Hard to say Dana Holgorsen’s offense was missing anything last season with all the success the team had scoring the football with three NFL draft picks. But the truth, even one he’ll confess, is West Virginia was not itself without its three running back set last season.
You’ll remember the set, known also as the diamond or the trey because that’s so much more clever than three-back set, from Holgorsen’s first season with the Mountaineers. He invented it with offensive line coach Joe Wickline the year before at Oklahoma State and he used it with some regularity in 2011 at WVU when he had three running backs. Which was not a exactly regular, but still often enough to be a little dangerous with it.
Nor was it regular, or even close to it, last season when WVU rarely had three healthy at once and more often than not only handed it to two backs in one game.
“It adds a lot,” Holgorsen said. “I wish we could go back in time.”
Well, he kind of has because he has three running backs again. He actually has four and he put the diamond on film against William & Mary for nine snaps. It’s not about giving Oklahoma an inconvenience as much as it’s about giving WVU an edge, though.
If you act like you forgot about trey, let’s review.
This is beautiful. There are many layers to the intent of this formation, but near the top is the goal of making the defense compress — or else. An offense is committing nine players to the box. The defense better bring a posse. If the defense doesn’t, WVU will chunk up yards with a numbers advantage.
Here, WVU, with a decided speed advantage, is inviting William & Mary to pack it in up front. The front seven is there and the high safety sneaks in after WVU motions to the right and tips that the play is going right. And that’s not a bad idea by the Tribe because that’s where they find Cody Clay, who, we can assume, is in to block.
Still, WVU has five offensive linemen and two blockers and wants to create a crease through the middle on the right side, right?
Probably, but this play is a wrinkle. William & Mary has committed to the middle and loaded up on the right. The play goes left and WVU is just faster to the edge. The Mountaineers have numbers and the safety on that side is much deeper. This works quite well. Great block by Clay, good work by Marquis Lucas and Quinton Spain spinning their guys inside, solid lead block by Sims.
They’ll break one on this play at some point.
This isn’t ugly, either. The Tribe were guessing run against the trey and here they kind of broke their own tendency and didn’t open the umbrella atop the secondary like they did for most of the game.
WVU goes with the heavy look again and William & Mary has eight players ready for the play. When the motion stops and the play starts, two defenders are left of the hash on the boundary side of the play. When you’re playing your defense that tight and adding a safety to the look, you have to be careful with your cornerbacks and give them some room. That plays into WVU’s play call.
A playaction fake to the right further sucks the defenders to the right and Millard snaps a pass left to Ivan McCartney, who makes a guy miss to make the play.
That’s pretty close to optimal. It’s not a touchdown play because of the help on defense, but it’s a play designed to get a receiver the ball in space with a chance to make a guy miss.
This is only the biggest play of the game. On the snap before this, WVU ran the play we just looked at, except the pass went to Ronald Carswell. It was a short gain, but WVU hurried and didn’t make any subs and went with the same formation and the same motion into a heavy set — and by now I hope you understand the motion in this formation formation is significant. It asks questions the defense has to answer — or else.
William & Mary commits eight again, maybe because the Tribe believes WVU will run, or has to run. I don’t know. But the plan from the Tribe is the same as it was in the McCartney play, except that the safety who doesn’t commit is way too shallow and Carswell is just too fast. The playaction fake cooks the safety, who can’t possibly help the corner, who has no chance to stay in phase with Carswell.
This is easy.
And this is all important because WVU has to use this formation and these plays against Oklahoma. What we haven’t really discussed is that the three-back treymond set is actually very good to the passing game. If the Mountaineers can invite the Sooners inside, the Mountaineers will like their chances in the passing game against one-on-one matchups without much help from a safety. And if that starts working, either with deep balls (Carswell) or short throws (McCartney), the Oklahoma defense has to fan out a little, which compels WVU to run the ball in the space it’s created.
That’s all for me today. I’m up in the air this afternoon and on the ground tonight, but I’ll be on the IMG pregame again tomorrow afternoon and running the live game blog well before kickoff. TFGD is on, as well.
And if you didn’t catch me on the air last night, no worries. Here’s the show in condensed podcast form. Excellent contributions from Chris Huston and David Ubben, but the two callers were tremendous. I beg you, if you’re not going to listen to the whole show, at least go to the 46:15 mark.
Oh, and NotFooled, I’ve been to Antigua three times. We have friends there. They take care of us.