The Film Room: Looking Inside WVU's Dominating Win Over TCU

West Virginia was far more basic in its defensive alignments, at least in terms of fronts, against TCU, but at least some of that had to do with the way the game played out. That, plus a look at the Horned Frogs' loading of the box and its ramifications as we head to The Film Room to break down the Mountaineers' sixth win of the season.

WVU head coach Dana Holgorsen gave a good deal of credit to TCU and its defensive schemes and play, calling the Horned Frogs one of the toughest teams he has to plan for and face. One of the tenets for Gary Patterson's unit, at least against the Mountaineers, was to try to hold down West Virginia's run game by outnumbering it in the box.

A look at those numbers is revealing. The Horned Frogs had seven or more defenders in the box on 38 snaps. On 25 occasions there were seven, but they also had four snaps with eight, six snaps with nine and three snaps with 10. Of course, those higher numbers were mostly short yardage or plays on WVU's last possession, but it's still a good indication of how TCU tried to slow WVU's running game. Twenty-six times, they put six defenders inside, but that often came against four wide receiver sets, which still put them at numbers equity.

TCU does this, and puts its defensive backs in single coverage often, because it is usually able to disrupt passing games with pressure. TCU's corners match routes well, and this combination doesn't often allow time or space for opposing QBs to get the ball away. They did get the best pressure of any WVU opponent this year on QB Skyler Howard, but the Mountaineers were also able to hit enough passes to make that tactic a wash at best. West Virginia also did well running against the crowded fronts. While it didn't have many breakout runs, it was able to consistently grind out gains, chew the clock and keep firm control of the contest. The mindset of Rushel Shell on these runs can't be overlooked. He finished every run with power, and was the bell cow of the attack.

Both WVU and TCU muddle the box and make it difficult to count by bringing a safety down against slot receivers and creating confusion as to whether or not he is in straight run defense mode or manning up against the receiver. That safety jumps around, feinting a blitz, then rolling back into what appears to be pass coverage mode, and only declares his true intentions after the snap. The Mountaineers do it with Kyzir White and Jarrod Harper some, but the Horned Frogs feature it as part of their defense routinely.

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WVU's early lead allowed the Mountaineer defense to be, if not more conservative, at least a little more "base". The Mountaineers ran a three-man front on 34 snaps, more than any other alignment combined. (For our purposes, we're counting any defender that's up on the line of scrimmage and in the box in this analysis.) WVU had a four-man line on 14 occasions, a five-man front 11 times, and six on the line four times.

Some of this was dictated by WVU's early lead. When the Mountaineers jumped out to that 14-0 advantage, they didn't want to allow the big plays that had dotted TCU's win a year ago. On the pass rush, they also didn't want TCU quarterback Kenny Hill to become a running option, so they were selective in when and where to deploy all-out blitzes. That didn't mean West Virginia was less "aggressive" -- it just meant that it was trying to keep Hill contained and wanted to make the Frogs put together long drives to score. TCU did that just two times -- not nearly enough to win -- and the tactic paid off in full when WVU kept the ball for almost the entire third quarter, leaving TCU with no time to rally.

Hill managed a net of just four yards on seven carries, and the majority of his runs were scrambles. The Mountaineer defense was outstanding in forcing the zone read option into a "one-option" play, and while Hicks did have a 100-yard day, it wasn't even close to putting the Frogs in a position to win.


One of the other reasons WVU was able to stick with the three-man front so much was the play of the defensive line. While Noble Nwachukwu earned defensive player of the game honors, Darrien Howard and Christian Brown were very good too. They ran down Hill and kept him contained in the pocket, and forced pressure on their own on passing downs. 

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WVU also did an outstanding job in limiting TCU running back Kyle Hicks in the passing game. One of the top pass-catching backs in the country was held to just three catches for 17 yards against West Virginia's underneath pass defense. Hicks did some damage in the rushing game with 103 yards, with 30-40 of those due to missed tackles. Three other sizeable gains came when WVU defenders failed to cover the backside of rushing plays, allowing him to totally reverse field and get outside for plus yardage instead of a loss. Overall, though, the Mountaineers severely limited one of TCU's best offensive weapons.

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Mike Molina has the leg to make a 50-yard field goal. So what has been causing his longer kicks to go awry? Many times the extra effort needed to boot the ball longer distances causes a break in technique or form, which can result in a miss. A close look at Molina's miss vs. his makes in this game though, don't reveal anything obvious. He looked the same, and didn't have any noticeable differences on any of his attempts. Sometimes a miss is just a miss, and might have happened from any distance.


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