WVU Sports with Mike Casazza

The Good and the Bad of WVU v. Alabama

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There is a danger about the first game of the season for people like you and me. The teams have their own pitfalls, but you and I can misstep, too. We’ve waited so long for a game and for new impressions to be cast that we can sometimes force new things.

So I tend to maybe overreact by underreacting, if that makes any sense, and I’m the guy who’s going, “Yeah, nice effort, but the offense scored one touchdown and fell apart on the cusp of others … and you got a kickoff return touchdown. Let’s not book the Sugar Bowl quite yet.”

There’s a reality out there to address, but we have to find it still. That 33-23 score is going to resonate much differently in a few weeks. WVU might have lost to a suspect Alabama or a legit Alabama. Alabama might have gotten the better of an improved WVU or a familiar-looking WVU.

All of that said, I think the above is the moment you can look at and say, “This is going to be different.” You knew WVU wasn’t going away and not only had resources at its disposal, but knew how to use them. And Mario Alford is going to have a big season.

I know, I know, Kevin White had the bigger receiving game, but Alford is was there, too, and he’s going to be a part of the special teams and you have to think he’s going to get the ball in his hands running the ball. He’s stupid fast. Dana Holgorsen and Shannon Dawson are going to accommodate that.

I mean, look at this.

That move at the beginning is something to behold. He pretty much stops dead, and probably didn’t see that guy coming until when it happened. But by the time he runs right and turns the corner at the 20-yard line — solid Jewone Snow block right there — Alford is opened up again. Then he goes from the 20 to the Alabama 40 — that’s 40 yards — in 4.16 seconds, as pictured above. No, it’s not combine style where he starts from a crouch and bursts out of blocks, but it’s not a straight line, either.

Whew. We’re going to get Tavon Austin comparisons, and that’s fine. No one was faster or more dangerous in traffic than Tavon … but Alford is faster from point to point, if you ask me. Nevertheless, WVU has something on the outside opposite White, who, I’m telling you, is wholly different from what he was last season. This is not Austin/Stedman Bailey, but it’s going to be good.

There remains plenty to like about Saturday and going forward, but one thing I’m very interested in seeing is how WVU elevates Alford to pair properly with White and to make the most of his considerable skill. How did we get here? Let’s find out by taking a look at the good and the bad of WVU v. Alabama. (Before we go on, gigantic thanks to the realbbbb. He provided the video and had it to me late Saturday night, and he walked me through some editing software. A handful of you reached out with offers to help, and I’m grateful, but he and I connected quickly. He also hooked me up with one video in today’s post and I BET YOU’LL NEVER GUESS WHICH ONE!!!)

Bad: While we’re on the topic of kickoffs…
Is that a late hit? Is that two hands in the back well after Alford was out of bounds and the whistle blew? For the purpose of this exercise, let’s just agree this is nothing and the officials did right by doing nothing …

Bad: Absurd call
… well, where the hell was that discretion here? I have no problem with what Sean Walters did, though I find it comedic his high school nickname was Hitman. I liked how Dave Pasch was all indignant, like, WHAT ARE YOU THINKING? My guess is Walters probably wasn’t. He probably couldn’t see all of the play as it happened from his position on the sideline. Out of nowhere he noticed Blake Sims and that Sims was in an aggressive position — I mean, it looks like Sims is going to wing the ball at someone. I doubt he was going to do that, but Walters looked like he was just caught off guard and threw up his arms and reacted. To throw a flag was bogus, especially when the referee was 20 yards away and couldn’t have seen that very well, either. That it happened when it did and meant what it did toward the outcome is unfortunate.

Bad: Lots of bad!
There are a few discussions to have, and ultimately you’re left aware that the Mountaineers were their own worst enemies. But this play is a hold against Wes Tonkery (37) at the Alabama 41 and it’s really picky. It might also be wrong. But it was critical. Worley brought the ball back to the 31. The penalty at the 41 dropped the offense back to the WVU 49. It probably changed the play calls a little bit, but WVU still had a third-and-5. Say the same plays are called from the 31 and the results are the same, too. Josh Lambert has a 43-yard field goal down 30-23. Say WVU loses five yards. He has a 53-yard field goal attempt, though it’s possible #TeamGoForIt would have convened an emergency summit. The penalty was a killer, but it was one of a few that seemed curious, and I thought WVU was  left upset about some missed holds, a missed pass interference on Landon Collins against White and a called pass interference for Amari Cooper against Dravon Henry in which Henry seemed to have sealed off Cooper, who made no attempt at the ball. I have to wonder what lengths WVU might go to for some clarifications.

Good: Collected Trickett
We needed a Good to break up the procession, so here’s this. It’s a really busy play, but Trickett has said before he rather likes it and he shows he can handle it. WVU was going to need some deception and misdirection to open up the Crimson Tide a little — shifts, motion, bait, so on and so forth — but Trickett was going to have to be poised and prompt all at once because Alabama will close those openings fast. This was early and it was a good sign he came to play and that the offensive line was going to push back. (I thought the line was all right and held its ground. Not great, but not poor. Alabama had a lot to do with the running game going nowhere and some of the mistakes WVU made up front, notably Adam Pankey whiffing on a sack and Tyler Orlosky hurrying a snap in a crucial spot when two defenders were ready to run over his shoulders. It happens. WVU is not perfect.)

Good: Wheels!
Trickett passing on the move: 3-for-3, 51 yards. I maintain he’s a little underrated in that regard. Opponents don’t prepare for a moving WVU quarterback. It’s a different look, and Trickett looked like he can handle that, too. (Don’t forget a 14-yard scramble in which he more or less walked to let Quinton Spain set up a block, either).

Bad: Third down defense
That statistic, and when, where and how Alabama built that statistic, was the game. No way around that. You can say WVU’s drops and red zone/score zone (inside the 30) problems were big deals and maybe bigger deals … but even if WVU had held onto the ball and punched one or more in, it had to stop the Tide. The Mountaineers didn’t have answers when it mattered, and for myriad reasons. This play seemed to spook WVU early. The defense sent five, including a defensive back, and added some rerouting to confuse the offensive line. Blake Sims was never fazed and dropped deep into his end zone and had time and space to let a route develop and move the chains. There were a lot of third downs after this, usually accompanied by WVU blitzes, and Tony Gibson admitted he was throwing everything he had out there to get something going, but his guys were sometimes burned by the aggression. If the plan here works, you wonder if the tend is to ratchet it up later.

Bad: First down offense
I wrote a while ago about how poor WVU’s third-down offense was last season, and what the Mountaineers told me was that that was because the results on first and second down were so poor. WVU was really good on first down in the first half against Alabama and took chunks of yards — sometimes with the run, which made second down interesting because Alabama was made to believe WVU could and would run on third-and-short. But in the first half, WVU had 16 first-down snaps for 97 yards and plenty of healthy gains. In the second half, there were 15 first-down snaps for 76 yards and quite a few losses or incomplete passes. Alabama adjusted and clamped down on the run, but WVU was in more difficult second- and third-down spots because first down wasn’t nearly as fruitful.

Good: Finally!
This is not to say Jordan Thompson arrived, but he showed up and even showed off against the Tide. This is a kid who has taken a ton of grief in stride and has never so much as acted like it’s bothered him. Daikiel Shorts was mostly invisible until Trickett missed him on a critical third down in the fourth quarter, but Thompson was in the game a whole lot and made mostly good plays. He dropped a big pass and he got cut in half on another and both mattered — you can forgive the second one — but he was out there and the Mountaineers simply need a productive slot receiver. I have no idea what was wrong with Shorts, and that’s something to look into, but for a day, Thompson covered it up. You don’t know how many of those days you can expect from him. And most importantly, at long last, he Hot Potato’d.

Goad: I don’t know
This was a hard throw that the defensive end complicated, but Trickett had time and he had a big gain waiting for him. What was neat here was that WVU used Alford after he swept across the field. Typically that receiver is out of the play because he’s supposed to pull the action over there and free up some space on the side he vacated. I think we’ll see this play again and I think it’ll hit. (WVU also did something else it doesn’t always do. In sets with three receivers to the left and one to the right, the one is almost never the primary receiver and is oftentimes out of the play to run deep and stretch the defense. Trickett threw to White when he was alone a few times and did it quickly, too. Quite likely Alabama knew what I just told you — that receiver never gets the ball — which means it backed off and put the focus elsewhere. But Trickett and White looked like they knew what Alabama knew. White’s big catch-and-run early came when the cornerback, Bradley Sylve, played back and had to run up to get into the play.)

Good: Formations
I dug the set when WVU motioned two backs out to create a five-wide set. I liked how the backs were outside sometimes and inside other times there and I liked how White was inside and outside. That was a clever deal and it caused Alabama some problems because it wasn’t getting the same look. WVU does not have five receivers. WVU has more than five players who can line up, run routes and catch passes. Where this goes is something else to watch. I mean, why not start in the diamond and shift to the five-wide?

Good: Blerbegerbert
I was beside myself when this happened. I’m in the diamond fan club. I’d just watched Eli Wellman haul in a 10-yard pass on third-and-2. Then we went to Bolivia and White made a play he ought to be making with a degree of regularity. It was too much. This was clever, too. We know the Mountaineers have issues inside the 30. And we know Alabama will heat you up when it gets close to the end zone. The diamond is an answer. It forces a defense to declare. Keep safeties back and you’re outnumbered against the run. Bring safeties down for the run and there’s going to be space for a throw. Blitz and leave few secret. You’re going to show something … that’s why Dana came up with it. You can see the safety at the top of the screen step forward before the snap. Trickett saw it, too, and bought a ticket for La Paz. That’s what’s supposed to happen.

Bad: This is not what’s supposed to happen
I guess the problem here is that this worked exactly like it was supposed to work, you know, except for the throw. Could Wellman have caught  it? I would argue no, but maybe a college football player should come up with that. Whatever the opinion there, a college football quarterback should make that throw. Sometimes this happens when you circle certain plays for certain situations and see it all unfold like you had only hoped it would. But Trickett knew he screwed up and apologized to Wellman through the media.

Bad: This play
Alabama wanted to punt here. Sims was having some problems and Jacob Coker would soon start throwing on the sideline. Sims succumbs to the design of the play and throws underneath and thinks, “Maybe he’ll do something silly.” And DeAndrew White did a few silly things. I will say this: He made some fantastic moves, and he tried to get the first down. He deserves credit for that. But he should have been tackled a few times before he got the first down and then additional yardage and momentum that preceded a touchdown. Jarrod Harper and Terrell Chestnut miss and Edward Muldrow flails before Daryl Worley steps forward. I didn’t think he was particularly good in the first half — he was much better in the second half — and this play was big. He’s got to close the door there. I know White is on him suddenly, but Worley was on White just as unexpectedly. That’s a filthy move, though, and there was no singular play that didn’t involve a bogus “unsportsmanship” conduct call that affected the game as much as this one did. Here’s the weird part. All that ankle-breaking and neck-jerking and no one was hurt on that play. White would leave later with a separated shoulder.

Good: Spectator sport
This play was amazing in person. Alabama and WVU fans were freaking out over the time Sims had and then they both saw Christion Jones open and K.J. Dillon on skates looking like he hadn’t played deep safety for a long time. Now they’re all screaming because of the embarrassing mistake and the exciting touchdown … but the emotions flip completely and immediately when Jones drops the ball. So fun.

Bad: Depth
This is a big week for Devonte Mathis, Dreamius Smith and Shelton Gibson. They had critical drops and they’re in positions where WVU needs players — Mathis and Gibson because of a receiver shortage, Smith because, man, you have to wonder if Shell can run with that abandon for 12 or 13 games. Towson is a team they should be able to play against, but mostly because Maryland and Oklahoma are teams WVU will need them to play against. I didn’t see a backup offensive lineman play other than Stone Underwood for just a few snaps after Quinton Spain got hurt. Underwood isn’t listed in the game stats that say 52 players played — and when you consider that WVU lets skill players start on only one special teams unit, that’s not a lot of guys. Sure, Alabama isn’t the team you want to use to debut a ton of players, but Maryland and Oklahoma aren’t either.

Good: Starters
Then again, if Karl Joseph is going to play the way he did, you don’t need a lot of Harper. Joseph didn’t get a rest and made 18 damn tackles. Same goes for Nick Kwiatkoski and Tonkery (11 tackles). They were good, too, and we only saw Al-Rasheed Benton when Kwiatkoski got hurt and Isaiah Bruce on special teams. You can live with that for a game, and since this post is about one game, that’s fine. Those guys were fine, but they were fresh, too. That can’t happen 13 times, right?

Good: So close
That’s a 91-yard touchdown if Nick Perry doesn’t race over and flick Wendell Smallwood. WVU had been setting it up, too. Haymaker thrown, haymaker dodged.

Good: That’s Amari
One very big reason Worley looked so subpar at times was No. 9. Cooper’s the real deal. I watched him go through warmups and thought he was super smooth. He plays the same and runs and cuts his routes without giving away his plan or taking himself out of the play. Many receivers run, say, a hitch and catch the pass and that’s it. Cooper strides into his cut and catches the ball and is still a threat. That’s a hard cover for anyone, and Cooper can do the short, intermediate and deep stuff and never let you know what he’s thinking. Impressive kid.

Bad: Big deal or no?
I’m not sure Trickett knew it was fourth down. He can’t throw that pass in that situation. That was the only decision — decision — that seemed regrettable during the game. Bad throws? Sure. But he mostly went to the right place and did it fast, and without knowing the calls and the checks, it looked to me like he got into or stuck with good calls. Ultimately, this one doesn’t matter, but it wasn’t a good ending.

Bad: Zero sacks
The knock against the 3-3-5 odd stack, which WVU used, is that it doesn’t create pressure and relies a lot on individual talent to get after the quarterback — angles, deception, speed, etc. That sort of held true Saturday and the Mountaineers tried to make a lot of their own luck and missed again and again. Blitzing isn’t easy. Sims was elusive and WVU was in its first game and, like others, didn’t have a wealth of sack practice, but these plays were a big part of the losing effort on defense.

Good: Street cred
WVU came in with very little and left with a bunch.