MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – In order to get his offense moving forward against North Carolina State, Neal Brown had West Virginia move sideways.
Motion was a major part of the Mountaineers first-half game plan. West Virginia put someone in motion on 14 of its 31 first-half snaps. On eight of those motions, there was jet- or fly-sweep action that made the wide receiver a threat to take handoffs or short shovel passes from Austin Kendall.
“We tried to get them running east and west early,” Brown said. “We felt we could get them moving east and west to go north and south.”
The split was even more dramatic before West Virginia’s 10-play touchdown drive in a three-minute drill to end the first half. The Mountaineers sent a man in motion on 13 of their first 21 plays, but maintained a more straightforward approach in the hurry-up attack.
Once the Wolfpack had the offense pegged, the Mountaineers changed things up.
In the second half, West Virginia only ran motion on 10 of its 37 snaps. Three of the motions came on the final touchdown drive that was capped by Leddie Brown’s 3-yard touchdown run – basically, WVU went away from pre-snap movement until it needed to put the game away.
Motion wasn’t the only wrinkle to West Virginia’s East-West approach.
Quarterback Austin Kendall had five designed rollouts to force the defense to cover horizontal ground. Of Kendall’s 40 pass attempts, no fewer than eight were crossing patterns that adhered to the same principles.
Kendall’s 9-yard pitch-and-catch with freshman Ali Jennings was among the most impressive plays of the game.
After selling the handoff on a play-action, Kendall threw a dart that only Jennings had a chance at catching. But Kendall said the touchdown was all Jennings.
“That was a low ball. To me, that really wasn’t a very good throw,” Kendall said. “That was a good catch. I told him that was a really nice job.”
It was Jennings’ first career touchdown catch.
Sleeper of the game
Receiver Sean Ryan left early with an injury, but not before making two significant contributions to the victory.
Things went awry on West Virginia’s second offensive play, a designed double-pass. After catching the backwards pass from Kendall, Ryan had the poise not to force anything downfield when nothing was available. Thanks to a block from tight end Jovani Haskins, he then escaped what should have been a 7-yard loss and worked his way towards the line of scrimmage.
Once he got that far, Ryan was sprung by none other than his quarterback, who managed to block two defenders on the play. Instead of facing a third-and-long, the Mountaineers were on their way to a confidence-boosting early lead.
Ryan’s crucial sideline catch early in the third quarter was also a game-changing moment. Initially ruled incomplete, the call was overturned when replay officials saw that Ryan tapped his foot inbounds. The first-down grab eliminated the possibility of West Virginia punting out of its own end zone on the opening drive of the second half.
The Mountaineers managed to make their way all the way down the field to take the lead on an Evan Staley field goal.
What was that?
More than a few folks were left scratching their heads when holder Josh Growden took a knee on West Virginia’s final PAT. But it was a case of basic mathematics.
In the unlikely event that Staley’s extra point was blocked, N.C. State could have returned it for 2 points, cutting the margin to 44-29 – a two-possession game. By taking the knee, West Virginia assured itself of maintaining a three-possession lead with 3:04 remaining, making a Wolfpack comeback virtually impossible.
As Pitt proved by missing a 19-yard field goal at Penn State Saturday, there’s no such thing as a sure thing in the kicking game.
By the numbers
The Mountaineers are no longer the nation’s worst rushing offense after gaining 173 yards against the Wolfpack.
West Virginia moved up from 130th to 118th in yards per carry, boosting its average to 2.82 ypc. The rushing attack moved from 129th to 123rd as it improved its average to 79 yards per game.
The Mountaineers also shed the distinction of being the only team in the country without a running play of at least 10 yards. WVU had three gains over 10 against N.C. State.
Defensively, West Virginia is in the Top 20 in two different categories.
The Mountaineers are 19th nationally in explosive plays allowed. Opponents have seven gains over 20 yards.
WVU is second in the country in pass breakups with 17. Only Central Florida has been credited with more PBUs (21).