MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — From Will Grier’s electric arm to Dravon Askew-Henry’s revival of confidence, the film room brings another dimension to West Virginia’s 20-16 takedown of Iowa State:
Ka’Raun White gets deep
First, we applaud the dulcet, Ozarkian tones of ESPN analyst Tommy Tuberville for referring to Jake “Speevital” throughout the broadcast. He mentioned the offensive coordinator four times and went 0-for-4 on pronunciation. On this play, Coach Tubs also credited “La’Raun” White with the TD catch. Whatever his first name, Iowa State couldn’t cover him.
Spavital sensed all week that this bomb would land, though he did not predict Will Grier needing a 60-yard heave to make it so.
“I was just impressed by how far he threw the ball. Like I didn’t expect it to get there,” Spavital said. “I was in shock. I went up to Will after the play and told him I hadn’t seen very many throws like that in my career.”
A big-time throw to match a timely play-call. David Sills running an underneath post preoccupied Reggie Wilkerson (6) long enough for White to break deep behind him.
In the pocket Grier waited 4 seconds to unleash the throw, comforted by an offensive line that handled the three-man rush and Martell Pettaway stopped blitzing Joel Lanning (7) in his tracks.
Askew-Henry negates large Lazard
Iowa State had to love Allen Lazard (5) in this matchup, especially after cornerback Elijah Battle didn’t do much to slow down the 6-foot-5 receiver off the line. But Tony Gibson had to love seeing Dravon Askew-Henry make the kind of pass breakup he hasn’t made since 2015.
With the tying touchdown denied, Iowa State eventually settled for a field goal.
“That receiver can go up and make catches over almost anybody,” said WVU’s defensive coordinator, “but Dravon made a heck of a play. That’s the kid I remember. He had by far his best game of the year.”
Bailey erases catastrophe
If Lazard’s jumpball at the goal line made Gibby anxious, this pass brought full-on panic.
West Virginia was clinging to a four-point lead on the Cyclones’ final drive when Trever Ryen (19) ran free from the slot on a go route. Only his bobble allowed cornerback Hakeem Bailey to catch up and break up a 40-plus gainer, but don’t chide Bailey for being beaten on the play. The sophomore had flat responsibility and peeled off to run with Ryen. Good thing for WVU that he did because the over-the-top safety busted the assignment.
“Hakeem saw it, recognized it, said ‘Oh boy’ and then he recovered,” Gibson said. “It was the play of the game because that could’ve cost us.”
One play later, when he undercut a third-and-7 crossing route intended for Lazard, Bailey finally flashed the disruptive skills he hinted at during preseason camp.
The strong finish followed Bailey giving up a 1-yard TD to Lazard in the third quarter, along with a face-mask penalty and two pass-interference flags.
“I told him to keep playing. I thought they were B.S. calls, but it happens, so forget about it, move on and make a play — and he did,” Gibson said. “That’s the first time I’ve seen him compete like that.”
Daniels injured on unflagged late hit
Bailey’s extended action resulted from starter Mike Daniels being knocked out of the game on a first-quarter hit by Lazard. While the block didn’t rise to the level of targeting, it certainly came late enough and far enough away from the pile to bring an unnecessary roughness flag.
Still, you’ve got to love the hard-nosed perspective of cornerbacks Doug Belk. Instead of whining about the no-call, he dinged Daniels for not being more assertive and getting in on the tackle.
“I always tell them: Stand around the pile if you want to, but you’ll see what happens.”
Daniels joined three other injured starters already missing — defensive end Adam Shuler, safety Toyous Avery and linebacker Xavier Preston — along with two key backups. Yet Iowa State was held to 350 yards and half its scoring average.
“For what we put out there I was so proud of these guys,” Gibson said. “You guys have seen everybody in this league, and it’s hard to hold an offense down.”
McKivitz: Working outside and in
Though occasionally flexing its muscle, West Virginia’s running game finished 1-of-5 on third-down tries of 5 yards or less. The first clip here became a TFL thanks to linebacker Willie Harvey (2) firing off the right edge, and disguising his blitz until offensive tackle Colton McKivitz glanced inside for the snap.
“(Coach) Wick came off the sideline and didn’t have too many nice things to say about the play,” McKivitz said. “That’s one of the five or six plays during film study where I wanted to hide my head.”
Had McKivitz recognized blitz he would’ve pushed out on Harvey, leaving guard Kyle Bosch to handle defensive end Spencer Benton (46) one-one-one. But the double-team call had already occurred and West Virginia’s linemen are still acclimating to the snap tempo of first-year center Matt Jones.
“With the change at center, there’s a new rhythm of snapping,” Bosch said. “We’re all honed in on the ball and, unfortunately, you bring up an edge pressure and sometimes it bites us on the butt. That’s tough. In that scenario it just sucks. It’s a catch-22 and sometimes you get burned.”
(Note: Bosch recalled a play at TCU, where he was alerting the line to a third-and-long exterior blitz when the snap occurred and “I’m still in my stance for a half-second” after the ball’s in play.)
The second play in this sequence shows McKivitz at his best, pulling inside and pancaking the Cyclones’ top tackler Lanning.
“I got him down a couple of times,” McKivitz said. “It was fun because I didn’t get to pull much as a tackle in high school.”
Don’t bash Grier’s interception
Fans decried WVU throwing deep on third-and-5 in a clock-chewing situation, and Tuberville joined the critics.
“I don’t understand the call,” he said. “They needed 5 yards for a first down to keep running the clock, but they tried to go deep and the play wasn’t there.”
Actually the play was there, considering Sills had a step — and a six-inch height advantage — on cornerback D’Andre Payne. Grier checked into the deep route upon spotting a seven-man box and press coverage on Sills. Spavital wholly supported the change.
“I told Will I’d do that 100 times, so just keep doing it, keep trusting it,” the coordinator said. “They’ve got great continuity and I’ve seen Sills come down with that throw many times. He did on that same throw at Baylor.”
West Virginia’s 208 yards rushing boiled down to 4.4 per carry, lending some credence (in a vacuum) to the case for WVU running it twice in order to extend the drive. Then again, don’t overlook the short-yardage failures mentioned earlier seven-man box.
Likewise, don’t dismiss Grier averaging 12.4 yards per pass attempt Saturday, an increase of 4 yards over his season average.
Diamond brings different results
Some 63 of Kennedy McKoy’s 76 total yards came during the final 7:19, a relief effort sparked by fresh legs.
In this two-play sequence, West Virginia twice dusted off the diamond formation. The first snap resulted in a 16-yard gain thanks to defensive end JaQuan Bailey (19) pinching inside. That allowed tight end Trevon Wesco to kick out on the linebacker and Elijah Wellman to provide a trouble-free escort.
West Virginia tried it a second time a series later. Bailey didn’t crash down. McKoy didn’t make it out of his backfield.
“They’re great coaches,” Spavital said of Iowa State. “We came back with it again and they had it dialed up and stopped it for a 4-yard loss.”
Tonkery jumpstarts the defense
Dylan Tonkery never took so much needling for creating a turnover.
“He’ll probably never get an easier chance for a pick-six,” said linebackers coach David Scott. “But at least he knocked it up into the air long enough for Al to make the play.”
Al-Rasheed Benton made the lunging interception that stoked the Mountaineers to a 10-0 lead, and Tonkery made it happen in his first start at Sam linebacker. (Recall, he filled in at Will linebacker during David Long’s absence.)
Everything was predicated on a read by Tonkery, drawn down to the line of scrimmage by the pulling action from right guard Josh Knipfel (66). Tonkery saw tailback David Montgomery flaring, but Kyle Kempt didn’t see Tonkery — perhaps obscured by the hulking Knipfel.
As excited as the sideline became over the game’s first turnover, Tonkery continues being heckled about the pick-six that got away.
“It hasn’t ended yet,” he said Tuesday. “Everyone has said something to me at least once or twice about it.”