.

The past two years, Skyler Howard was a dual-threat quarterback in every positive and negative sense of the phrase. Howard ran the ball 142 times in 2016 and 157 times in 2015. If you take those 299 runs and assume 90% [270] were passes instead, our run-pass option is skewed heavily towards the pass. That is exactly what is going on this year. We have taken away the quarterback runs and turned them into passes. In the second half, Will Grier threw 20 passes and the team ran the ball 20 times. Balance.

I Think Mississippi State proves my rule against ranking teams just because they beat a ranked team

Every year you see it. Every year a ranked team gets beat by some unranked squad and that squad finds themselves in the rankings the next week. It’s a feel-good story for about a week, until squad B gets demolished by another team. It happened again, this time in the SEC where it seems to happen weekly. Mississippi State crushed LSU last week then failed to show up against the Georgia Bulldogs. Now Georgia has a win over a ranked team that had no business being in the rankings to begin with.