This has been an extremely well managed season so far for head coach Dana Holgorsen. In the first game of the season, Dana learned from his experience in his first game as a head coach and had plenty of food for his team during an extended halftime rain/lightning delay. On Satuday, Dana showed maturity again as he had the Mountaineers ready to play after a bye week popped up unexpectedly and shook up the routine of the team.
The Mountaineers were obviously ready to play, despite some rust by the offense.
Offensive Slow Starts
For the third game in the row, the offense has not gotten off to a fast start. Will Grier and Marcus Simms misread a defensive coverage and it resulted in Grier basically throwing to the Kansas State defensive back. On the second offensive possession, Leddie Brown fumbled the handoff from Grier, giving KSU another opportunity. Through three games, the offense has scored 10, 7 and 7 points in the first quarter. They’ve scored 3, 14 and 14 in the second.
So far, against ball control offenses, these offensive outputs have been enough but the upcoming schedule could prove to be dangerous if the offense can’t get off to a fast start. Texas Tech this week is going to put up points. If the offense digs itself a hole, are you going to be looking at a repeat of 2017, when Grier engineered a 22-point fourth quarter or will it be a repeat of 2012 when the Mountaineers got punched in the mouth and failed to get back up?
Don’t look now, but @TonyGibsonWVU and his #dawgs are tied for 1st for the best scoring defense in the country right now with 12.3 points per game. #wvufootball #lwocfb— Travis Knobbe (@TravisKnobbe) September 23, 2018
This defense is doing work. Just last year, even I questioned if Gibson should abandon the 3-3-5 and look at using something with a four-down front. With two elite defensive line transfers, Gibson is showing just how dominant a 3-down front can be. Nose tackle Kenny Bigelow is completely dominating opposing offensive lines and forcing offenses to change their blocking schemes. Ohio State cornerback Josh Norwood has helped lock down receivers, which in turn is allowing the line and linebackers to flow.
The downside is that Tennessee is ranked 71st in scoring offense and Kansas State is ranked 114th. Texas Tech is 5th, Oklahoma is 16th and Oklahoma State is 18th. That 12.3 number will rise as the team faces teams with an offensive pulse.
The Unselfish Nature
Two weeks ago, when the team played Youngstown State, Leddie Brown scored his first touchdown and the team celebrated. Not long after, Dominique Maiden scored his first touchdown and the team earned an unsportsmanlike penalty because they celebrated too hard for him. This week, Tevin Bush ran a wheel route and streaked down the sideline for his first touchdown. Chaos ensued.
The team is genuinely happy for players. You can see it in their expressions. You can hear it in their voices. That is special because not all teams like each other and celebrate their collective wins together. It is very easy for TJ Simmons and Tevin Bush and even Gary Jennings to feel twinges of jealousy because David Sills is the wide receiver everyone talks about. It is fair for Kennedy McKoy and Martell Pettaway to be frustrated when Will Grier is all anyone talks about on offense. Dravon Askew-Henry, who has been a four-year starter, doesn’t get mentioned in the same breath as David Long.
You don’t see these guys sabotaging other players. You don’t hear veiled shots at coaches or players. What you see and what you hear is players who love playing for each other and enjoy the game they are playing.
Who Do You Guard?
Coming into the season, the reception distribution was a bit skewed. Gary Jennings caught 97 passes while David Sills and former receiver Ka’Raun White caught 60 each. Sills was the touchdown machine, Jennings the favorite target on third down and White was the yardage guy. This year, Jennings, Sills and Simms, who has replaced White, have caught 15, 19 and 15 receptions respectively. Teams knew coming into the season that you guarded David Sills in the redzone, Gary Jennings between the 20s and Simms was a threat to go deep.
Well now what do you do? Gary Jennings showed up against Youngstown State that he could be a touchdown threat. Marcus Simms is still a threat to take one to the house every play. Kansas State got caught worrying to much and Jake Spavital did a great job of playing the way I used to back in college, with bunch formations to the short side of the field so he could isolate a receiver on the wide side. He did this with David Sills and Kansas State chose to play him one-on-one. This resulted in Sills catching three touchdowns and getting back into the national picture. Sills now has 5 touchdowns in three games, placing him 6th in the country.
West Virginia is the only team in the country with THREE different pass catchers averaging 80 or more receiving yards per game. pic.twitter.com/WOimDTjhyt— Jed Drenning (@TheSignalCaller) September 23, 2018
Speaking on playing for each other, did you know that West Virginia is currently 20th nationally with 31 tackles for loss despite only playing three games. The Miami-Florida Hurricanes are number one with 46 in four games (11.5 per game) while WVU has 31 in 3 games (10.3). On a per game basis, the Mountaineers rank third.
This goes back to “this defense”. Tony Gibson knows exactly what he wants to do. He wants to attack on first down and put teams in a bind and behind the chains quickly. Doing so plays into the strengths of his defense and that is what good coaches do. How do I get you to do the things that I defend well?
Look no further than Jovanni Stewart. Stewart, inserted at strongside linebacker after a rash of injuries to starters, jumped in against Kansas State and recorded a personal high of 5 tackles. Stewart looked sure of himself and used his speed to help keep K-State behind the chains.
West Virginia is undersized on defense but has speed, so Gibson forces teams into longer distance downs and then makes a team take the sure throw for 5 yards. The tackling has improved (we are finally wrapping up instead of shoulder-hitting!) and now teams find themselves in third-and-medium/long instead of 3rd-and-2. It has made a huge difference through three games.