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West Virginia Film Review: Lucky Break

Ben Queen-USA TODAY Sports



What is the expected point value of any one player? Vegas tell us the best quarterbacks are worth seven points, and the best non-QB in college is worth no more than three points. An oddsmaker for one Vegas sportsbook said in 2013 that Jadeveon Clowney was worth only two points to South Carolina.

This was a game where those numbers were worth thinking about. Texas was without should-have-been Thorpe Award semi-finalist Holton Hill, but they added should-have-been All-American Connor Williams and apparently healthy Sam Ehlinger. West Virginia lost quarterback Will Grier at the end of their third series on a play that literally cost them seven points. My gut says this is another game that would have gone to overtime without Grier’s injury, but even that is way better than I expected.

It Starts Up Front

Texas’ first three offensive series: five plays, 19 yards, punt; four plays, -5 yards, punt; three plays, five yards, punt. The next two series (Ehlinger’s second and third): 11 plays, 91 yards, touchdown; 10 plays, 87 yards, touchdown. This is the play that got it started.

WVU defensive coordinator Tony Gibson coaches in the extremes. His defenses aren’t afraid of all-out blitzes, but he’ll just as soon drop eight into coverage. He even dropped 10 into coverage at one point.

On this play, they’re bringing the house. Texas has a great play called for the situation. The two short routes keep the defenders in the shallows, putting Reggie Hemphill-Mapps one-on-one on the corner route against an inside-leveraged defender. Ehlinger rolls away from the brunt of the blitz and throws this ball with an upperclassman’s anticipation and touch.

What jumps out even more, though, is the blocking. It’s one-on-one matchups across the board, but no one got beat. There are plenty of stories out right now about how Connor Williams’ return made everyone better, but this play shows five other men (counting Kyle Porter) holding their own. I don’t want to make too much of it — when I scouted West Virginia, I couldn’t find an impact defensive lineman — but it was cool to see.

Once Texas got inside the 25, it was 11’s time. Ehlinger carried the ball four times in five plays on QB power, setting up 3rd & Goal at the four-yard line. With the defense now completely zeroed in on everything Ehlinger did in the backfield, Tim Beck called play-action.

As we discussed last week, his run threat makes play-action in the red zone very effective. Texas doesn’t even have to fake the same run play that got them there — this is inside zone read. Collin Johnson executes his crack block to perfection, and playside linebacker #11 (there was a lot of hype around him, but he had a rough game from what I’ve seen) had his feet in cement. The ball is almost touching Kendall Moore’s fingertips before #11 starts actually running to the flat. This is the cornerback’s play to make first and foremost, but the pursuit from the inside should be barreling down on them a lot quicker than it is here.

Ehlinger in Space

Gibson went the other route on 3rd & 9 on the ensuing Texas possession. I understand the intent, and I applaud him for scheming it so that his lone rusher was matched up on the running back and not a lineman. But it’s stupid to allow a dual-threat quarterback basically 10 lead blockers — five of whom are on scholarship for their blocking ability — while dropping into zones and thus surrendering half the yardage needed for the first down without a fight.

Still, the pressure gets Ehlinger to roll away from his linemen. Hemphill-Mapps, Porter and Devin Duvernay did tremendous jobs transitioning from receivers to blockers, and West Virginia got what it deserved for this play-call.

The throwback pass came next, and although I’m not going to break it down, it was nice to see Texas use its former quarterback as a passer. If this was part of his wildcat package, the package would probably still work.

Texas capped the drive off with another play-action pass, this time to Chris Warren.

This is nearly identical to Ehlinger’s touchdown pass to Cade Brewer last week, except Warren is lined up on the backside (and runs the backside seam) instead of on the frontside. West Virginia is all over power read, and someone — either the boundary safety or the Will linebacker — blew his assignment. (My guess is the boundary safety was on a designed blitz, and the Will, #11 again, should have stuck with Warren.)

And the Freshman Taketh Away

Threatening to take a 21-0 lead, Texas reverted to DumbShit™, official sponsor of Texas Football since 2010.

This was a similar sprint out concept to the one that ended the Oklahoma State game. (The receivers even picked each other again.) But the trouble is up front. Terrell Cuney decides to check the field conditions after the snap instead of looking at what he wants to hit. He’s got no immediate threat to his gap, but he still lets the Sam linebacker squeeze through the A gap. Zach Shackelford has no chance to make this block without Cuney’s help. And Ehlinger needs to take the sack and live to fight another down, obviously. (h/t to Daniel for the analysis of the OL breakdown.)


This was only the second game this year in which Texas went over 175 yards rushing and 5.0 yards per carry. (San Jose State was the other game.) This was a two-play, 46-yard scoring drive.

It starts with basic inside zone. The playside defensive end shoots way upfield, and then the Will linebacker (#11 again) didn’t fill the B gap. Daniel Young ran through #11’s feeble tackle attempt, and then didn’t even have to elude the playside safety because he derp’d himself out of the play. Not that he had to do much here, but Young looks like a good one.

(Quick aside, the following guys were additions by Tom Herman’s staff before signing day: Young, Kerstetter, Brewer, Toneil Carter and Gary Johnson. That’s pretty good.)

The second run is all about the blocking — this is freaking textbook counter. Before the snap, you can see the vulnerability in WVU’s alignment. It’s an easy block for Williams to mash the 4i defensive end inside, and the next layer of defense is starting the play four yards off the line of scrimmage. The linebacker spills Jake McMillon’s trap block, but McMillon does a nice job of “logging” him (basically letting him have the inside rather than trying to kick him out). Brewer had struggled adjusting when this happened, but Moore deftly bypasses past it. He was getting ready to block the safety when Jerrod Heard laid that GORGEOUS FREAKING crack block on him — AND GOT IN THE WAY OF THE NEXT LINEBACKER OMG 😍 — so Moore moved on and found the cornerback. This kind of execution makes me want to type the rest of this article in all-caps.

Even Hillbilly Fingers Shouldn’t Do That

Dana Holgorsen was right to be mad about this play-call after the game, though I would point out that forcing the football to David Sills is the reason he’s leading the nation in touchdown receptions.

WVU moved their left tackle to the right side and put Sills in his place as an eligible receiver. There are five offensive lineman and an H-back on the right side of the line, and they pretty much dominated Texas up front. Malik Jefferson got launched back into Gary Johnson, and another lineman who lined up in the backfield plowed through DeShon Elliott. A handoff would have gone for an easy touchdown.

Instead, it’s a bootleg, intended to go to Sills. Kris Boyd sniffed it out and stuck with Sills (at least until Sills’ blatant push-off). And then we have Brandon Jones. This is why he’s so frustrating and so hard to give up on. He’s shot out of a cannon on this play and saves the day for Texas.

No Ball Skills

And this is why Jones is frustrating. He could have had two interceptions on Saturday if he’d just tried — tried — to find the football.

You may notice that this is the same concept beating Jones up the sideline all three times. On the first play, Texas is in their Tampa 2 look, so Jones has basically nothing to do except get to the numbers and take away throws like this one. I really don’t know what he was doing when he was off-screen.

Texas is running very similar coverages on the next two plays; the cornerback will jump the bubble route by the slot receiver and Jones will get over the top of the outside receiver. Jones is in great position both times, but he makes no effort to find the football. He looks like a guy who’s never played in the secondary before. It’s hard not to think his job might be in jeopardy next year, but then I’m reminded of the jump several of the third-year defensive players made this season. Let’s take some blood pressure medication and see what he looks like in year three.

Close Call

After one of those long completions allowed by Jones to end the third quarter, West Virginia started the fourth quarter with a 1st down at the Texas 25.

The coverage decision on the first play is incredible to me, and I wonder if Todd Orlando would have been this brave if Grier was in the game. I doubt it. He’s got Boyd on an island that’s about one-sixth the size of the entire field, matched up with the NCAA’s leader in touchdown receptions. That enables the rest of the defense to rush four and still play six guys on the other four receivers. Somehow they still blow the coverage. Davante Davis made the mistake — one he made repeatedly — of chasing the inside-breaking route instead of passing that off to the safety and picking up the wheel route. Without Gary Johnson’s pressure in the quarterback’s face, this is probably a touchdown.

The 2nd & 10 play goes much better. WVU tries to run the same counter play that Porter scored on, but Breckyn Hager blows up the playside tackle and disrupts the trap and lead blockers, then Jason Hall takes a good angle down the heel line and makes the stop. That’s what it should look like from the back side; let Elliott worry about the quarterback.

On 3rd & 9, WVU uses orbit motion and ties to hit the motion man in the flat against Texas’ Man Free coverage. In years past, the Texas defender would have missed this open-field tackle at least 33 percent of the time. Hager affects the throw, but Elliott’s going to make this play no matter what. Appreciate the certainty of knowing he won’t miss, because that feeling’s probably leaving with him for the NFL.

On 4th down, things break down on Davis’ side again. Texas looks to be running a two-deep, four-under zone blitz — basically a Cover 2 look without the middle hook defender. Davis chases the slant by the outside receiver and leaves the slot receiver uncovered on the inside fade route. Elliott makes a ridiculous play. We’re gonna miss him.

One Too Many Mistakes

We pick it back up on 3rd & 9 on WVU’s next possession. After the BS roughing the passer/targeting on Hager put the Mountaineers in Texas territory, and they “completed” an impossible 30-yard pass down the middle, they were at the Texas 16.

WVU comes out in a 2×2 set, and Texas lines up in 2-Man coverage, meaning they’ve got only five defenders in the box to take on five blockers. West Virginia calls a draw and gets both guards to Malik on the second level. It should probably be a touchdown at that point, but Malik somehow avoids them both and makes the stop. This is a play I’m not sure Malik would have made in previous seasons. We go to Holgo for the appropriate response.

But it was all for naught. WVU motions the back out on 4th down to create a 4×1 set. For some reason, Orlando doubles the single receiver this time, but it’s some guy who isn’t their first-, second- or third-leading receiver. Sills is lined up as the No. 2 receiver to the strong side. I can’t tell what coverage Texas is running, but best guess: everyone’s in man, except Antwuan Davis and Jones are bracketing Sills. I’m struggling to think of a scenario where Davante Davis wouldn’t be expected to lock up the No. 1 receiver. Maybe he thought he had safety help inside, or maybe he’s just really bad at man coverage, but look at how tight Elliott’s coverage is, then look at how much space Davante’s receiver has.

Right now, Texas is a 10-point favorite over Texas Tech. I’m not going to fall into the trap of calling it a must-win game — it would have been if West Virginia had won and Texas literally needed the win to reach a bowl, but that’s it. But this game and the bowl are enormous for the perception of the program. Get the W and guarantee a winning record. Then get better in the bowl practices and win that one too. An 8-5 record quiets a lot of critics and sends a loud message to recruits.

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