WVU Sports with Tom Bragg

BLOG: WVU defense trends in the wrong direction

Through the first five games of the season, West Virginia’s defense was much stronger in the first half than in the second.

Some of that has to do with the opponent; some of it has to do with the offense building such a big lead in the first half that the defense was able to take its foot off the pedal in the second.

Whatever the case, in Games 1 through 5 of this year’s campaign, WVU’s “DAWGS” were giving up just 8.6 points per contest in the first half, while loosening up in the third and fourth quarters and surrendering 17.8 points per.

The trend has shifted from there, and it’s coming at a bad time.

Granted, playing better offenses like Texas Tech and Oklahoma State, the Mountaineer defense has gotten two times worse in the first half in terms of points (19) over the most recent three games. It has gotten worse in the second half, too, giving up just over three touchdowns on average after halftime (21.3 points).

Why does this matter?

Iowa State.

The Cyclones have also shifted – on offense – being forced to change quarterbacks, which has led to a points shift.

With Jacob Park under center, the Cyclones were seven points per game better in the second half. Now, with Kyle Kempt at QB, the Cyclones are a first-half offense but have still been potent post-halftime.

It breaks down to, with Kempt running the show, ISU scoring 18.8 points per game in the first half and 13.25 points in the second.

With West Virginia’s defense getting statistically worse in the first half, and the Cyclones getting better in the opening two quarters, the possibility looms of another opposing team jumping out to an early lead on WVU’s home turf.

Iowa State’s offense has also been scoring at a higher rate outside of Ames.

WVU will need more than just David Long, as was largely the case this past weekend, this Saturday to stop Iowa State from continuing its impressive season.

 

WVU Report Card: Oklahoma State

A rainy day had little to no silver lining on the football field Saturday as the West Virginia Mountaineers (5-3, 3-2) dropped out of the rankings once again due to its 50-39 loss to Oklahoma State (7-1, 4-1).

The loss not only looked bad, but came at a bad time with an extremely tough schedule coming up for WVU.

But before the Mountaineers can look ahead, let’s look back at Saturday one last time.

Offense – D-

Play calling was bad. The running game was non-existent. Receivers weren’t turning around and locating the football. Will Grier threw four interceptions as part of a five-turnover day for WVU.

Yeah, not much went right.

Head coach Dana Holgorsen was noticeably and understandably upset with his offense post-game. He said he was somewhat exaggerating when he said the unit had, “12 three and outs.” In reality, WVU did that five times. However, it did have ten possessions that lasted three plays or fewer.

Outside of 68-yard touchdown pass to Marcus Simms, West Virginia couldn’t hit on any big plays.

The offensive line continues to underperform.

If looking for a positive here’s one: WVU became the first team this year to throw for multiple touchdowns against the Oklahoma State defense.

Defense – D+

Thank goodness David Long was on the field or OK-State may have hit 70.

Long, playing in just his fourth game this year, made 18 tackles, seven of which were for a loss – a school record.

West Virginia gave up over 200 rushing yards for the third time this season, 142 of which was given up to JD King, who entered the game averaging just 43.3 yards per contest. Mason Rudolph was held under 300 passing yards for the second straight game. Some of that can be credited to WVU’s defense, but a lot of that can be credited to the rain and the Cowboys’ success on the ground.

Not getting a single stop on fourth down is concerning, as is only getting one sack.

Long himself keeps the defense grade from being any lower, and he deserves a big round of applause.

Special teams – A-

The debacle by the special teams unit at TCU must’ve been the wake-up call that group needed. Since then, this group has been playing well.

Saturday extends the streak to three straight games that WVU’s special teams outplayed its opponent’s. Evan Staley and Billy Kinney played well while Mike Molina nursed a hip injury suffered in Friday’s practice. Marcus Simms still seems to be finding his footing in the return game, though is making strides.

Meanwhile, the Mountaineer gunners and tacklers did a fairly good job of keeping Oklahoma State’s returners contained, and not giving up any big plays to a return unit that has not fared well this season.

And you can’t forget the blocked punt in the end zone, which helped change momentum for the time being in the third quarter. That was a big-time play.

Linemen – D+

The offensive line wasn’t nearly physical enough. Holgorsen said it himself after the game.

Grier was under constant pressure, which has been a theme over the last few games, and they didn’t hold blocks well for the running game.

Offensive line play was bad.

On the defensive side, the output was disappointing considering that OSU’s O-Line was banged up entering the game. Even with a few starters returning for the Cowboys, the line wasn’t 100-percent and should’ve been susceptible to more pressure.

With that said, it’s naïve to think Long and the linebacker crew doesn’t get into the backfield without a little help from the D-Line. But, a little help was all they got.

Overall – C-

Holgorsen’s comments were, “It’s about to get real uncomfortable around here.”

It’s unclear exactly what that means, but what is clear is that there’s a lot to work on this week in practice.

With only five full days separating now and another Top 15 team coming to Morgantown in Iowa State next weekend, there’s no time to waste.

Good morning all. And, no, there’s no love for WVU on this day.
1. Alabama
2. Georgia
3. Wisconsin
4. Ohio State
5. Penn State
6. Notre Dame
7. Miami
8. Clemson
9. Oklahoma
10. TCU
11. Oklahoma State
12. Washington
13. Virginia Tech
14. UCF
15. Iowa State
16. Auburn
17. USC
18. Stanford
19. LSU
20. Memphis
21. N.C. State
22. Mississippi State
23. Arizona
24. Michigan
25. Washington State

Gameday Live: No. 11 Oklahoma State at No. 22 WVU

The Mountaineers host the Cowboys in a pivotal Big 12 matchup. Mitch Vingle is in the Puskar Stadium press box for the game. Follow along with him right here:

This is the type of game where the WVU defense needs to earn its postgame snack boxes.

Will the Mountaineers all of a sudden turn into the 1985 Chicago Bears against at team like Oklahoma State, which piles up points like Mike Gundy gains inches on his mullet? That’s a very likely “no.” There are too many instances of WVU’s defense turning in a performance like the second half against Baylor, where the Bears inexplicably climbed back into what once was a blowout.

Yet if there’s a silver lining, it’s the way WVU played defensively in the first half of that game, how it neutralized a decent Baylor offense. Oklahoma State will get its yards. It will score its points. If WVU can end a few OSU drives early, maybe grab a fumble or an interception, that should allow the Mountaineers’ juggernaut offense to make the Cowboys pay for the mistake. That’s something the Mountaineers have in their favor: Oklahoma State will have as much trouble slowing WVU’s offense down.

If the Mountaineers want a spot in the Big 12 title game, they must win Saturday’s game. For that to happen, WVU’s defense doesn’t have to be great. It just has to be good enough.

Scouting the Opponent: No. 11 Oklahoma State

Arguably the most prolific offense in the nation comes to Morgantown Saturday.

Along with it comes a defense that has been limiting opponents in the area that West Virginia does best.

No. 11 Oklahoma State (6-1, 3-1) comes to the Mountain State for a showdown with direct implications on the Big 12 title chase.

You watch the Mountaineers (5-2, 3-1) play every week, but here’s a scouting report on the Cowboys.

Rudolph the big-armed QB

Mason Rudolph is a Heisman candidate and one of the best to put on the Cowboys uniform for a number of reasons – he’s efficient, sees the field well, can extend plays when needed and has a good team around him.

He currently leads the nation in passing yards (2,650) and passing yards per game (378.6), and also has the third-highest quarterback rating (181.1) in the country.

Rudolph has completed 43 passes over 20 yards, fifteen of which have been thrown to his top wide receiver, James Washington.

Score quick and score often

Mountaineer fans have seen their team score at a torrid pace this year. Oklahoma State fans have seen the same in their offense.

The Cowboys have put together 21 touchdown-scoring drives that have taken less than two minutes to complete. Ten of those drives were capped off with six points in less than one minute.

Offensive line depth

Heading into Saturday, an unknown surrounding the Cowboys is the status of their offensive line. Entering this season head coach Mike Gundy had one of the top O-Lines in college football, but over the last few weeks, it has taken some hits.

First-team center Brad Lundblade has been dealing with an injury that’s caused him to miss each of the last two games and may keep him out of this one. There has also been a carousel at right guard, where three different players have gotten starts.

It’s unclear exactly how depleted the Cowboys are, but with multiple starters getting banged up last week against Texas, the “boys up front” are learning on the fly, which could be a good thing against a WVU front-three that gained some confidence last week.

Limit the passing attack

The Cowboys have had a bend-but-don’t-break pass defense this season.

WVU offensive coordinator Jake Spavital mentioned that Oklahoma State does a good job of not letting players get too deep on them. And head coach Dana Holgorsen said the OSU secondary could be the best that WVU has faced up to this point.

Both those factors have contributed to Oklahoma State only allowing four touchdown passes all year, and never more than one score through the air in a game.

Despite that, the Cowboys enter Saturday eighth in the Big 12 when it comes to pass defense.

Defensive players to watch

Free safety Tre Flowers not only leads Oklahoma State in tackles but also in interceptions. Flowers also has registered the most pass breakups on the team with six.

DeQuinton Osbourne paces the Cowboys defense in tackles for loss with six, as he is one of four players with at least four stops behind the line of scrimmage,

Osbourne is second on the team in sacks at three, trailing only Jordan Brailford, who has 3.5 sacks. No other Cowboys defender has two.

Holgorsen Press Conference News and Notes

No. 22 West Virginia (5-2) is riding a two-game winning streak, with both wins involving fourth-quarter comebacks – one by the Mountaineers, and one against the Mountaineers that the Baylor Bears almost pulled off.

When asked about the recent comebacks, head coach Dana Holgorsen said they’re learning experiences that “give us confidence,” based on the fact that WVU has come out on the right side of the comeback both times.

“You go into that point up 25, to be in the situation we were in it’ll teach you a lot,” said Holgorsen.

Here are some other notes.

Oklahoma State worth the hype

Holgorsen and the rest of the Mountaineers that were available to the media Tuesday referred to No. 11 Oklahoma State as a top-10 team. Obviously, their ranking puts them just outside the top 10, but WVU believes the Cowboys are one of the ten best teams in the nation.

“They’re a good team. They’re an outstanding program,” Holgorsen said. “Offensively (they’re) as good as you’re going to see.”

He highlighted quarterback Mason Rudolph’s ability to throw the deep ball, and the Cowboys’ deep wide receiving corps that’s highlighted by James Washington.

Holgorsen admitted that the Mountaineers “got our work cut out for us on offense” based on what he said may be the best safety tandem they’ve seen this year in the Cowboys’ Tre Flowers and Ramon Richards.

Offensive coordinator Jake Spavital said, when asked about Oklahoma State’s defense, said the Cowboys like to keep everything in front of them, acknowledging that’s one of the biggest reasons they’ve only surrendered four passing TDs this season

Defense getting better

Despite giving up the points in the fourth quarter, Holgorsen felt good about the way the WVU defense played Saturday in Waco for the first three quarters.

He said his team simply “got gassed” in the final period.

“I thought we took a step in the right direction at stopping the run, they had minus six yards through three quarters,” Holgorsen said. “But then we got tired.”

Running Pains

The head coach said he wished they would’ve given the ball to Kennedy McKoy more with Justin Crawford not carrying the load against Baylor.

Crawford appears to be banged up and/or slightly worn down, but Holgorsen said he’s getting treatment and that those bruises come with the position.

According to the head coach, McKoy looked better than he had all year on Saturday.

Benton’s Improved and Productive

Asked about Al-Rasheed Benton’s improvement, Holgorsen praised the production that the team’s getting out of Benton.

“Probably the smartest player I’ve coached on that said of the ball,” he said. “Defensively, he’s off the charts intelligent.”

Holgorsen referenced it, and Tony Gibson confirmed, that Benton’s “production points” (a measurement of a player’s productivity on the field) are as high as any defensive player in Holgorsen’s tenure.

Noon Game Dilemma

Fans hate them, media members tolerate them, and the football team thrives on them.

That’s the status of noon games at WVU.

All three home games played thus far have kicked off with both of the clock’s hands pointing straight up, as will this weekend’s game against No. 11 Oklahoma State.

Admittedly, it’s not fun getting up that early for games. However, they do have their merits.

Noon games allow college football fans to get going early (which some were going to do anyway) and give the opportunity to watch a game in person and then head out and catch the rest of the day’s action wherever you please.

As a lot of media members agree, the noon games are a necessary evil because we get done working at 5 p.m. instead of around or after midnight for later-scheduled kickoffs.

It’s for these reasons, and more, that many celebrated the Big 12’s announcement on Monday that No. 22 West Virginia’s Week 10 contest at home against No. 25 Iowa State will start at 3:30.

Looking past sleeping in a little later on a Saturday, and looking at the record on the field, maybe Mountaineer fans should be rooting for more noon kicks.

 

  Noon Afternoon (3:30) Evening (7:30/8)
2017 4-0 0-1 1-1
2016 3-1 6-0 1-2
2015 4-2 2-1 2-2
2014 4-0 2-4 1-2
2013 3-2 1-3 0-3
2012 3-0 3-4 1-2
2011 3-1 4-0 3-2
TOTAL 24-6 18-13 9-14
Win % 80% 58% 39%

 

During the Dana Holgorsen era, the Mountaineers have thrived on early kickoffs, winning 80 percent of those games, including winning five out of eight against ranked opponents.

That, of course, came to fruition two Saturdays ago when WVU knocked off Texas Tech at Milan Puskar Stadium at noon.

After that, things become less of a sure thing with afternoon games.

WVU made great use of 3:30 kickoffs last year, going a perfect 6-0, but in years before, afternoon starts haven’t been kind to the Mountaineers.

Even less friendly are night games. For whatever reasons, West Virginia has not fared well under the lights.

WVU has an 0-10 record against ranked teams in contests that start in the dark since defeating Texas 48-45 in 2012.

Night games are great for creating atmosphere; 3:30 kickoffs please just about everyone, and WVU has had success in them; but despite the early rise, noon games might be the best option.

 

WVU Report Card: Baylor game

Another game that fans report took years off their lives ends in an unconvincing win for the No. 23 West Virginia Mountaineers Saturday evening in Waco.

WVU appeared to be in complete control through the first half but then disappeared in the second half; basically a role reversal from last weekend’s win over Texas Tech.

A win is a win at the end of the day, but a 38-36 scare against a winless Baylor team doesn’t grade the best.

Offense – C

West Virginia’s passing attack was extremely effective in the first half against the Bears. Will Grier connected with David Sills V (pronounced Sills, not Seals) for two touchdowns in the in the opening two quarters, and then once again early in the third.

Grier was finding his main targets Sills and Gary Jennings early and often, and White found his rhythm as the game went on. The WVU QB only issued four incomplete passes in the first half.

However, for the second game in a row, West Virginia didn’t have much of a running game, which is a bit of a red flag considering Baylor entered the game as the only team in the Big 12 worse at defending the run than the Mountaineers.

Kennedy McKoy led the Mountaineers with 55 rushing yards on just seven carries, while Justin Crawford only managed 30 yards on ten carries as he saw very limited action, especially in the second half.

Problems arose, offensively, after Grier’s touchdown pass to Ka’Raun White that gave WVU a 38-13 lead with 2:47 remaining in the third quarter. From that point on, the Mountaineers were forced to punt three times and only amassed 33 yards of offense.

West Virginia’s offense continues to be unable to put together a full game.

Defense – B-

Speaking of not being able to put together a full game, the WVU defense is much the same.

WVU kept a big-play-capable Baylor offense contained in the first half, only giving up six points on field goals. It also limited the Bears to a 1-for-8 conversion-rate on third down in the first half.

Things turned around in the third quarter, during which a change was made at quarterback for BU. Then Trestan Ebner put his imprint on the game, getting loose for three scores, the last of which brought Baylor to within two points.

West Virginia did seem to get more pressure than it has all year, collecting six sacks and 12 tackles for loss, led by Al-Rasheed Benton who had 1.5 sacks and 4.5 stops in the backfield.

But the second half lapses loom and show that potentially no lead is completely safe for the Mountaineers.

Special Teams – B+

The special teams units had one of their best days at the office Saturday.

Marcus Simms seems to be getting more comfortable as a kick return man, rattling off the longest return of the day at 45 yards in the third quarter.

Mike Molina was perfect on his six total kicks, drilling a short field goal and then being perfect on all extra-point attempts.

Punter Billy Kinney only had two of his six punts be returnable.

WVU’s kick return coverage wasn’t great, but it wasn’t awful by any means.

This was a good sign after the wakeup call two weeks ago against TCU.

Linemen – A

Give it up for the big boys up front Saturday.

Offensively, the Mountaineers kept the pocket clean for most of the game for Grier, which has been a problem in previous years against the Bears.

On the defensive side, West Virginia’s front three really came to play.

Lamonte McDougle continues to play well in his freshman year, and Adam Shuler arguably had his best game of the season with four tackles, a sack and two tackles for loss.

Not only did they produce themselves, but they allowed other players like Benton, Kyzir White and David Long Jr., the ability to get into the backfield as well.

Overall – B

The Mountaineers played relatively well when you break it down, but the group-effort near collapse in the second half is still concerning.

WVU did what it was supposed to do against a winless team for about three-fourths of the contest, but that final period got a little too hairy.

West Virginia will take the win, though, especially knowing that its next opponent, Oklahoma State, also played an extremely close game against a lesser opponent on Saturday.

No sleep last night. Lol. Here’s my late-night vote:
1. Alabama
2. Penn State
3. Georgia
4. TCU
5. Wisconsin
6. Ohio State
7. Miami
8. Oklahoma State
9. Oklahoma
10. Clemson
11. Notre Dame
12. Washington
13. USF
14. Virginia Tech
15. Washington State
16. N.C. State
17. Michigan State
18. UCF
19. Stanford
20. Auburn
21. WVU
22. USC
23. LSU
24. Memphis
25. Iowa State