We all know it by now. West Virginia, trailing by seven, sat on Virginia Tech’s 15-yard line with 0:09 seconds left in the game. The Mountaineers had, at best, two chances to tie the game. Offensive Coordinator Jake Spavital called up a play that got one of his playmakers, David Sills, free. Sills already had two touchdown catches in the game and nearly had a third.
Let’s break down what happened on that fateful second down pass.
Right before the snap, West Virginia is lined up in a 2x2 standard shotgun formation. West Virginia found most of its success through rub plays, where the inside receiver cuts outside and the outside receiver immediately runs inside, creating a pick. You might remember how Clemson used a legal pick play to beat Alabama in the national championship last year. The same concept applied for the Mountaineers.
While Grier stood and scanned the field, Bud Foster countered with a 3-2-6 defense. Knowing the Mountaineers were going to have to throw, Foster put as many defensive backs on the field as he could. Right before the snap, the free safety dropped down and lined up on the 10-yard line.
West Virginia runs a double-pick. Sills cuts inside before turning upfield and drifting across the endzone. McKoy runs a fade to the back pylon. Jennings, in the slot to the far side of the screen runs the same route. White runs a basic dig or post.
West Virginia puts four guys in the end zone and tells them to find a spot. Justin Crawford, standing in the backfield with Grier, fakes a block before trying to slip out. This ultimately proved to be a big difference in this play.
Bud Foster got lucky on this play. Throughout the game, Foster only rushed three or four guys trying to flood the passing lanes. Without a true pass rush, Will Grier stood tall in the pocket and found guys open time and time again.
On this play, Foster got a pass rush. Tim Settle, who had been quiet most of the night was able to break free on the line. Grier has to avoid Settle as he just bullrushed right past center Matt Jones. While this is going on, Yodny Cajuste is battling Trevon Hill. Hill doesn’t generate a pass rush as much as he holds contain. He is going to make sure Grier doesn’t scramble to the outside. When Grier has to slide around Settle, Hill is able to break free from Cajuste and apply pressure.
Trevon Hill starts to wrap up Grier just as he releases the pass. Thanks to Grier’s quick release, the ball is out, but Hill has affected this play. The ball starts to dip immediately as Grier throws a half wounded duck instead of a tight spiral. Throwing off his back foot, Grier can’t put as much mustard on the pass causing the ball to fall even more.
One more play I wanted to highlight is the Jackson run that eventually led to the game-winning touchdown for Virginia Tech. I think its important to note this play because of who was in the game at the time and how the defense had the right play called but executed it wrong.
This play is important because Al-Rasheed Benton is not in at middle linebacker. Two plays earlier, he went down with cramping like several other players did throughout the game. Inserted in his place was Brendan Ferns.
Ferns, aware of the amount of heavy zone-option that Virginia Tech was running follows the running back on this play. That is what created the huge lane for Jackson to run through. The downside is that had Ferns stayed home, Jackson goes nowhere.
Ferns initially breaks right into the hole. He has a bee-line into Jackson, yet his inexperience catches him watching the running back and shedding blocks to follow the pitch man. If Ferns simply crashes down hard, he catches Jackson at the 50 and Virginia Tech is looking at 2nd and 13.