What in the [flying] world happened on Saturday? Kansas, who came in averaging under 4 yards per carry, gives the ball to Khalil Herbert who promptly runs into the West Virginia record book with 291 yards. How in the [huckleberry] did Herbert consistently get 7, 8, 9 yards?
The first play of the game gives us a lot of clues to what Kansas did right Saturday.
Here is Kansas, lined up in the diamond formation. Notice how wide the receivers are? This formation has immediately put stress on the defense. What are you going to do?
- There are two very wide receivers, requiring you put your corners away from the play.
The two corners are now effectively isolated. They cannot provide any type of run support. The next decision for the defense is what to do with the safeties.
- Do you play cover two so you can provide some sort of deep help? If you do, then you only have 7 players to defend the run. If you don’t, then your safety has to play Cover-1 and get deep earlier. This takes him out of run support.
West Virginia elects to put Kyzir White as the deep middle safety, but in order to provide any sort of deep safety help, White has to be at least 15-20 yards off the ball. He is now out of the play as well. That leaves WVU with 8 players to block 7.
Kansas pulls the right guard. The right fullback kicks out the inside end, while the left fullback kicks out the spur backer, this time its Dravon Askew-Henry. The middle linebacker, Al-Rasheed Benton did not have a good day. He guessed a lot, funneling himself inside and taking himself out of a lot of plays. If Benton scrapes along the line, he can catch Herbert for a short 3-4 yard gain.
Now compare this to when Kansas went to a traditional 11 [1 running back, 1 tight end] personnel grouping.
It’s third and two. West Virginia is stacking the line. They are going to dare Peyton Bender to go over the top of them. All 11 defenders are creeping up to the line. On this play, Kyzir shoots inside the pulling guard, forcing the running back to widen out his path. This causes him to go deeper into the backfield and waste three steps. In the mean time Dravon and Kenny Robinson close down and keep the back from getting past the line of scrimmage.
This was the case throughout most of the first half. When Doug Meachum reached into his bag of tricks and used the diamond formation, WVU was helpless. The pulling guard plus the dual lead backs just created too much push for the Mountaineers front. When Meachum spread out and didn’t give Herbert three lead blockers, he wasn’t as successful. He found success at times, but the diamond helped.
Part of the reason that the diamond formation helped, is because the defensive line was getting no push. At least, it wasn’t getting great push when Xavier Pegues was manning the nose tackle. When Lamonte McDougle was on the line, things went a bit differently.
Lamonte blows this play up from the start. He pushes the center backwards. Repeat, he PUSHES THE CENTER BACKWARDS. By doing so, he forces the running back to adjust his path, widening him out.
This play in the fourth quarter is exactly what you want your nose tackle in a 3-man front to do. He gets instance push on the center while getting upfield. As the running back makes a cut to get inside, Lamonte is able to reach up and drag the ballcarrier down from behind.
The last play for Lamonte is his sack/strip fumble. After Kansas and West Virginia traded touchdowns, Lamonte put an end to the Kansas momentum in a big way. He splits the guard/center with speed that shouldn’t be available for a kid weighing close to 300 pounds. McDougle is past the guard before he can get set and he flushes Bender. He remains in pursuit and is able to hit Bender before he throws the ball. His hit forces the ball out of Bender’s hand while Bender’s throwing motion propels the ball forward. Thankfully Dylan Tonkery picked this ball up.