MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Examining the ups-and-downs from West Virginia’s performance in a closer-than-expected 33-23 loss to No. 2 Alabama:
“I was happy with Clint. I thought he played well, he competed well. He knew where to go with the ball. He got a little bit antsy back there at times and missed some throws, but when you’re looking at what he’s looking at, that’s going to happen. (Alabama is) obviously pretty good defensively and do a good job of getting to the quarterback at times.”
Trickett put the ball in play and kept it secure while absorbing three sacks. His only moment of nervous feet came on a hurried jump pass he threw behind White on a crossing route.
Rushel Shell gained 37 yards on his first six carries, flattening Tide linebacker Reuben Foster on a pile-moving 14-yarder. Bama’s defensive front tightened up in the second half, when Shell had 1 yard on four carries. Dreamius Smith was a nonfactor with 9 yards on three rushes, and Wendell Smallwood’s big-time receiving skills (six for 73 yards) compensated for a slow night running.
With the passing game clicking, WVU’s running backs were de-emphasized to 19 carries for 58 yards, and offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson sensed the ratio became too unbalanced.
“If you ask me coming off the field without watching tape, we probably need to hand off the ball more,” he said. “We’ve got talented running backs, so we need to hand it to them more.”
Kevin White was extraordinary all day, Jordan Thompson made an extraordinary tumbling catch for 32 yards, and Mario Alford was functional in the quick game. But Alford dropped a screen, Thompson failed to make two catches in traffic and Daikiel Shorts failed to make any catches at all. Redshirt freshman Shelton Gibson was targeted on consecutive plays—catching the first for 4 yards and dropping the next one on a crucial third-down pass. Devonte Mathis dropped his lone target.
Looking beyond the drops, WVU’s receivers certainly showed more synchronicity with Trickett. With nine catches for 143 yards and one score, White was downright beastly, playing up to his bigness on high-lofted passes. (Alabama corner Brandon Sylve suffered the kind of abuse some Big 12 cornerbacks might face down the road.) White nearly burned Bama for a second TD before Cyrus Jones poked away a fade pass in the corner of the end zone.
While the pass protection overall was decent most of the game—particularly considering the opponent—left tackle Adam Pankey was beaten by Xzavier Dickson for a sack and allowed Ryan Anderson to come free for a hurry.
Dickson pushed back right tackle Marquis Lucas and was credited with a second sack when Trickett was called for intentional grounding. Mark Glowinski also yielded a sack on a one-on-one move by Jonathan Allen.
Tyler Orlosky’s botched snap on third-and-goal from the 5 forced West Virginia to settle for a field goal.
Quinton Spain, after leaving briefly with an apparent arm injury, returned on WVU’s subsequent series.
With West Virginia’s throwing success leading Alabama to stick with its nickel and dime packages, it stood to reason the running game would spring some big gainers. Instead, WVU averaged only 1.2 yards per carry, and even with sacks removed, the per-carry average on designed runs was 3 yards.
“We knew that (Alabama was tough to run against), so we weren’t going to just sit there and run it into the teeth of their defense if it wasn’t very successful,” Holgorsen said.
Defensive end Dontrill Hyman led the group with eight tackles but didn’t generate much penetration. The senior was pancaked by Tide freshman Cam Robinson on Henry’s 19-yard touchdown run.
“We were trying to punish them, man,” said Tide right tackle Austin Shepherd. “Every chance we got, drive them into the ground, get into their head and they’ll start thinking about it and finally they’ll wear down.”
Saturday also was a quiet debut for transfer defensive end Shaq Riddick, held in check on several pass-rushing situations. Noble Nwachukwu (five tackles) was active, and Kyle Rose (five tackles) made a third-and-2 stop on Yeldon to force a field goal in the fourth quarter.
Christian Brown (one tackle, one offside penalty) rotated snaps with Rose at the nose, while sophomore Darrien Howard did not see action.
Edward Muldrow made two tackles, one on the first play after Golson left briefly with an injury. Al-Rasheed Benton subbed at Mike after Kwiatkoski was leveled by a crack-back block from Cooper.
None of the linebackers produced a TFL, though Alabama ran the ball 49 times, and Golson wasn’t a factor rushing the passer.
“Our offense did what they had to do and we couldn’t stop them when we needed to,” said defensive coordinator Tony Gibson, whose unit allowed 538 yards—84 more than last year’s average that ranked 101st nationally.
As many cornerbacks would, Worley had a hellacious time chasing Amari Cooper, who caught 12 passes for 130 yards and ran wide-open on two other occasions. (“He’s an All-American for a reason,” said Gibson.) WVU’s best corner also was among the six DBs who whiffed on DeAndrew White’s 38-yard third-down catch-and-run.
Through an otherwise tough night, Worley produced the game’s only turnover with a fourth-quarter interception. He also busted up a screen play for a 3-yard loss by slipping past Cooper’s block.
Worley’s 11 tackles were a career-high, but not even close to team leader Karl Joseph, who made 18.
Freshman free safety Dravon Henry received a ticky-tack interference call, but made six tackles, including a hit that separated White’s shoulder.
K.J. Dillon had a TFL among his six stops and several fruitless cracks at Sims as an edge blitzer. He also got lucky in deep coverage when Christion Jones dropped a 55-yard moon ball from Sims.
Alford was tackled by Bama’s Jabriel Washington on the first kick return, but the next time he slipped away from Washington and sped away for a 100-yard touchdown that tied the game at 17-all. “When I made that one guy miss, I knew it was a wrap,” Alford said.
Josh Lambert converted 3-of-4 field goals with a lone miss from 47 yards, and Nick O’Toole dropped four punts inside the 20 with no touchbacks.
Two poor returns left WVU pinned deep, however. Thompson fielded a 62-yard punt sprinting back to his 6-yard line and Shell only reached the 9 on a slow-developing kick return.
In what could be a make-or-break season for Holgorsen, he and his offensive coaches had West Virginia in attack mode. As it turned out, WVU’s only chance was to outscore Alabama, since the defense was overmatched.
The fact the offense scored one touchdown disturbed Holgorsen, considering WVU crossed into Alabama territory on seven possessions. That gave the Mountaineers a chance in this game, something few outside the locker room believed they had.