MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Observations and thoughts from West Virginia’s easy 66-0 win over LIU on a beautiful day for college football in the University City.
Due to the low quality of the opposition, it is difficult to judge just how well certain aspects of West Virginia’s play were. We already know that kickoff return has the chance to be special (Winston Wright leads the FBS in return yardage and average after two games), and there were several encouraging performances from backups and those getting their first appreciable playing time in a Mountaineer uniform.
What might be telling, however, is a poor performance against such an out-manned team, and it’s no secret that we’re talking about the Mountaineers’ run blocking. West Virginia managed only 3.6 yards per carry against the Sharks, and when quarterback rushes are taken out, the number was 2.7 (103 yards on 38 carries).
Admittedly, numbers can sometimes be deceiving, so you can’t go on them alone. However, re-watches of the game show the problems the Mountaineer line had in creating movement or running lanes for its backs, and while LIU had just two tackles for loss (eight yards), its defensive front stood its ground much more effectively than might have been expected.
Coach Neal Brown noted that WVU did not do a lot of schematic attacking against the Sharks’ defense and that LIU hit it with a couple of twists and stunts up front that it did not react to well. However, in a program mismatch such as this, a clear advantage should have been evident in every unit battle, and its absence in the run game is of primary concern as West Virginia prepares for its final, not to mention critical, non-conference game against Virginia Tech.
“I’m not fired up about what we did in the run game, especially in the first half,” Brown admitted. “We didn’t want to give Leddie (Brown) a ton of work, but we would have liked to give him more room with some of his carries. We didn’t scheme a bunch of things this week. They did a good job of moving and twisting which they had shown on film. They did some things that our defense does, which is a credit to them.”
WVU’s run game woes were also highlighted by a pair of fourth-down misses. While the Mountaineers converted last-chance tries of fourth-and-nine, fourth-and-seven and fourth-and-two in the first half, it came up short on a pair of fourth and ones in the fourth quarter. Those did occur with deep reserves in the game, so they don’t directly reflect on the first-team line, but it is at least something of a reflection on the status of the unit overall.
WVU again used backup lineman Nick Malone as a tight end in short-yardage and goal-line situations, with tight end T.J. Banks flanked behind him on the wing. We’ll look at one of those plays in our Film Room study later this week, but so far this year, the results from its use haven’t been spectacular.
West Virginia had nine rushes of 10 yards or more. Seven of those were by quarterbacks, with Garrett Greene (six) and Jarret Doege (one) joining Justin Johnson (two) on the list. Greene’s 25-yarder in the third quarter was WVU’s only run of more than 13 yards.
Two dropped snaps resulted in two very different outcomes on placement kicks. WVU’s Graeson Malashevich mishandled the snap on the extra point after Winston Wright’s kickoff return for a score, but he was able to get it back down while Casey Legg paused in his approach and booted it through with just one step. LIU wasn’t as fortunate on its 18-yard field-goal attempt late in the first half, as the ball was mishandled by Tosin Oyekanmi and fell sideways to the ground. Kicker Paul Inzerillo had no chance to convert that, pushing a shank that didn’t get past the line of scrimmage.
Defensive back Jackie Matthews again did not start at cornerback, but added some more duties to his assignment list, playing as an extra DB in some passing situations and also subbing in for Sean Mahone after the latter was hit with an early personal foul. Matthews displayed good coverage and open-field tackling ability in the first two games.
Transfer defensive lineman Darel Middleton got his first snaps as a Mountaineer and showed good agility and quick range burst for his size. The former Tennessee Volunteer had a pair of tackles, including one behind the line of scrimmage, and could provide another depth boost to a line that appears to have a number of players vying for more snaps in backup roles.
Defensive back Caleb Coleman was ejected for targeting late in the game, which will make him unavailable for the first half against Virginia Tech. At this juncture, that does not figure to be a huge blow to the rotation.