MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — The margin between the unbeaten and the twice-beaten appeared mighty slim Saturday after TCU dealt West Virginia a 31-24 defeat.
For more on the inner workings, let’s wade into the film room where we vow to highlight plays that don’t involve phantom offensive PIs and overturned interceptions:
Olonilua gets up on the goal-line
TCU’s typically terrific third-down offense wasn’t so terrific Saturday (5-of-16). Yet the Horned Frogs prevailed because they punched in two goal-line scores on third down. Force two field goals instead, and we’re toasting the West Virginia defense today.
While the Mountaineers had solid leverage on both occasions, the ballcarriers simply made winning finishes. Like here, where 6-foot-3 wildcat phenom Sewo Olonilua leaped over backside linebacker Xavier Preston in the hole.
“We locked eyes and I thought he was going to go low so I went low, but then he went high,” Preston said. “I thought we’d just meet head-up.”
Sills bunched up
West Virginia unveiled its own short-yardage wrinkle by bringing David Sills tight on this fourth-and-1.
The lanky receiver has lined up at H-back on previous pass plays to create matchup problems. Here he was simply deployed as a shield against any backside run blitzer who might pour in and trip up Justin Crawford.
“He’s just there to protect,” said offensive coordinator Jake Spavital. “I’m not asking him to drive-block a guy.”
Frogs strike deep despite Cover 3
One play after a botched route led to a Will Grier interception, TCU set up in plus territory, emboldened to take a deep shot. Defensive coordinator Tony Gibson anticipated it, and had an ideal Cover 3 call for the situation, with each cornerback assigned to bail and take his deep third of the field.
Cover 3 is designed to make it difficult to complete passes over the top, and that would have been the case here had freshman cornerback Kenny Robinson played softer.
Instead Frogs freshman Jalen Reagor ran by Robinson, resulting in the play that Gibson said “pisses me off the most.”
“Everybody in America knows they’re going to take a shot,” Gibson said. He later amended that statement to add, “Well, everybody knew but one guy.”
Robinson’s fearlessness earned him a spot in the lineup. Sometimes fearlessness should be trumped by situational awareness.
“We told our guys right before that, ‘They’re going to take a shot’ and we’re in Cover 3. Unless they let us play with 12 men, there’s no better coverage for a deep ball than that,” Gibson said.
Grier-to-Sills takes the lid off
West Virginia trailed 17-3 with its offense floundering through six consecutive scoreless series (seven, if you include the punt-return calamity).
Spavital kept telling his guys the explosive plays would hit, and this 64-yarder from Will Grier to Sills broke the seal.
TCU safety Niko Small (2) bit down, curiously concerned more with second-stringer Reggie Roberson than the nation’s top touchdown-catcher.
“I’m not sure what the safety saw,” Sills said. “I’m not sure whether it was a blown coverage or whatever, but Will put a great ball out there. Then the backside safety rolled over and I just had to make him miss.”
The Mountaineers ultimately piled up 508 yards along with the consolation prize of dropping TCU from 29th to 49th nationally in the total defense rankings.
Ka’Raun White gets deep
Twice in the first half Gary Patterson blitzed Ranthony Texada (11) on well-disguised cornerback fires. When TCU tried it a third time, Ka’Raun White found himself accelerating toward flat-footed safety Nick Orr (18). The receiver broke outside and gave Orr a swim-type move, creating all the space Grier needed.
White still had work to do on the 76-yard touchdown, however, with Orr in trail position nearby.
Whereas receivers sometimes can glimpse the stadium video board to see defenders closing in, White was was racing away from the big screen, making his last getaway wiggle completely instinctual.
“I just knew I had to stay on my feet,” he said. “I felt (Orr) so I tried to turn because I knew he was going to dive at my ankles.”
Patterson faulted himself for getting greedy with the corner blitz, which right tackle Colton McKivitz spotted.
“I put the safety one-on-one,” Patterson said. “That’s how you let people back in to ballgames. I have to take the blame for that. It can’t be Nick Orr. It’s not his fault, that’s mine.”
Ka’Raun White gets cagey
White caught six passes total for a career-best 138 yards, combining with Grier on two key possession-down hookups.
The first clip is pure savvy on both their parts. Against zone defense on third-and-10, White curls at the sticks and finds himself momentarily covered up by defensive end Ty Summers (42), a converted linebacker with the mobility to drop in coverage. As White slides to the open area, Grier’s throw is already threading between inside linebacker Travin Howard (32) and Summers, resulting in a 20-yard gain.
“If the first window is closed, you’ve got to go the second window,” White said. “I just went to the next open window because I knew Will was looking for me on that play.”
Said receivers coach Tyron Carrier: “These receivers know where their landmarks are at. They know they have to work to get open — they don’t just run a certain route and it’s always in the same spot.”
Recognizing zone coverage was crucial, same as spotting man coverage underneath in the second clip, a fourth-and-4 conversion in the fourth quarter. White runs a slant from the top of the screen and essentially posts up the cornerback Texada (11), who’s giving away three inches and 30 pounds.
White made the catch peeking around the umpire and admitted, “I was trying to use him as a pick.”
West Virginia had an actual pick working in front of White, with receiver Gary Jennings bumping off safety Innis Gaines and clearing David Sills on the crossing route. Grier had the luxury of two open receivers on a play where TCU dropped nine defenders in coverage.
Grier misfires in the red zone
Because quarterbacks aren’t robots, there’s a margin-of-error variable even a hot-handed Grier can’t escape. Witness West Virginia’s opening series, which would’ve registered a 97-yard monster march if not for this errant pass sailing out of the end zone.
Sills came open from the slot, only not in the way anyone anticipated. He stutter-stepped expecting cornerback Tony James (28) to bite on Marcus Simms’ post route. When that confusion didn’t take, Sills kept his route inside of James and actually provided Grier an easier window. There was simply too much arm behind this one, and West Virginia settled for a 3-0 lead.
“Will was trying to give me a chance where it was either my ball or no one’s ball,” Sills said.
‘We’re screwed’ until Kyzir White arrives
West Virginia had TCU’s third-and-short tendency scouted, with the Frogs typically running read-zone out of 11 personnel (one tight end, one running back).
Instead, the offense came out with two tight ends in 12 personnel and Tony Gibson was more than spooked: “When they lined up, I thought, ‘Oh boy, we’re screwed here.’”
From the bunched-up formation, Kenny Hill flicked a misdirection pitch to 5-8 jitterbug Kenedy Snell, who would have seen open field if not for Spur safety Kyzir White keeping backside containment.
“We had not worked that play,” Gibson said. “Thank goodness Kyzir is a football player. He made me look like a very smart coach right there.”
Ben Banogu deserves the hype
No doubt, Grier wants this throw back too, after over-flipping Sills for what could have set up for first-and-goal.
Something else is happening here. Watch Grier’s footwork after the three-step drop, because he clearly thinks he’s throwing to running back Martell Pettaway on the wheel route. And watch the feet of 6-foot-4 defensive end of Ben Banogu (15), who’s covering Pettaway step-for-step on the sideline.
West Virginia’s play-caller did not see this sort of athleticism coming. How could he?
“We flared the running back out of the backfield and it was like nothing for 15 to cover him up,” Spavital said. “We put Pettaway on the wheel route and the D-end just ran him down.”
Banogu impressed Grier and Spavital plenty throughout Saturday, with a sack and three hurries. He’s no doubt impressing all the Power 5 schools who underestimated him in 2014 coming out of Prosper, Texas. The recruiting service 247Sports rated him the No. 472 prospect — not in the nation but in his own state — and Banogu spent his freshman year at Louisiana-Monroe, the only FBS program to offer a scholarship.
“He’s probably the best defensive end in the country from what I’ve seen — that kid’s unbelievable,” Spavital said. “We need to hype that kid up so he can get out of here and declare early.”
Patterson pivots quickly
Crawford’s 38-yard run on WVU’s opening snap got the Mountaineers off their goal line. It also got TCU’s defensive staff reacting.
“I give Gary Patterson a lot of credit,” Spavital said. “When we hit him with something, he has his correction immediately. It’s not like he lets it bleed out for a little bit. He makes the adjustment right now.”
To open up this run, center Matt Jones and right guard Kyle Bosch double-teamed TCU defensive tackle Ross Blacklock (90), a 326-pounder who turned down offers from Alabama, Texas A&M, LSU, Texas and Miami.
West Virginia anticipated Blacklock being tough to move and game-planned accordingly. Patterson pivoted and began lining up tackles over both A gaps to curb the inside runs.
“He forces you to get away from what you’ve been calling,” Spavital said.
Tony Gibson can stomach TCU ambushing West Virginia with this QB throwback to Kenny Hill. The fact it turned into a 48-yard touchdown remains less tolerable.
Linebacker David Long, who smelled trickery upon seeing Ka’Vontae Turpin slow down, spun back and squirted through the convoy of blockers, nearly wrecking the play. Though unable to bring down Hill, Long at least slowed the quarterback and funneled him toward the pursuit.
But the pursuit never laid a hand on Hill as he raced down the sideline.
“David did a great job, with how he got through those linemen, but he was out at practice Sunday still pissed that he missed the tackle,” Gibson said. “You wish two or three other guys had done their job and it’s maybe a 10-yard gain.”
Gibson’s aggressive brand of defense doesn’t preclude players from staying assignment-sound. Because West Virginia had zone coverage called here, the exposure should not have been so damaging.
“We need to have guys do their job and quit just running all over the field,” Gibson said. “I think people use that against us because of our aggression. We do fly around and our kids play hard, but we weren’t blitzing — we were in a zone that time.
“We had a few guys lose their minds for a second and it ended up getting us.”