We'll get right to the opening question. Tony Gibson's flaming post game comments had a good deal of merit, but his unit's overall performance wasn't a total disaster. Certainly, Gibson was sending a message to his squad. It has to get better, and fast, or its going to give up more passing yards against some Big 12 schools than the total it yielded to the Penguins.
Among his comments was a statement bemoaning tackling. Upon review, there were 14 chances at takedowns that were missed. Before we go further, it should be noted that our count was of good chances at a stop, not including desperate dives or one-armed swipes. The Mountaineers outright missed a few, and showed some bad form on others, with too much grabbing. Particularly egregious was a snap over the head of Penguin QB Ricky Davis, who picked the ball up on the bounce and proceeded to navigate three missed attempts before being brought down. That turned what should have been about a 10-yard loss into a more manageable setback of just three.
WVU also showed a much different preference for alignment against the run-oriented YSU squad. Four-man fronts, with the fourth being an outside linebacker or a spur, were the rule, with five-man looks also in evidence. Despite this, Davis was able to find a good bit of space running the ball, as WVU was not very solid in its execution of assignments. Too many times, Davis pulled the ball on zone reads and options and had no one immediately in front of him.
YSU gashed the left side of the WVU defense several times for long runs. Linebackers and safeties were slow to cover their gaps, and once the line of scrimmage was breached there was a big lane available for the taking.
Youngstown State also did a good job exploiting West Virginia's susceptibility to slants, and would have had even more yardage had it not suffered three drops. The Mountaineers only got one pass breakup on these routes, when Antonio Crawford broke from a deeper assignment and arrived in time to disrupt a reception.
To sum it up, Gibson's cause for concern is valid. West Virginia must be an order of magnitude better on defense in order to have a chance to win in eight of its ten remaining games.
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WVU's stacked twins set is visually compelling, as it aligns a pair of receivers right behind each other on either side of the formation. We discussed this some in last week's film room, and this week we saw another twist. After running the formation on double-digit snaps and sticking with either the Elijah Wellman handoff or the quick screen, Skyler Howard deviated from the pattern by faking the screen to Shelton Gibson and throwing to a wide open Kennedy McKoy, who had executed a feint of a block before heading downfield. Both Penguin defenders rushed up to make the anticipated tackle of Gibson, only to see the ball sail over their heads for West Virginia's final score.
Some may ask, 'Why show that now? Why not save it for the TCU or Oklahoma game?' That's a reasonable query. The thinking here is that WVU has now shown a twist off the original execution, and teams have to prepare for that, and perhaps not be as aggressive in flying up when the set is shown. That could help, but of even more import is WVU getting a good block from the receiver. Devonte Mathis subbed in for Jovon Durante after the latter whiffed on a couple of attempts, and did a much better job of clearing some space for Gibson and Ka'Raun White.
One additional plus: WVU can run several different routes off this. As of now, it's been a simple retreat of the trail receiver to catch the pass, but that's just one option. The receiver on the line could retreat to catch the pass, and either receiver could run a quick circle route or come back down the line to catch the ball. The feeling here is that this set is going to be a mainstay for the Mountaineers in the coming weeks.
YSU's defensive line won the first half – easily. Penguin linemen penetrated the line of scrimmage 14 times in the game in running plays, with the majority of those coming in the opening 30 minutes. Again, that number involves a few judgment calls. There are times when defensive linemen are invited upfield as part of the play design. Edge rushers on the back side of a play can be left unblocked, or just cleaned up by a back side protector. We didn't include those, nor did we included any passing plays at all. Still, there were enough times when Youngstown State won the line of scrimmage to cause some major concern.
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West Virginia was put in a number of situations where it left its regular defense on the field in punt situations. That certainly affects the ability to get a return. However, for the second consecutive week, little was done to slow down the opposing punt coverage team. On one punt attempt, six YSU players were across the line of scrimmage before the ball was kicked, and three were at least eight yards downfield. On the next punt, it was five with the running start.
In these situations, it is the defense's first job to cover a fake, and that's at odds with the job of the normal punt return crew. In the former, the defense wants to get off blocks so as to be free to cover a run, but that allows the opponents to head downfield early. Still, six guys? Take away the punter and the three protectors, and WVU managed to slow up just one opponent.
WVU return man Gary Jennings must feel like all those characters in The Mummy films getting swarmed by scarabs.
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It's not apropos of anything on the field, but former WVU quarterbacks Marc Bulger and Rasheed Marshall did a really good job in their color and halftime analysis of the game. Neither overstepped the bounds of rooting for the alma mater, and both gave credit where it was due to Youngstown State, at least in our view. YSU fans might have seen it differently, but both Mountaineer alums were better than a lot of analysts with network gigs.