The Chance That WVU Passed On

So, the obvious question: What was with West Virginia’s play calling during its last two drives?

Head coach Dana Holgorsen, saying quarterback Clint Trickett felt “uncomfortable” in the pocket defended the decisions, saying that if the Mountaineers would have put the ball in the air, it wouldn’t have worked out well. And there’s some truth to that. It hadn’t for much game, after all. Trickett completed 15 of 26 passes for a paltry 162 yards and two interceptions against one touchdown. It was, unequivocally, the worst performance of Trickett’s WVU career when factoring in decision making, accuracy, and his own ball security issues, which remain of paramount concern.

West Virginia was looking at a TCU team that piut two high safeties over the top to eliminate the vertical routes, and cover up Mario Alford and Kevin White. The Horned Frogs are used their linebackers to take away the quick slant, which forced longer developing plays in the pass game. What won the contest for TCU was its front four, who managed to bottle the Mountaineer run game to minus-two yards on eight plays in the fourth quarter. What’s more, West Virginia attempted just one pass, that an in completion, which left it six feet under in terms of total offense and game outcome.

Texas Christian pressured with four against five, and it won the line of scrimmage time and again over the final 20 minutes. West Virginia simply couldn’t block up front, even with a man advantage, and that negated the run. So, the thinking reasons, why not throw it? The problem, from the vantage point of Holgorsen and coordinator Shannon Dawson, was that the pocket was collapsing before Trickett – who Dawson called “antsy” – could run through his progressions, especially with the longer routes required. WVU might have been able to try a few receiver screens, or to perhaps dump the ball to the backs in the flat. But that’s nothing more than a check down play. TCU blanketed screen plays, with the linebackers sniffing the calls out well.

What an offense must be able to do, with the two safeties and man coverage across the board, is run the ball into a light box. West Virginia, multiple man advantages and all, could not. They got beat up front, plain and simple. But still, facing a first and 10 from the 43-yard line with 3:46 left, one would think that, after a couple of runs, with the game on the line on third and nine, some sort of misdirection or play action with the back in to protect might have been warranted. Holgorsen claimed only his quarterback’s discomfort in the pocket, with Dawson saying much the same, Holgorsen did not allow offensive players to be interviewed after the game, so any thoughts from them will have to wait until Tuesday’s media session – assuming the coach sees fit to not cross off half the squad from media request lists.

There really isn’t any legit reason West Virginia didn’t try a throw. But there’s also not a major argument for putting it up with all the struggles of Trickett, and the way TCU attacked the Mountaineer front with just four rushers. That leaves seven in coverage, and the max with the back in that an offense can send is four. That’s even a worse numbers match than in the run. Bottom line: Inability to run into a light box caused tentative play calling, which helped West Virginia lose the lead, and the game, on the final play.

One can point to any number of things, like the missed facemask call on Trickett that would have set WVU up inside the red zone with a first and 10, the inability to convert and score touchdowns instead of field goals, the fumbles – oh, God, the fumbles – and just general lack of execution. When it came time to gut it out, something WVU has done effectively for much of the season, it simply got beat in the trench, which is inarguably the worst place for an offense to be vulnerable, because to blows up all else. That happened with West Virginia, and with it went a legit chance at a Big 12 title.

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