Massive time of possession edge crucial to West Virginia win at Kansas

LAWRENCE, Kan. – By the numbers, West Virginia should not have beaten Kansas on Saturday.

The Jayhawks averaged 7.4 yards per play on offense, while the Mountaineers averaged 4.6 per play. This season, teams who average better than 7 yards per play are 73-2 against teams averaging fewer than 5 yards per play.

So how did West Virginia do it?

The blueprint is similar to the one Iowa used against Iowa State in the only other instance of a team winning in this scenario this season – dominating time of possession. West Virginia maintained a 15-minute edge in possession against Kansas, showing that sometimes the best defense is your own offense.

Put another way, West Virginia had the ball for literally an entire quarter more than Kansas.

The most crucial aspect of WVU’s ability to maintain possession was its success on third down. Coming into the game averaging around 35 percent on third-down conversions, the Mountaineers converted 9 of 18 at Kansas.

“I don’t know if we’ve ever had 18 in a game,” Brown said. “That might be a school record.”

Most of that success came on manageable third-down situations. With 5 or less yards to go, the Mountaineers were 6 of 8. Five of those conversions were runs, representing a major step forward for an offense that was averaging 1.1 yards per carry after its first two games.

“You have to start with Matt Moore and Chad Scott, our offensive coordinators,” Brown said. “They’ve done a nice job of finding a way to get us going in the run game. Austin Kendall has been effective in the RPO game, which has allowed us to get hats out of the box.

“And I think our kids are finishing blocks better. Schematically, we’re more in-tune with what our strengths are. And I think we’re running the ball harder. Our fullbacks and tight ends are doing a better job as well.”

The trick kick that never was

If it’s a close game against Les Miles, you can bet there will be some form of trickery pulled out of his mad hat.

His ruse against West Virginia was a particularly elaborate one. Miles instructed kicker Liam Jones to feign an injury after celebrating a 23-yard field goal to cut WVU’s lead to 17-10. The idea was that West Virginia wouldn’t wonder why backup kicker Jacob Borcila – the Jayhawks’ onside kick specialist – was on the field for the kickoff.

WVU special-teamer Dante Bonamico was prepared for the play, though it bounced out of his grasp as KU’s Jamahl Horne collided with him. Horne was called for kick-catch interference – a correct call due to the fact the ball was popped into the air rather than first bounced off the ground.

“We went into the game thinking they would [try something],” Brown said. “We were lined up to take it away from them, and Les kind of rolled the dice on it. The call was right. I know the fans here didn’t like it, but it was the right call.”

Fans booed the officiating crew any time something negative happened to the Jayhawks over the course of the next 10 minutes after the call.

Miles had a rather bizarre interpretation of the rule that resulted in the penalty.

“If they want to eliminate an exciting play from college football, they need to come up with a rule and just ban the play,” Miles said. “When you say if you give them the opportunity to catch it and then you kick a ball like that and very probably – you know, in slow motion, they may have gotten there first.

“But if they didn’t get there first, we should have every right as having arrived on the scene first, to have the ball. The reason you call a play like that is because you don’t think he can get to it. And frankly, that was the reason we called the play.”

Fourth-down gamble

Brown matched Miles’ gamble with one of his own in the fourth quarter.

With a heavy wind blowing in WVU’s face, Brown passed up a 41-yard field goal attempt in favor of going for it on fourth-and-1 with a 20-17 lead and 14 minutes to go.

The play call was an aggressive one. Austin Kendall took a shot downfield, trying to find George Campbell in the end zone. The ball fell harmlessly to the turf, but Kansas was rightfully flagged for pass interference as safety Hasan Defense took away any chance of Campbell making a play.

Kendall was thankful for Brown’s show in confidence as well as the flag, but still thinks he should have executed the play better.

“Any quarterback is going to say they love that situation,” Kendall said. “But we have to do better in that situation. I was disappointed that I overthrew him a little bit. Coach Brown was pretty upset, because you can’t overthrow people in that situation.”

The Mountaineers ended up settling for a 22-yard field goal after getting stopped inside the 10 after the interference penalty.

Left-handed drawer

Each week, West Virginia has added a tiny new wrinkle into something it does offensively.

This week, it was the left-handed draw play.

As is the case with any draw, Kendall dropped back as if to pass before handing the ball to his running back. But the handoffs were highly unconventional. Kendall transferred the ball to his left hand, creating a visual effect similar to a Statue of Liberty play.

He says the trick is one he picked up from former teammate Kyler Murray, but this was the first time Kendall broke it out in a game.

“It’s actually something I brought over from Kyler and they let me roll with it,” Kendall said. “If the passing game isn’t open, I just put it down there. It allows the defense to not just see me hand it to the running back. They think the ball is still in my right hand.”

Final punt

Perhaps the heaviest flak Brown has taken on social media in his WVU coaching tenure came after he called a timeout and had Josh Growden punt from the Kansas 34 on West Virginia’s final possession. The conventional wisdom stated that the Mountaineers should have simply taken the delay of game to buy Growden more room on a punt that ultimately resulted in a touchback.

But Growden, who spent the past two years as a specialty pooch punter at LSU, told Brown that he was more comfortable punting from the 34.

“I asked Josh what he wanted to do, and he said ‘I’m fine,’” Brown said.

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