West Virginia run game was well-prepared for copycat Texas defense

MORGANTOWN, W. Va. — Football is a game for copycats. Coaches study game film more obsessively than in any other sport, seeking the things they can exploit.

It didn’t take long to see what Texas defensive coordinator Todd Orlando thought he could take advantage of against West Virginia on Saturday.

His game plan was practically a forgery of the one Iowa State used to hand the Mountaineers their lone loss of the season. Like the Cyclones, the Longhorns consistently rushed three players with occasional added pressure, but usually dropped eight players into coverage. It was all a dare to make West Virginia establish its running game.

While the plan worked brilliantly for Iowa State, the Mountaineers exposed the Longhorns as counterfeiters. West Virginia gashed Texas left, right and center for 232 yards on 33 carries. WVU’s average of 7.03 yards per carry was its best in a single game since averaging 10.3 yards per carry in its wild 2016 loss to Oklahoma.

So what changed from that performance in Ames in which the Mountaineers were limited to an anemic 1.9 yards per carry?

For one, offensive coordinator Jake Spavital had a pretty good idea that he’d be seeing more of it.

“We’re well aware of that by now,” Spavital said. “That’s something we adjusted over the bye weekend.”

Even though he was ready for it, Spavital was surprised by the volume with which Texas mimicked Iowa State.

“We were expecting them to get into that, but they played it even more than we thought, and kind of tweaked it from what they showed on tape,” Spavital said.

The Longhorns hoped to confuse West Virginia’s offensive line. Their hopes must have gone up when left tackle Yodny Cajuste was ejected in the first quarter, but it turned out there was no fooling backup Kelby Wickline or any of the other Mountaineer linemen.

“They threw a lot of different fronts at us,” Spavital said. “Stack fronts; odd fronts; that diamond set. I thought we identified it well and blocked it well.”

In fact, Spavital felt strongly that the Mountaineers would have a huge advantage running at the Longhorns behind right tackle Colton McKivitz. That theory was proven true in short order.

“We knew that they were going to be in an odd front, and Colton is very good at that type of block,” Spavital said. “We were allowing the offensive line to block the box and having [tight end Trevon] Wesco block the perimeter stuff… When it comes down to it where you have the option either way, we like to go behind Colton.”

Head coach Dana Holgorsen thinks the answer is simpler. His belief is that anyone attempting to do what Iowa State did is going to end up disappointed.

“I’m getting really tired of talking about Iowa State,” Holgorsen said. “We aren’t going to let that define us. I was happy with our coaches and players in not letting that define us. That’s not who we were. I thought we buried that going against Baylor and playing the most complete game we’ve played all year, then you go on the road and play another top-20 team and you play well enough to win. That’s who we are.”

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