Immediate Good goes to Paul Millard and his solidarity. The visor preserves the backward hat quota on the sideline. Millard was the highlight of the game with his cameo passes — camethrows? — and his celebrations and his ” ‘Sup? Threw a touchdown. It was fourth-and-56. Spiral between six defenders. I’ll do it again.” demeanor on the sideline. I really want him mic’d up for a game.
But when the backup quarterback is the highlight of the game, or at least in the running, that’s not Good, right? Are things this Bad? Four straight losses seem to suggest as much and a fifth might be rumbling in
boomer sooner than you’d like.
How’d we get here? Let’s take a look by evaluating the good and the bad of WVU v. Oklahoma State.
Good: Arlia, Nehlen, Clay, etc.
What if I told you in September, when WVU was doing things with the five-receiver sets, that the Mountaineers would go to Stillwater, Okla., and use the set in the first quarter with Stedman Bailey, Tavon Austin, Jordan Thompson, Ryan Nehlen and Connor Arlia?
Such is the state if affairs at WVU that Dana Holgorsen, searching for guys who want to make this work, is running Arlia and Nehlen out there. He’s putting Cody Clay at tight end and asking him to block the edge when Tavon is running end-arounds. Cecil Level is moving from the deepest part of the cornerback depth chart to a starting spot at safety.
Those guys were good Saturday and, if nothing else, set examples. Level patrolled the secondary and had good moments. Clay blocked well. Nehlen stretched the field and provided a target and caught a touchdown. Arlia made plays as the second inside receiver, which is something that position has lacked most of this season.
This is a tough play and one you probably don’t expect him to make. He has to — that’s why he’s out there — and he does. K.J. Myers, who has a scholarship, let a pass on an out pattern go through his fingers earlier in the game. Dante Campbell, who started against Texas Tech, hasn’t played since. Arlia moves the chains and WVU ends up kicking a field goal.
Expect to see more of these guys.
Arlia might have keyed a touchdown drive, but a red zone possession imploded. On second-and-goal at the 7-yard line, Quinton Spain took a holding penalty. Then on third down, Andrew Buie and Geno Smith collided — and look Buie go flying. It was like he was trying to draw a charge. Then Smith threw to one spot when Bailey was maybe run blocking and WVU ended up kicking a field goal.
I doubt it was something that was plucked from the TCU film, but the Horned Frogs totally fooled WVU’s defense on the reverse pass in the second overtime. This isn’t that, but it’s nevertheless pretty impressive.
Early in this drive, Oklahoma State used its fullback to block on some runs and then to catch a pass and it’s easy to understand why the defense flowed his way once the play began. Once it did here, and then the ball went to the other way with Josh Stewart, you could tell it was going to hit. OSU blocked it very nicely, though you’d probably like to see Pat Miller, who enters the play at the top of the screen, do a better job getting off the block. That was pretty much the last realistic resort on the play.
Bad: The non-reversal
Stewart was a dynamic play-maker in the game on this reverse and then short and long pass routes. He caught 13 passes for 172 yards and two touchdowns, all career-high totals, in addition to the 46-yard run. As such, he was named the Big 12 offensive player of the week — the fourth straight WVU opponent to win the award.
That is alarming and probably very telling.
WVU’s first series was a three-and-out on which Geno and Arlia couldn’t connect on a deep pass. Stewart followed with his score. WVU then did this on the first play of the next drive. It should be a touchdown and a tie score and even footing.
The Mountaineers trailed 14-0 in the first quarter at Texas Tech, 10-0 in the first quarter against Kansas State and 7-0 in the first quarter to TCU. They admitted days before the game to being deflated and said they just needed to be even or in the lead early in a game so they could sustain the confidence they rediscovered during the week of practice and believed in before the game.
That did not happen. OSU took a 14-0 lead two drives later. Fighting back gets old in November.
Good: Tavon touches
Tavon Austin himself gets a Good just for playing way harder than the situation would seem to necessitate. If you watched the full season and then this past game with the numbers off the jerseys, you’d know who he is because of the quick-twitch and the speed and the lateral movements and the high-stepping and the standing still like a surveyor before he starts returning a 76-yard punt, but also because he has consistently played hard and fast and aggressive.
Someone mentioned it in TFGD, but you’re willing to take the iffy things he does because he means so much to everything WVU does. And I mean everything, which leads to this: Why not more handoffs?
This is something he did a few times Saturday and it’s something his teammates talked excitedly about in the preseason. There were plans all along for him to be in the backfield. If Buie is getting 35 touches in a game, with 34 on offense, why can’t the coaches find a way to get Tavon 20-plus touches? If Buie and Dustin Garrison are giving you 20 carries and 67 yards, why not take five of those and give them to Tavon and see what happens? If he gets you 2.5 yards per carry, so what?
He ended up with 11 catches and five carries, and with Bailey getting 14 catches, I understand there are only so many other receptions available for Tavon … who did get 11. But why not a few more carries? It’s something opponents haven’t planned for and WVU’s offense could benefit from a sneak attack. Tavon’s a capable running back, too.
He’s going to need more help than he got on this play. Spain, who’s been good this season, but had a tough game with two penalties, missed his block here. He can’t take out the guy who ends up making the play.
Bad: Running game
Thirty-five carries, 78 yards and some blooper reel moments. That followed 35-130 against Texas Tech, 27-88 against Kansas State and, believe it or not, 35-78 against TCU. Same output twice in a row. It’s literally not getting better.
Really, no one on the line or in the backfield or on the perimeter consistently makes plays and defenses just don’t much mind handoffs.
Now, all of that said, I actually thought the Mountaineers ran the ball pretty well in stretches and when they moved the ball. They were finally able to affect the defense. It just was not sustained.
It’s fourth-and-goal and I’m more than fine with the decision to go for the touchdown here. Holgorsen eschewed the field goal a few plays earlier, so it’s hard to kick it here. Yet WVU is limited on this play. Tavon comes out, which takes away the threat of the end-around that had been working, and also minimizes the likelihood of a pass.
Then comes the big set with Shawne Alston, Ryan Clarke and Clay that WVU has consistently used to run over the right side in short-yardage spots. Watch the middle linebackers for Oklahoma State. They see it coming, communicate it and swallow it whole. The defensive line and the secondary go that way on the snap, too.
I’m not even sure it as a bad call. Theoretically, the big set and the big back should be able to follow the offensive line’s push and together they should work to get across the goal line, even if the Mountaineers have done everything but go down the defensive line and give OSU the play. I just wonder if Holgorsen really believes in this play … and my hunch is that he does not.
Good: Run defense
Stewart ripped off his big run and then Joseph Randle, quite clearly the Big 12′s top back, had 47 yards in the first quarter. He finished with 76, which was 42 yards below his conference-leading average. WVU’s front shut down the run game from the first quarter until late in the fourth, when Jeremy Smith scampered 21 yards for the game’s final score, when the thing was over and the defense looked a little bankrupt.
Bad: Pass defense
Just poor again. Not a lot of cushions, again, but not a lot of coverage, either. OSU succeeded with tight ends and receivers up the seams and then receiver on corner routes. The Cowboys found soft spots in the coverage and exploited them. That’s preparation, and it’s especially important when you’re starting your third-string quarterback.
Side bad: No pressure. WVU attacked and harassed the still green Tervone Boykin last week, and Boykin was a running threat. Chelf, another inexperienced quarterback, would not run. WVU never really got after him. Didn’t offer a lot of blitzes, didn’t generate a rush with the defensive line.
That’s the conundrum with this defense. You need to heat up the pocket to force some errors. If you blitz, though, you put your coverage at risk.
I couldn’t believe how much the cameras showed Dana and his consistently entertaining reactions, but I loved it. There is complete transparency and no curiosity about what he thinks or where you stand, if you happen to be his player or adversary. My hunch is ABC seized the opportunity and latched on for the whole game.
Language, headset tosses, smirks, hand gestures and things of the like don’t bother me. The game wasn’t made to be played on television and I don’t subscribe to the theory he has to tailor his game to the presence of cameras. I worry about far more important things, like clock management, and perhaps one affects the other. Life is a lot different on the sideline when you’re the guy than it is in the box when you’re the coordinator.
Conversely, there is something reassuring and powerful about Mike Gundy’s stoicism. And that team is so organized. Probably not a coincidence.
WVU had a bunch of bad luck and bad bounces throughout the game, but this was one of the few good breaks. The Mountaineers blitz and the swing pass to Randle is set up properly. Two receivers have two defenders blocked and Randle could have run a long way.
Bad: Third downs
WVU was 6-for-20 on third down and is now No. 40 nationally at 43.7 percent. It’s been bad lately and that, as much as anything else, has conspired to hurt the offense. The Mountaineers can’t stay on the field, can’t gain yards, can’t score points and can’t win games.
Defenses practice and they have a say in this. Here, Oklahoma State feigns a blitz and two of the defenders drop back. Geno pushes through his reads and then puts a swing pass on Dustin Garrison’s back shoulder. Bad throw. If he leads Garrison, he gives his guy a chance to keep the offense on the field. I’m not saying it happens, but you need to create the possibility.
Good: Millard Fillinmore!
This may be one of the highlights of the season now. Nobody thought this was going to happen, but look at the young fella progress through his reads, keep the feet moving and then put the ball where it has to go. Then he went back to the sideline and put on his backward visor. That was fun.
Bad: Buckle up!
Every week I get at least one email or a phone call — at least — that is either focused on or mentions the fact Geno doesn’t buckle his chin strap. I will admit to chuckling and rolling my eyes most of the time. And I will admit I was wrong. That has to change. It’s simple, too. Tell the player to do it. Make sure he does.
Brutal. Timing is everything and that was the worst part of this play because it came immediately after the Millardacle. The best part, if that’s possible, was the reaction. Judging from the immediate feedback, people were seemingly convinced it was going to happen.
Excluded from that group would be the coverage team, which I thought was better against TCU. They pitter-pat into the blocking here and Justin Gilbert shifts gears and accelerates through with no trouble at all. Bleh.
Bad: Tight end(s)!
The defense had no chance here. It’s a two-tight end set with two receivers at the bottom of the screen. The cornerback at the top of the screen scoots closer to the line so he can cover a tight end. WVU asks Karl Joseph to come up and cover the slot receiver. Joseph then blitzes behind a linebacker and the other safety, Level, has to hurry to the slot receiver. No problem.
But the tight end strides right past linebacker Jared Barber and Chelf makes a soft pass to Blake Jackson for the touchdown. Tough situation to be put in there.
Also, I’ve pointed out two plays where WVU blitzed. One went badly. One could have gone badly.
Bad: I’m speechless
Soapbox time: I’m flattered by email and the phone calls and the Tweets and the blog comments I get here. I really do take them seriously and I really do try to get back to everyone on everything — including the chin strap. And I’m also human. I get upset and I get mad from time to time, not because someone disagrees with or dislikes me as much as someone won’t consider my point or allow that I can have a position. And I’ve taken heat throughout this season about how I’ve treated special teams.
I don’t want to hear it anymore, OK?
Good/Bad: This maybe wasn’t awful
That’s a hell of a bounce the ball takes to find Tavon. It hits a good 15 yards away and somehow goes in a really weird direction and lands in a spot that Ozzie Smith would have had a hard time handling.
Does he need to be farther away, especially as he’s waving teammates off? Of course and I can pin that on the player and his coaches … but, come on. That’s a wicked hop. Let’s not ignore that.
Now this: If you put a really bad defender on the field in baseball, the ball is going to find him. Tavon is not a really bad punt returner, though he has not been without fault in his career. But WVU is not good on special teams. Along the same lines that a baseball finds a bad fielder, bad plays tend to find ways of happening to bad special teams.
Bad: Am I wrong?
Again, it goes without saying that this can’t happen and WVU has to be better than this. Nana Kyeremeh can’t let that ball bounce a second time. Just catch it at the 2-yard line. What’s the difference between trying to catch it at the 2 and at the 1? I’ll answer that: 18 yards.
That was a body language moment, too. You should have seen the players slink back to the sideline and the total indifference with which they were greeted. Like, “Yeah, of course that happened. Thanks.”
Why does it matter? The prior time WVU pinned OSU deep — with a strategic turnover on downs – the defense almost had a safety on first, second and third downs. It was a three-and-out, the Cowboys punted and WVU scored a touchdown.
It was a 41-34 game here and there’s at least reason to believe that if WVU downs it at the 2 that OSU again asks Chelf to hand it off three times rather than throw a second interception near his own end zone.
The touchback changed OSU’s thinking and the offense drove for basically a game-winning score. Massive momentum swing.
Bad: These things matter
From the live game post:
A lot happening on the field during the timeout, but WVU’s kick team was out there fast and talked a lot among itself. Every player is inside the numbers, too.
I wondered if we might see an onside kick. I don’t think we did, but WVU almost recovered what I have to believe was a mishit squib by Corey Smith. But do you see why you have to be good on special teams?
First, you don’t want to mishit a squib kick when the goal is to preserve field position. Second, watch the play OSU’s Torrance Carr makes. Sometime soon, watch a regular kickoff. You’ll see those front-line guys turn their back and run to the deep end to get in position for their return duty. They disregard the actual kick. Carr does not and he recovers. That was a rather big play.
Good: Tyler Bitancurt
Nice rebound from the forgettable game against TCU. He was 2-for-2 on field goals from 37 and 41 yards. He averaged 47.8 yards on five punts, which was easily the best game of the season, and had one downed inside the 20. Should have been two, of course.
Good: Bailey is back
He made lots of plays in the game, but this one stood out to me. Simple play, but the play, or the threat, hadn’t been there the past few games. How many times had Geno and a receiver just failed to connect or had a receiver dropped it or had the play just never materialized? Those issues were gone against Oklahoma State and Bailey tied a school record with 14 receptions and had 225 yards. He had 12 catches and 120 yards the previous three games with his bad ankle.
“The last couple weeks my ankle has been hurting a whole lot and certain cuts I noticed I couldn’t make when I was on the field and it affected me and slowed me down a little bit,” he said. “I’ve been doing all I can to get myself back to 100 percent. I’m probably still not 100 percent and it doesn’t feel like how my right ankle does.”