A couple of different formations jumped off the screen when looking at WVU on Saturday. On offense, the Mountaineers used a one-back, three wide receiver set a great deal, with the feature of the slot receiver motioning from one side to the other prior to the snap. The final skill position player was usually Elijah Wellman, who lined up as a wingback in the set. The motion not only helped quarterback Skyler Howard identify the underneath pass coverage, but it also caused a bit of a problem for BYU's run blitzes, which rely on timing to get into gaps and around the edge of opposing offensive lines. West Virginia varied the timing of its snaps, and at least twice went to a "freeze" (Dana Holgorsen's term) to try to draw the Cougars offside. It did once, but famously resulted in the mistimed snap late in the fourth quarter that almost allowed BYU to rally for the win.
That said, the formation was by no means a failure. Wellman's positioning allowed for different blocking angles,and allowed him to be in position to account for one of BYU's edge rushers. The motion also set up a couple of jet sweeps, and did cause BYU to check its headlong crashes of the line of scrimmage on a few occasions.
Every week, there are usually one or two formations that are emphasized, because they provide good match-ups with opposing defensive schemes and tactics. The important thing to remember is that the plays called from these formations aren't brand new - they are simply run from different sets. So, there is some learning involved, but not the execution of an entirely different play.
The second formation of note this week has been in use on extra point attempts, and it's a bit different from the norm WVU used to employ. Instead of a standard line of seven linemen with a wingback on either side,WVU is putting two wings on the right hand side of the line. This gives a better blocking angle on outside rushers, and it also doesn't require the outside wingback to check anyone trying to run around him. In the standard formation, the wingback would first check for an inside rusher, then step out and try to redirect the outside rusher. That could cause a gap to be left inside for a direct path to the kicker. In this formation, the two wingbacks extend the line, making for a longer rush path, and the wingback no longer tries to get out to any outside rushers. The thinking there is that the distance is too great to cover before the kick gets away.
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The offensive line continued its shuffling ways, with Adam Pankey sliding out to Colton McKivitz's tackle spot, and McKivitz flipping over to the right side to alternate with Marcell Lazard. While the offensive line, to a man, maintains that this is not a problem from a continuity standpoint, I'm not so sure that's 100% true. There has been so much movement that there has to be a bit of an effect, no? Still, the O-Line played pretty well, even though it did come up short on a fourth-and-short situation.
On that play, the Mountaineers were in the diamond formation, with McKivitiz lining up as a tight end. (Rob Dowdy, who has been in that role in the first two games,was definitely not in on this play.) In the backfield were Wellman, Michael Ferns and Rushel Shell. WVU chose to run quarterback power, which has been successful, but on fourth downs it might not be the best choice. It's a slow developer, and when BYU crashed two safeties and a linebacker on the right side, the play was doomed from the start. Wellman blocked one defender, but he had already penetrated two yards into the backfield, and that screwed up Skyler Howard's path. Two more defenders were right on their teammate's heels, and the result was a two-yard loss.
I am definitely not a fan of slow developing plays and sweeps in short yardage situations. the potential does exist for catching a blitzing team out of position and cracking the front for a big gain, but it is just as likely, as occurred in this case, that a hard charging defense fills all the gaps and shuts down the play before it ever has a chance to get going. That's what happened here.
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The blame for West Virginia's poor kickoff returns could be spread across the board. On two of the returns, the Mountaineers didn't block anybody -- well, hardly anybody. On one, BYU had five players at or inside the 20-yard line while Shelton Gibson was at the seven. On another, the number was the same, although Shelton was a little further upfield. West Virginia simply isn't picking off enough opponents, or even slowing them down, on many returns. WVU also was tagged with a holding penalty after Marvin Gross grabbed a BYU player by the back of his jersey after missing on a block.
Gibson had a couple of his own mistakes, including breaking away from a return set up to the right in order to try his own path on the left side, and also moving laterally far across the field to catch a kick in the end zone, and then attempting to run it out. Given the blocking he has been getting, neither of those attempts were going to work.
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Defensively, WVU made a significant adjustment at halftime after being battered by the Cougar running game. On a number of second half snaps, the Mountaineers brought its spur and will linebacker up to the line of scrimmage, giving it five defenders on the front line. This slowed some of the momentum that BYU blockers had been able to generate against the more spread out alignment of the first half. While this did help against BYU running back Jamaal Williams, who had just 41 yards after halftime, it opened up things for Taysom Hill, who accounted for 77 ground yards after the break.
Rushel Shell's shoes are too tight. At least, that's what he told me after the game. After I saw him putting his shoe back on for the third time during the contest, I had to ask him about it afterward. He said that sometimes they get tied up too tightly, and that they bother him, so he has to redo them. Can't we get a manager or graduate assistant to help on this problem?
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Jovon Durante seemed to be featured early in the game, as he was targeted with several passes. He came through nicely, although his six catches netted only 32 yards. He was a shoestring away from breaking one of those for a big gain, though.
One thing that will help him is better route-running. On one of his early crossing routes, he was actually running backward, and losing ground, on his route until he got the ball. There can be instances where a long crossing route requires a bit of a retreat, but this one went far past that. By the time he caught the ball he was almost behind the line of scrimmage.
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Daikiel Shorts and Shelton Gibson both blocked very well, and the former's block on Devonte Mathis' screen reception was a bit of a different look from some of the wide receiver screens we've seen to date. Shorts came out of the slot and looped to catch a downfield defender, which sprung Mathis for 13 yards.
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Signboards are all the rage on college sidelines, and BYU had a different twist on it on the defensive side. One Cougar staffer had a board that read "Hard Count" on one side and "Draw Screen" on the other. This would get displayed when BYU determined that one or the other of these tactics were about to be employed.