We’re 10 games into the season and, what, four games into this run game renaissance. A lot of time has transpired, a lot of things have changed and a lot of items have been shown and seen. West Virginia was in its rarest form Saturday in Kansas, not merely because the day produced a 49-0 final score, the first conference shutout since 2005, the first year with two shutouts since 1996 and the first time since 1969 three players had 100 yards. The Mountaineers were doing and showing things they hadn’t really done or shown much if at all before. There were new ideas, there were old things with new appearances and there were old ideas done in new ways.
I think we’ve seen this particular formation now and then and not much more than that. But I think it’s always been a draw. This was not a draw, which is what the defense just has to expect. And it wasn’t a power play, which would probably be second in line in the minds of the Jayhawks. It’s a zone play to the left, and Skyler Howard’s legs have essentially moved defenders to the opposite of the play — what I mean is that since he can run the ball, there’s no need for a running back in the backfield, and that running back can go right and take a safety with him.
It quite nearly worked, too.
Pause it at :02. Cody Clay widens out. That lets left tackle Marquis Lucas combine with left guard Stone Underwood to handle the defensive end, and Clay and Lucas create an alley. If Howard goes to that space, he’s 1-on-1 with the safety. Plays like this are supposed to create 1-on-1s, and though Howard might not win that confrontation, he also might win it. Howard instead cuts it inside, no doubt because he really trusts center Tyler Orlosky, who has had better snaps than this one.
But this was there, and given the volume of running plays in practice and in games, WVU won’t make a mess of this too many times. (Aside: This doesn’t look easy, and it’s not as easy as it looks.)
Uh, Mike, what’s so rare about this? Why lead with one play and just a minor alteration?
Get your own blog! Good question! This was only one leaf on the branches the offense has been and is sprouting.
Surely by now you know WVU runs power plays in gap schemes, which is a fancy way of saying when the offense gets away from zone blocking and goes between the tackles, it likes to have the offensive linemen on the side of the play seal off the defense inside and climb up to the linebackers if possible while a guard guard pulls from the back side of the play to clear the way.
Last week against Texas, we saw a wrinkle. Here’s a power play that includes fullback Elijah Wellman.
That’s actually a counter play. It’s a power play with the offensive linemen on the play side sealing and climbing and the added fullback assuming the role of the pulling guard, who now takes on the outside linebacker or defensive end while the fullback clears a path.
So WVU’s added a concept to its offense by only giving the fullback the guard’s job and then asking the guard to block someone different and at the same time obvious. (And this isn’t the best example, because Texas gets got, which is nevertheless a win for the offense.)
The Mountaineers again had this rolling against Kansas, and it was really fun to watch.
But … but there was no Wellman there. That was Wendell Smallwood playing the role of fullback and blocking the linebacker, and how often has WVU used Rushel Shell and Smallwood together this season? Not often, right? As it was, WVU barely used Wellman with another running back on these counters. Wellman was actually used most on the counters with Cody Clay and another running back in the diamond, and it was new and startling.
No contest. Untouched through the middle. The right guard gets the outside defender. Clay (bottom of the screen) gets a second-level defender and Wellman clears a linebacker from Shell’s pathway.
Did I say it was startling? Shell scored not one, but two touchdowns on the play. WVU didn’t abandon the ordinary power runs, either, and Smallwood scored one of his two touchdowns on the play — actually no, he didn’t, because Wendell Smallwood, but he pushed in on the next play.
But watch those last two runs. They’re similar and different and effective. Knockout punches, man.
The counters are new, and the Mountaineers spent a few weeks working on this in practice before they ever brought it out of the garage.
“We started to look at it from different formations and think, ‘How can we take this thing that looks really good and expand it even more now?’” Crook said. “It gets guys moving and it’s something our guys are good at. They go out and execute it, and we’ve got running backs who are pretty good at sticking their foot in the ground and going vertical with it.”
The success is in the deception, though. The Mountaineers are doing something new by showing something familiar.
“It looks like we’re going to go outside zone, but then we take a counter step and come back with a guard pulling the other way and another back leading the way to pick up anything extra,” said Wendell Smallwood, WVU’s first running back in eight seasons to have four straight 100-yard games.
(Aside: Remember how WVU used to get tripped up by the unblocked defender on the back side of plays? This takes care of that.) WVU pulled the cover off the counter against Texas, and that thing’s on wheels and taking this offense places. Seriously…
WVU’s in a four-receiver set, which we know is not common this season, and this ends up being a counter without any sort of assistance from the fullback. It might be a trap that uses the pulling guard to seal off the side the run goes to. I don’t know. I do know WVU kept doing it — left side! — because it worked, and if you know Holgorsen, you know that if it works, he’ll do it again.
We’d not seen many of these things, but now we’re to a point where a single aspect — pulling guards — worked and spawned a handful of new plays that feature that single aspect in wholly different ways. That’s next-level stuff taking this rebooted offense to the next level.
How did we get here? Let’s find out by taking a look at the Good and the Bad of WVU v. Kansas.
Use it. You know you will.
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