Dana Holgorsen made a big deal out of WVU’s sideline support system during the week before the win against Oklahoma State. His offensive coordinator, Shannon Dawson, really wanted practice to pop and not stop. If there were mistakes, he wanted to see the Mountaineers be allowed to play through them so that they weren’t conditioned to fear a response to a mistake, and so that they could get into a rhythm.
Jordan Thompson put all of that to the test, which made this moment pretty neat to see. It came after Thompson caught a punt and immediately got rocked and after he signaled for a fair catch at his 3-yard line. Just before this picture, he caught a punt and lost four yards on the return.
There were some noisy reactions from the stands, but he found friends on the sideline who tapped him on the helmet and, in the case of Adam Pankey, put an arm around him.
I saw it from the press box and then I saw it on — wait a second.
Misspellings aside, it was a good day for the Mountaineers, who are now 3-2 and not 2-3 with a long trip to Baylor waiting on them. How did we get here? Let’s take a look by examining the good and the bad of WVU v. Oklahoma State.
Good: Brandon Golson’s flexibility
My goodness, that’s two friendly fire injury scares in two games for the outside linebacker, who has a knack for being in the wrong place at the wrong time and being all right afterward.
I think through five games we have figured out that aggressive defensive coordinator Keith Patterson is going to blitz when it’s third-and-long. The Cowboys probably expected some pressure and they guessed right. Twice. Patterson sends six, but two are coming from the field, which opens an alley in the middle. Josh Stewart is good enough to find that tunnel and he gets two blocks to make it sing. Darwin Cook should make that tackle, though.
Lots to do with this entry. Let’s start with a Bad …
Bad: Unwilling blockers
I like WVU’s defensive line and I think their linebackers, especially Doug Rigg and the absent Nick Kwiatkoski, are good against the run. I was shocked OSU and a really good offensive line couldn’t run against WVU. But I have a theory why the option game didn’t work and why Jeremy Smith was historically bad. WVU’s defensive line was superb, which shut down the middle of the field, but OSU’s perimeter blocking was really, really weak.
The receivers either waited too long to get on defensive backs or they just didn’t do it at all. The Cowboys get some yards on these plays, but not a lot and never as many as they could have. I mean, that’s a fantastic play by Shaq Rowell on the second clip, but he shouldn’t be making plays 22 yards down the field because it’s not asking Brandon Sheperd (7) much to put hands on Ickey Banks and open the sideline.
Goad: Mr. Cook
There’s no denying his value to the team. He’s smart. He directs a lot of things on defense. He’s one of the timeliest and most opportune players I’ve ever seen. Maybe it’s because of all that, maybe it’s because the expectations are kind of high, but it does seem like he’s lunging and chasing and flailing a lot and that he’s not the surest tackler. (Then again, doesn’t it seem like he’s there to make the important play?) He does get to freelance a bit and choose spots, so perhaps that’s why he appears to be out of sorts from time to time. He and Karl Joseph are playing pretty well, and when they hit you, you know it, but they miss their share of tackles when they run up into the action. I think we’re to the point now when we can be picky about a good defense.
Good: Darwin Cook, cornerback
This happened quite a bit Saturday and I’d never seen it before. I’ll inquire more with Patterson tonight, but I have to think this was WVU’s way of defending OSU’s run-pass option game. J.W. Walsh can give it, keep it or throw it on many plays and there are playaction passes off other similar looks. It would seem Cook is coming off the edge to contest the run while Travis Bell is dropping back and playing zone as a safety to protect against the pass. It had good results against a variety of looks — pistol, offset two-back sets and treymond sets. Cook needs to make that tackle on the first Walsh keep. The second one is a push. The third one is an atrocious block outside.
Good: Lots of defense in this edition
The Banks interception was precisely what WVU needed. Right play. Right time. Nothing could have been better, really. It energized the crowd, it buoyed the defense, it had to have emboldened Patterson and his blitzes and it must have been a relief to the offense that, up to that point, probably didn’t have a whole lot of faith in itself, but also wasn’t entirely sure what to make of the defense.
This is a smart play by Banks in coverage. This is a six-man pressure while in Cover 2, but Banks has his eyes up, assuming things will happen fast, and he sinks off his receiver to catch a terrible throw by Walsh. I love Rowell’s stationary, semi-launch block in the middle there, too. That guy wanted to hit people all day long.
Side Bad: Quint Kessenich is the worst. “You’ve got to be asking yourself, ‘Here we go again.’ “ Actually, here’s what I’ve got to be asking — and it’s actually a question: When are you going to acknowledge the irresponsible mistake made reporting the lightning strike that never happened in 2011?
Side good: Bob Wischusen’s premonition. Fella called that pick six, didn’t he? I thought he was good. It takes a special talent to co-exist with Rod Gilmore. I’m still not sure if Gilmore’s never seen a game before or if he assumes his entire audience has never seen a game. There’s an unusual balance in that booth, though. Wischusen lets Gilmore go, but he challenges some things, and you have to sort of accept and maybe even admire Gilmore’s conviction.
Good: All World
Darly Worley played field cornerback, boundary cornerback and cornerback in nickel and dime coverage. That’s a big bite for a freshman, but he handled things really nicely. This play is supposed to eat him up and cause confusion among Worley and Avery Williams. Worley isn’t confused and he pounces on it.
While we’re here, Marvin Gross was really good in limited action. He was listed as the Buck linebacker behind Golson, and he played there a little, but he was also a middle linebacker on some blitzes that actually worked.
I think we’re overlooking this about Patterson: He’s doing a lot more stuff now than four games ago and he’s doing it with some true freshmen, some junior college transfers and some injuries.
Bad: Middle linebacker blitzes
I needed to break up all the Goods, so consider this a Bad like Mike Jackson. This is a wholly new element to WVU’s defense and it’s increasingly effective. The Mountaineers wouldn’t and couldn’t bring heat up the middle last season. The best middle linebacker last season (Isaiah Bruce) is now outside, which would make you think the position is not armed to do what it’s doing. But it’s working. And people know it.
On the first one, it’s six-man pressure again, this time with Dontrill Hyman in a five-technique, which, well, good luck. The center points and makes a call about WVU’s defense, but Kyle Rose, who is the nose guard, does something sneaky. The center drops his head and Rose slides to the right. The center snaps and looks up and Rose is no longer a zero technique, which changes things. The center has to move and Barber has an alley. The running back sees it, but that leaves Walsh alone in the pocket, which becomes a problem when the right tackle, for some reason, forgets about Golson and helps inside.
The second play is a treat. It’s more six-man pressure and OSU has to devote three blockers to the left side to handle the three rushers. Hyman and Golson play a game on the right side to get through with Hyman pushing up and Golson stunting inside. The Cowboys have to account for it, but Rigg is racing in from behind all of that to chase Walsh to where Wes Tonkery is positioned to discourage a run and defend a pass if Walsh is so bold.
This from a defense that sent one outside linebacker or the other last season and never had its defensive linemen shift and shade.
Bad: Close calls
Will Clarke was left to lament the two sacks and the safety he left on the field against Maryland. He misses again here. Clarke’s pretty close to leading the nation in sacks. Part of learning to harass the quarterback is learning how to finish these plays. I suppose he’ll figure it out, but I know he’s going to keep giving himself chances. He’s been on a real roll lately.
Side Good: That was the best I’ve seen WVU’s defensive linemen play in a long time. They stuffed the run in the middle and disrupted it outside now and then. They pressured Walsh and were fooled just once on the option. Every one of them had a good game, from Clarke to Noble Nwachukwu, and they did it without Christian Brown, who was hurt and didn’t play.
Good: Dana hits on 21
Twenty-one changes to the depth chart is nothing to sneeze at. Forget the circumstances. It’s a lot. Now, some were because of injuries and some were because of strategy, but on the whole, it looks pretty smart, doesn’t it? Hyman looked like a starter. Rose was good all over the place and Eric Kinsey helped out on the line. Gross looks like he might be a find as a rusher. Quinton Spain should probably stay at left guard and Nick Kindler handled himself well to Spain’s left. He’s like a much smaller Portugal. Lots of things went right for Holgorsen there, but give a lot of that credit to the players who handled promotions and maneuvers.
Good: Well, that’s new
I think of all the things you saw from Clint Trickett Saturday, this best explains why he was perceived to be the preferred option for so long. He can do this. How often did Paul Millard and Ford Childress let plays die on the table because they couldn’t buy just a little more time? A big part of Holgorsen’s offense is simply putting the ball in play. Trickett is very able to do that part of the job. It’s mobility, but also experience, and both matter.
Good: And now, a game of “What if?”
We know Holgorsen has entertained ideas of adding option elements to the offense. Chavas Rawlins doesn’t sip on his cup of coffee if that isn’t the case. It’s possible, and look no further than what Walsh and the Cowboys are doing. So let’s wonder for a moment: What if Trickett could do a little of it? Not a lot. A little.
On the first play, Trickett can make that happen, whereas I suspect Millard and Childress could not, which means the drive stops there. But watch the second play. It’s a run-pass option, when he can hand it to Dreamius Smith or hang on and flip it outside to Charles Sims with Ivan McCartney there to block. But watch Sims’ motion draw a defender outside. Watch the defensive end on the left crash inside to stop Smith. Look at Caleb Lavey (45) pay no mind to Trickett. What if Trickett keeps it? What if he gets outside the hashes and has Sims and McCartney blocking? What if WVU did that once or twice?
Either way, if you wondered about the evolution of the offense or how option elements could be incorporated, you just got a glimpse at an answer.
Here’s a play with Cook and Joseph playing corner against the treymond. The wide receivers go deep, which forces the defenders behind them to cover a little deeper and wider than normal. That vacates the middle of the field and Barber is fooled just enough by the playaction fake and isn’t quick enough to recover and defend the pass.
Seriously, that’s weird seeing the safeties playing cornerback, right?
Good: Deep thoughts
OSU played in a way that intended to stop the run and also dared WVU to throw deep, which, we know, has not been the strength of the offense. It wasn’t all too effective Saturday, but the Mountaineers proved that sometimes the best way out of trouble is to go through it. They threw deep 14 times, including 10 times in the first half. That means four in the second half, including this connection with Ronald Carswell, but the wealth of deep throws early did have an effect on the way the Cowboys defended in the second half, which gave WVU a little more luck with some runs and, ahem, short throws.
Good: No one covers Cody Clay
How many times have we seen the running back motion out right or left and tip a middle screen? Not here. And if WVU’s offensive line is going to struggle, and especially and most significantly in third-and-short, it stands to reason that Cody Clay is going to be on the line of scrimmage quite a bit to help the other five. Well, with Russell Haughton-James in the game from time to time, WVU already has one tight end type it won’t throw the ball to. You can’t play 11-on-9, so these things have to occur on occasion.
Watch both plays. The threat of Sims in the flat on third down opens space for Clay and he gets cozy twice for first down catches. Good design. Good route. Good pass. Good play.
And correct me if I’m wrong, because I don’t have the clip of Clay’s reception against Maryland, which is the only other possibility, but this is the first time a player who lines up as a tight end catches a pass ever in Holgorsen’s time at WVU.
Bad: Whither the hot potato?
Is it time to put our favorite play on ice? Or is it good to keep running it out there and getting live reps in a game in hopes it works? Maybe the latter? If nothing else, the second plays is better than the first. On the first, Sims doesn’t block who he’s supposed to block. On the second, Sims and Clay do their parts and the yardage is a little better. Sooner or later they’re going to break this. Right? Anyone?
Bad: Aye, Mc
Needless to say, this can’t keep happening. I suppose the good thing was that McCartney, who was a captain for the game, didn’t get benched. He caught a pass later.
Bad: Sad cheerleaders
That’s a sad quarterback, too.
Good: Proper diagnosis
McCartney’s drop wasn’t a drive killer. WVU hung on and ended the drive with this score, and credit Trickett for making this happen before his throw and Kevin White’s catch. OSU didn’t really disguise its intention, but Trickett, who’d just gotten smoked on McCartney’s drop, took a deep breath, told his teammates some things and then hit the open space to give his receiver a chance. That’s how that should happen.
Good: Dana was serious
He definitely intended to get Sims involved in the passing game after the Georgia State game. That’s 13 receptions the past two games, though we hadn’t seen him do something like this. We hadn’t seen a streak. Safety Lyndell Johnson can’t hang with Sims on a vertical route and, honestly, I have no idea what cornerback Kevin Peterson is doing to help matters.
Safe to say Sims is doing a lot of his work on the ground in spite of the offensive line, but he gets some help here and then does what he is known to do, which is use his eyes and his feet to find room and to make defenders miss. He’s warming up, isn’t he?
Good: Embargo lifted?
That’s easily the best play Jordan Thompson has made on campus and it helped WVU win the game. I don’t think WVU felt too good about running Josh Lambert out there one more time, though I suspect that would have been the outcome had Thompson not gone all Stedman Bailey on us. It’s not as dramatic or meaningful, of course, but the guy who’s been getting crushed because he’s never made plays finally made a play. Maybe we’ll get to talk to him this week!
Good: Play of the game
Thompson’s catch probably doesn’t matter if this doesn’t happen. That’s a big-time play by the defense. Rigg topples a 290-pound lineman, and Rigg gets hurt in the process. That lineman falls in the path of Smith, who gets re-routed, and that gives Cook a chance to thump Smith. OSU decided to throw a fade on the next play and you’re being fair to wonder if one has everything to do with the other.