MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — For a revealing epilogue on Oklahoma State’s third consecutive win over West Virginia, let’s make our weekly trip inside the film room to break down 50-39:
Who could’ve guessed that WVU’s most impactful No. 25 would be freshman walk-on Osman Kamara and not Justin Crawford? His blocked punt jolted Milan Puskar Stadium to life and earned some scouting kudos for the Mountaineers’ much-maligned special teams.
On the right edge, Oklahoma State’s Za’Carrius Green (18) blocks down against Martell Pettaway, leaving the wide-split Kamara a free rush. This wasn’t necessarily a mistake by Green.
“We had seen on film where they weren’t consistently taking care of outside pressure,” said West Virginia special teams coach Mark Scott. “A lot of times their guys would just up and release and try to let operation time take care of it.”
In this case, “operation time” became an eternity for punter Zach Sinor, who’s leisurely approach allowed Kamara to race in.
“We flipped our inside pressure,” Scott said, “and we were able to draw that shied and get our guys free off the edge.”
Speaking of the shield, Logan Thimons scissored right through it and might have blocked the punt if not for Kamara getting there first.
Sills faults himself for first interception
Will Grier’s four-interception game represented quite a plunge for the All-American candidate. But West Virginia’s other All-American candidate, David Sills, blamed himself for throwing off the timing on this turnover.
Notice linebacker Chad Whitener (45) creeping closer to the line pre-snap? Sills noticed it and anticipated Grier throwing to the outside window. When Whitener retreated into zone coverage, the receiver slowed coming out of his break, which meant bad tidings when Grier threw into the inside window.
“I could been a little bit faster though there,” Sills said. “I wasn’t sure whether Will wanted to put it behind the linebacker or in front of him, so I was a little hesitant going through.
“If I wasn’t hesitant then it would’ve been right in stride. Something very small but it turned into something big. When we we’re looking back at the film, it looked like I wasn’t going as fast I could through there, so I’m going to take the blame for that one.”
Passing game thrown off
Pass-game timing mistakes became so rampant you would’ve guessed it was Week 1, and offensive coordinator Jake Spavital saw “some things we hadn’t done all year.”
Here, Grier throws two more interceptions with neither receiver expecting the ball.
First clip: Gary Jennings ran down the seam but only safety Jerel Morrow made a play on the pass. “That’s a play that Gary has actually scored on and Gary wasn’t looking at that one,” Spavital said.
(Aside to the throw: Grier’s mechanics weren’t the sharpest Saturday, and his left foot slipped on this release, causing the ball to sail.)
Second clip: Oklahoma State’s blitz brought linebacker Calvin Bundage (1) stunting up the middle so Grier hurries a throw down the sideline.
“We missed a three technique up front so there’s a guy in Will’s face,” Spavital said. “He was trying to throw that one out of bounds and just didn’t get it there.”
With the corner giving such a cushion, Simms’ normally shuts down the route. But here he takes it deep, Grier’s back-foot pass wobbles, and cornerback A.J. Green intercepts.
The Mountaineers converted 2-of-15 third downs, an abysmal percentage that turned comical here when Matt Jones’ premature snap resulted in a 11-yard loss.
Notice Ka’Raun White and Sills swapping spots at the bottom of the screen? That was because WVU wanted Sills lined up outside against zone and inside against press man.
Grier yelled “easy, easy” at his linemen, giving the receivers time to flop. Every lineman heard the cue to hold, except the one with his fingers on the football.
“Matt actually made a great protection call on it, but it just wasn’t supposed to be snapped at that point,” Spavital said. “You see Matt make his point and snap it while everyone was waiting.”
Because two receivers were shifting at the snap, WVU hoped for a false start penalty to pre-empt the play and prompt a third-and-12 do-over. Instead, it became punting time.
The Dravon Askew-Henry of 2017 has not approached the 2015 version. No doubt 2016’s knee injury is to blame, but whatever the origin of the safety’s funk, defensive coordinator Tony Gibson said “he needs to snap out of it.”
In this three-clip sequence of plays not made, we begin with Justice Hill’s 39-yard run — a chunk play unleashed by Askew-Henry’s poor backside angle unleashing Normally a free safety, he shifted to Bandit to compensate for Toyous Avery’s hand injury. Not that his coach enlists the position move as an excuse.
“He’s a kid who should be able to play, Spur, free (safety) or Bandit and we should never miss a beat,” Gibson said. “But I hold him to a whole different standard than a lot of these guys. The kid has started more games than anybody in this building. I’m probably harder on him than anybody else on our defense, because of the relationship we have. I know what he can do.”
Gibson recruited Askew-Henry out of Aliquippa, Pa., where those ties helped seal Monday’s commitment from family friend and current Aliquippa standout Kwantel Raines. Gibson trusted Askew-Henry to start as a true freshman against Alabama, and for two seasons the productivity was so good that the safety emerged as an early draft prospect entering 2016.
Then came last year’s torn ACL, the months of rehab, and now this season’s uninspiring return.
“Right now it’s no secret he’s not playing well,” Gibson said. “He’s been told that, and I challenged him this week in front of the whole defense.”
In the second clip here, Askew-Henry has the best shot at running back J.D. King (27) on a third-and-goal swing pass yet the OSU freshman scored.
In the third clip, even 245-pound fullback Sione Finefeuiaki (42) makes Askew-Henry miss. That’s not the same player who roamed the secondary
“Dravon, that kid is tough to the core,” Gibson said. “He just needs to start playing with confidence and trust his abilities. All it’s going to take is him making a play. Just don’t let his mind lock his feet up.”
Rudolph limited on deep throws
West Virginia wanted to test Mason Rudolph’s sore right shoulder. His first deep throw provided a clue when the pass floated into a near-interception for Elijah Battle.
“I could tell there was something wrong with Rudolph at that point,” Gibson said. “He was moving his arm and didn’t look comfortable. He didn’t look the same throwing the deep ball.”
Rudolph’s next deep throw also lacked zip, neutering James Washington’s normally-lethal post route. This time Kyzir White missed the interception opportunity, but Gibson recognized that OSU’s downfield shots weren’t a concern.
After the game Rudolph revealed that he had barely practiced during the week preceding it.
Those second-half pendulum swings against Texas Tech and Baylor had nothing on what was transpiring Saturday when Kenny Robinson ran back an interception 39 yards. Born-again WVU had its second non-offensive touchdown in 50 seconds, and a sign of what the secondary could accomplish when it didn’t have to respect the deep shot.
The freshman Robinson — having moved from corner to free safety after the Avery-related shuffling — had slot receiver Jalen McCleskey (1) clamped on the crossing route. It’s a panic throw, one Rudolph made while sensing blitzer Dylan Tonkery from behind and seeing David Long roaring in front.
Controversial pass interference
Early fourth quarter, third-and-11 from midfield, and the defense was seeking to hold Oklahoma State scoreless for a sixth consecutive drive.
Hakeem Bailey had the coverage, and Chris Lacy had almost no chance of catching the pass, but the senior receiver created contact and coaxed a pass interference flag — thrown by an official on the opposite side of the field.
WVU cornerbacks coach Doug Belk diplomatically credited Lacy with “a vet move.” The sideline reactions from Gibson and Dana Holgorsen were far huffier.
Belk said Bailey could’ve helped his case by “squeezing into (Lacy) earlier” and taking away the separation: “If you squeeze into him, he can’t jump into you as much. He’s got to try to jump over you.”
Bailey’s late head-turn toward the ball was enough to satiate the nearby officials, but unfortunately for WVU, the no-call wasn’t unanimous. When the Cowboys scored seven plays later, the comeback evaporated.
Long not self-impressed
A record-setting afternoon for West Virginia’s sophomore linebacker impressed everyone except the guy who made those 18 tackles and seven TFLs.
“Without a win I don’t think it means much,” David Long said.
In that case, we’ll let others brag on him. Defensive line coach Bruce Tall said Long “played out of his mind.” Linebackers coach Mark Scott sees a “natural ability for David to see a small crease and find his way through it.” Gibson said the undersized defender could play for any defense in the country “if you put on the tape from Saturday.”
From all the negative-yardage stops, Gibson said Long’s most impressive play was the first clip here, bursting through three offensive linemen to disrupt a screen. (Long merely lamented, “I still should’ve made that tackle.”)
The second clip reacquaints us with OSU fullback Sione Finefeuiaki (42), who doesn’t get a pad on the TFL missile. The third clip shows Long recognizing the draw and closing ground on J.D. King for a 3-yard loss. The final clip shows another blocking back frustrated by Long darting through.
Said Tall: “The way David hits that line of scrimmage, it’s just amazing.”