The result, a Daikiel Shorts 11-yard touchdown, on the back of Jarrod Harper’s blocked punt for a safety, all but halted steadily building Maryland momentum after the Terrapins rallied back from a 28-6 deficit to get within 28-27. West Virginia, facing a key third and one at the UM 11, lined up in a split two back set with two receivers right and one left if viewed from the quarterback position.
Maryland countered the run look with its typical three down lineman – the Terps are a base 3-4 scheme – with three linebackers showing rush and one dropped seven yards off the line to protect the quick slant and across-the-face routes. With the ball on the right hash, Shorts was just inside the numbers at the slot position, with Kevin White to his right. Mario Alford was wide left, which was the same look WVU gave the Terrapins when Clint Trickett faked to the backs and hit Alford for a 36-yard touchdown for a 28-6 lead.
This time, West Virginia feigned a handoff left to Wendell Smallwood, with Rushel Shell as the lead blocker. That motion pulled an inside linebacker to the left, opening the vision for an excellent passing lane. The Mountaineers put another twist on the play when Trickett sold the receiver screen with a pump fake to draw up the linebacker that was seven yards of the ball guarding against throws over the middle. It created a massive opening in the heart of the Terrapin defense, and WVU struck at it, Trickett waiting for Shorts to easily clear UM linebacker Jalen Brooks, whose head wasn’t even watching the snap or Shorts when the play began.
Besides that snafu, Brooks allowed Shorts, already with far better quickness and speed, to run by untouched due to his earlier lack of awareness. Brooks never even saw the screen fake because he was trying to move back into position after beaing beaten at the snap so badly. Shorts ran an easy post to the middle of the end zone, and Trickett, only slightly pressured because of exceptional line play and communication – more on that later – threw an exceptional catchable ball for the score. It was, all in all, as pretty a play design and execution as one will see.
But what truly made it work, besides the horrid defensive effort of Brooks, was the way West Virginia blocked it up front. With just the five down offensive lineman, UM put its nose tackle head-to-head with WVU center Tyler Orlosky. Its ends were flexed out to protect against the edge run, with the inside and outside linebackers to the left showing blitz. On the snap, with the outside linebacker threatening the A gap (between the center and left guard), Orlosky slid to his left and stonewalled that progression. In turn, right guard Mark Glowinski blocked the nose, while right tackle Marquis Lucas brushed off the end to give Trickett time before selling the screen pass by looking for a linebacker.
On the left side, tackle Adam Pankey controlled Maryland’s end, with guard Quinton Spain, now having nobody to block because of the sliding protection (Orlosky, remember, took the rush LB while Glowinski slid over to block the nose) absolutely crushed inside linebacker Alex Twine trying to loop off the rusher into the A gap. Twine, a senior who had played in 37 career games, got pushed back four feet. Twine was completely sealed off from the run play and, had the Mountaineers chosen to do so, they could have handed off to Smallwood for a solid three yard gain and the first down.
The myriad of options on the play, and the discipline and skillset required to defend them, drives defensive coordinators crazy. Consider the talent that WVU has in White, Alford, Shell and Smallwood. Then add a line which is arguably the best in the interior in the Big 12. Then a quarterback with exceptional football IQ who has connected on more than 75 percent of his passes (101 of 134) for 1,224 yards in an offense averaging 39 points per game. Now give them the following options: handoff to a 5-11, 200-pound back behind a 5-10, 215-pound prep All-American. Behind a potential NFL tackle who measures 6-4, 332 pounds. Or fake a screen, then have a fade option to a 6-3 receiver who eventually blistered the defense for 216 yards on 13 catches, the yardage the third most in school history in a single game.
Then, on the other side of the field, a wideout who already burned the defense out of the same exact formation for a 36-yard score a few possessions after beating the coverage over the top for a 43-yard touchdown pass. Instead of all that, WVU finds the most direct route, a slicing Shorts in the back of the end zone for an absolutely imperative score and a 37-27 lead with about 19 minutes to play. It’s nearly impossible to defend without exceptional athletes in space and a line that can demand double teams. Alabama had that; Towson and Maryland not quite as much. Oklahoma seems to early, but had difficulty defending West Virginia the last time the Mountaineers had multiple athletes all over the field. We’ll see how it plays out this weekend, and if the continued multiple threats stretch and strain an OU unit that has allowed, like Alabama, just 11.5 points per game on average.