One of the most damning criticisms of the hiring of RR was the outcome of the WVU vs. Pitt game. Folks around Ann Arbor were getting pretty fed up with Lloyd losing games he shouldn't, losing rivalry games, being too conservative, and too stubborn to make in-game adjustments.
And then we go out and hire a guy that seems to have demonstrated all of those same flaws in the most important game of his career, a game that should have been a lay-up, against a team that was down to their third QB. WTF happened?
* Did we just hire Lloyd part 2? (which imho wouldn't have been an altogether horrible thing, even if incredibly frustrating)
* Did they choke?
* Was it RR's fault?
* Was it the kicker's fault?
* Did they just get outplayed?
* Did they get outcoached?
* Was it because of injuries?
* Does the spread work in the cold?
* Should we be worried?
Well, after watching several WVU games, I finally got around to watching the pitt game. I was kind of saving it for last, because I wanted to have a better understanding of the offensive philosophy and the personnel, in order to put the loss into context. So, in short, the answers are: No, yes, no, YES, some, some, no, yes, and 'that's up to you'.
The first pass of the game is an interception by pitt's frosh qb, this is taken back deep into pitt territory. WVU proceeds to drive it down inside the 10 where it's 1st and goal. Pitt changes to a strange alignment putting 8 in the box and having the widest CB playing 10 yards off, almost like a safety. The slot DB's are playing inside technique. 1st play is a read option that gets stuffed because Pitt walks up a second LB outside of the DE very late, right before the snap. This confuses the blocking as there are two guys unblocked. 2nd down features deep penetration by pitt's DT's and outside slants by the LBs, pat white makes a great move to make one guy miss and picks up a couple yards. 3rd down is a designed QB rollout from the I-formation into the boundary. It's a fake offtackle to the right, but the FB goes left like he might release, except he just plows into the Will, the SE looks like he's blocking too, white almost makes it, but the LB makes a great play to shed the FB's block and keep outside contain. And then things get screwy. WVU takes a delay of game to get a better angle on the FG, but pitt declines. And the FG kicker misses to the left what should have been an easy 29 yarder. (this will be a recurring theme) So instead of a demoralizing 7-0 lead it's still 0-0.
Pitt can't do anything on its next drive, run, crappy flare, run, punts to WVU.
WVU doesn't do much better. 1st down is an ISQD for about 3 yards. 2nd down has what looks to be a good option to the right but a bad pitch blows up the timing and slaton is TFL. 3rd and 11 and RR calls a flanker screen to a true freshman. Looks like the linemen can't make it all the way out to the opposite hash mark and make decent blocks, it almost looks good, but it's still kind of a giveup call near midfield. Pitt had it well defended with 5 DB's matching up with 3 WR. Even if the linemen get there on time, it's a 4 against 5, meaning the frosh receiver would have to make a great play to the get the first down. The punt goes through the endzone. (missed the corner by about 5 yards)
Pitt goes three and out. I-form counters and traps. Run, Run, Sack, Punt. WVU ball 1st down, DB's are playing waaay off. So a simple stop route gets 5 yards. And then on 2nd and 5 comes a play that I think illustrates why WVU struggled so much in this game. It's WVU's base play, split backs, slot left, no TE. Pitt has 7 in the box, man up with a free safety in center field. This is the play that often rips off 60 yarders. Both backs sweep right, zone blocking, the wideside DE is unblocked and being read by the QB. Meanwhile the slot man takes a lateral step and is available for the bubble screen/flare. But pitt has absolutely everything covered. on the snap the LB's are flowing with the backs, the DE comes upfield but does an excellent job of staying under control, and the nickleback covering the slot reads the lateral step and is just hard charging for a potential TFL. The CB's drop into what looks like a cover 3. Pitt has at least the first 4 options on this play covered, the only weakness might be another stop route to the guy on boundary side, but he's busy blocking. The unblocked DE plays it well, and makes White handoff to slaton, which isn't going to go anywhere because the FB can't block two LBs. Anyway, the playside DE makes an awesome dipsy doodle play because he's into the boundary, rides the tackle's outside shade block, then sheds him to go underneath and nab slaton at the LOS.
3rd and 3, 5WR, big blitz up the middle, pat white just walks around the outside making everyone else look slow. big gain. This was a complete 'jimmie and joes' moment as the DE was in good position to stop him and the blitzing LB was untouched. 1st down and we see a different way to defend WVU's bread and butter. The formation is flipped because they're on the left hash now. The boundary CB is playing in what looks like bump and run taking away what would have been a good adjustment to a stop route on that side (this is the Pitt's DC knowing where the weakness is and moving it around). But the CB comes on a blitz, and the slot DB rotates into a deep safety position as the farside CB rolls up to take away the bubble screen. and at this point i'm thinking the pitt DC is pretty darn good. Devine has to jump around the CB who blows up the fullback by going low, the tackle gets a good seal on the LB, and noel picks up a decent 7 yard gain. 2nd and 3, 8 in the box, same formation, this time white gives to slaton as the diveback, but he's stuffed by the walked up safety. Pitt is spreading that line to make unblocked guys on both ends by moving their LB's late. 3rd and short, I form. White gives to the FB on a reverse pivot, he barely gets the 1st. WVU bread and butter to the left, devine makes a great cutback, but the safety makes a better tackle to save what would have been a huge play. 2nd down is a 4WR ISQD that gets stuffed. 3rd down is trips left, half roll left and I can't tell what the route is because the receiver fell down and the throw was awful. And then they miss another short FG. (This will be a recurring theme in the game).
So the 1st quarter is almost over, Pitt doesn't have a 1st down, and they threw a pick, WVU has got lots of yards but stalled in the Redzone. And it's still 0-0. Pitt goes run, run, run, punt.
Strange formation, TE and flanker right, slot left, HB offset left, it's a dropback pass, the covered tackle is beat by a speed rush, FUMBLE, recovered by pitt. Not that it matter's since pitt's QB couldn't hit the broad side of a barn. Pitt goes run, incomplete, incomplete, punt out of the endzone.
WVU 1st and 10 from the 20, midfield, WVU bread and butter sweep left, the backside DT does a great job of flowing with the play and making a tackle from the backside from after a 2 yard gain. This should never happen. The guard is in no man's land looking for someone to block instead of helping the tackle. 2nd down, 4WR TE right, ISQD gets about 5 yards but somehow pitt has 8 in the box. Both safeties are about 7 yards from the ball. 3rd and 3 and someone has a brain fart. it's hard to tell because the WR is off screen but it looks like the CB is playing bump and run again (where they blitzed him before) and white lobs one up over the top, but there's no receiver within 20 yards. Maybe the CB just got a good jam. punt
Pitt, runs three times and gets their first 1st down by a couple of inches, inc, run, screen for a big gain against the blitz, run, run. Pitt looks like they're trying to run out the clock, taking the play clock down to 2 or 3 each time, but there's still 7 minutes in the 2nd quarter. Interception, their QB really sucks.
WVU 1st down from their own 26, I-form TB dive with the end around fake gets 4. 2nd and 6, it looks like the WVU bread and butter play, but the adjustment is for the slot man to take a lateral step and then GO. It's a great play call but Pat White just doesn't have the kind of touch and arm strength necessary. It's complete but the WR is down where he catches it. (I hate the TV guys, they give 20 reviews of the catch, but only one replay of why the ball was underthrown. the Pitt DT is just owning WVU's guard.) 1st down at the 41, a sweep left is stuffed because white makes a bad read and gives when he should have kept it. 2nd down brings the first attempt at the double flare chinese fire drill screen, but pitt plays it beautifully, has two guys ready to TFL slaton, and slaton just runs away from them for a 9 yard gain (hello jimmie). 1st Down, WVU bread and butter, but they've swapped out the boundary SE for a TE, and this is a dive to the first man through for 5 yards. 2nd down 4WR 7 IN THE BOX! And the ISQD gets pat white hurt. I consider this a bad call. not because he got hurt, but because you're running 5 and a half blockers against 7. plus there's a deep safety. Dislocated thumb on his non-throwing hand, and it happened when he put his hand on the back of one of his own blockers. Not exactly a contact injury. Jarett Brown comes in for the 3rd down play, realizes he doesn't know where to throw and dances around a few guys for a first down (hello joe.)
1st down, WVU bread and butter left but they've traded the slot man for a TE. This allows the safety to roll up making 8 in the box and HE PLAYS CONTAIN! allowing the sam to flow and cut off the cutback. (another +1 for pitt's DC) ultimately the DT splits a doubleteam and makes the tackle near the LOS. 2nd down, quick playaction stop route for 5. 3rd down, nice adjustment to change the cadence, the pitt alignment is given away (they wanted to roll into it late) and there's a nice half roll to the trips side, brown makes a crisp pass to the wide open man on the crossing route (rub route). 1st and goal, read option out of the split/flanker set but brown makes the wrong read and slaton is TFL. The DE just ownd the tackle. 2nd and goal, slot right, brown drops back, craps his pants and tries to run, but is tackled near the LOS, The blitzing LB drove one of the linemen 6 yards back. 3rd and goal 4WR, it's a dropback, Brown craps his pants again, and is tackled near the LOS. So another drive stalls in the redzone (this is becoming a recurring theme in this game). But a personal foul gives them another chance. Twins right, split left, FB offset left. It's a QB ISO and Schmitt gets a great block as they attack the Will's bubble. TD.
Pat White 0 - Jarett Brown 7
With a minute and a half left, everyone is thinking pitt will run out the clock, 3 runs takes it down to 30 seconds left, but the ball is at the 45 so they take a TO. Short pass for a 1st, and a phantom late hit penalty lets Pitt hit a 48 yard FG before half.
Jarett Brown 7 - Bad Referees 3
Stupid halftime notes: Pat white was recruited as a DB, committed to LSU and then decommitted. Looks like RR has had his snake oil recipe for a while. And RR actually talks about pat white's injury instead of treating it like a state secret. WVU has twice and many yards, twice as many takeaways but only 4 more points. The kicker had only missed 2 FG's all year before this game.
Kickoff return KRUMBLE! Pitt recovers at the 47. Run, run, pass, fake punt on 4th and 1 for 1st, inc, run, finally a big completion down to the 17, run, run, run, run TD. Jarett Brown 7 - WVU turnovers 10
1st down at their own 35, WVU bread and butter sweep left, but the linebackers are waiting in the hole. Devine craps his pants and gets tripped up for a 8 yard TFL. On this play the MLB slants hard to the hole where he should have been blocked by the first man through, but in this case Slaton was lallygagging around the outside instead of blocking anyone. 4WR, action left, flanker screen right. This is also kind of a giveup play on 2nd and forever. The slot man makes a weak rub block on his guy before stalking the outside corner, and his guy proceeds to shake off the rub and make the tackle near the LOS. 3rd down, 5WR dropback, batted ball, punt
Pitt ball at the 36, run, run, shovel pass for 1st, offsides, big run to the 28, run, run, run, 4th and 1 run for 1st, run, run, run for TD but it's called back (nice cut, weak flag so the refs are back to neutral), screen for nothing, FG is missed. (this has been a recurring theme in this game)
But there is only 39 seconds left in the 3rd. Double tight, shotgun ace, it's a QB offtackle, he fumbles but WVU recovers, no harm. End of 3rd. Pitt has 100 yards rushing in the quarter and WVU had a grand total of 4 plays for -5 yards
2nd and 6 WVU lines up in its base formation, but the backs give crossing action in front of the QB instead of sweeping. This is a designed pass, both backs flare after the action, but the pitt defense is in jarett brown's lunchbox eating his sandwiches. Again, they move the OLB's late to make two unblocked men (the MLB slanted to the tackle) on the end, TFL. 3rd and 8, 4WR, big blitz up the middle, it's picked up, slot man is wide open on a streak, but brown overthrows him. punt.
Pitt ball on their 30. 14 minutes to play. TFL by dingle, run, delay, big pass down the middle (the DB was in position, just too short), run, short pass, short pass, punt to the 3 yard line. 10:30 remaining
WVU at their 3, 4WR QB iso gets 11 yards. 4WR, Pitts DB's are all 10-15 yards off the LOS, stop route for 8 and OoB. 4WR QB iso for 3. 1st down, HOLY SCHNIKES! 4WR and the pitt DT (who has had a monster game) times the cadence and blows by the guard, sack, fumble, recovery. (ball game?) but the strange thing is that the ball is out of his hand before the hit happens. If I were a cynical man watching wrestling, I'd be calling my bookie.
Pitt ball at the 18, inc, run for 1st, run, run, run, 4th and goal, FG. So neither offense can get it done on a consistent basis in the redzone. 6 minutes to play
Noel Devine takes the short kickoff all the way to the pitt 33. PAT WHITE IS IN THE GAME! will it be a miracle finish? Will it be the stuff of legends? uh... no.
4WR, QB iso, stuffed. Pitt's seen enough of that play. 2nd down, Flanker right, split backs, Iso up the middle, about 5 yards. 3rd down, Twins right, QB offtackle gets 2 yards, 4th down, 4:30 to go, read option, given to the first man through, slaton gets 1, turnover on downs. (looks like a good read, but the MLB destroys the center, (game over?).
Run, Run, TO, Counter pitch for a 1st, Pitt's frosh RB looks like the real deal, has about 150 yards. But a holding call brings it back. 3rd and 7 incomplete. punt 3 minutes to play.
WVU ball on their 46, 5 WR, pat white craps his pants, but this is usually when he runs for 30 yards, instead he gets tackled by the DE who came out of the 3 man rush to stop him after 1 yard. 2nd down, 4WR, deep out gets a 1st. 4WR, designed QB draw, white gets 12 and loses his helmet. 4 WR half roll left, white overthrows the flag route as reynaud had half a step on his man. 2nd down, 5WR, late blitz isn't picked up, white throws it away. 3rd down, 4WR, big blitz up the middle, white drops the ball, TFL, 4th and 17. 4WR big blitz, incomplete, game over.
Pitt gets a phantom celebration penalty but it doesn't matter, run, TO, run, delay, run, punt formation, intentional safety and now the game really is over.
Did we just hire Lloyd part 2?
No. The offensive adjustments were continual and appropriate throughout the game. There were a couple of conservative calls, and one head scratcher of an option call on 4th down, but it was light years more aggressive than Lloyd, and much more flexible. The tweaks to the base play were appropriate, but the players couldn't execute the 4th and 5th options very well. Not surprising. So then they went away from that to the 4WR and 5WR sets and moved the ball much better. They just didn't have the ball enough. The only honest criticism you could make was that the team bogged down in the redzone. But that's been a knock on the spread since the run-n-shoot days.
Did they choke?
Yes, big time. Especially the kicker. Fumbles were the killer. And only one of the fumbles was forced. Whenever WVU has struggled, they've had massive numbers of turnovers. Makes me wish we still had Mike 'I never fumble except for on the goal line against Florida" Hart.
Was it RR's fault?
No. It'd be hard to blame this game on RR. This game was a perfect storm of bad things that culminated in a loss; Injured QB + Great defensive scheme + turnovers + their D-line outplaying the WVU O-line + opposing coach determined to run out the clock from the 1st quarter + QB's who aren't accurate passers = close game. But even with ALL that, WVU should have won if the kicker had just made those two short kicks. If he had been a bad kicker, maybe you could say RR should have gone for it more, but he was an excellent kicker all year, up until that game.
Was it the kicker's fault?
YES, but he wasn't alone. The O-line got owned, and slaton had an uninspired game, probably sulking that he had been passed on the depth chart by devine. The QB's couldn't grip the ball.
Did they just get outplayed?
Some. The pitt front seven had a masterful game. They were just bigger and stronger than the WVU O-line. (does this temper the 'eeeee BARWIS!' express?) But the WVU defense did nothing wrong. They dominated the first half only giving up a field goal on a questionable penalty. The rest of scoring came off turnovers. Pitt was able to run a bit in the second half, but that'll happen when your offense keeps turning the ball over and you're on the field for the whole half.
Did they get outcoached?
Some. The Pitt DC had a great scheme. And he forced WVU away from their base plays. But the offense adjusted. They just needed a QB that could hit the double move routes. One of the keys to the game was the late movement by the LB's and safeties to create mismatches favoring the defense. On one play WVU changed the cadence and exposed the alignment for a big play, but later on this lack of long cadences cost them another turnover. It's hard to have long snap counts when you're in the two minute drill. But because of the shortness of the game, it's hard to know what would have happened had they managed to force it to overtime. If they had held onto the ball they probably would have scored close to 30 points.
Was it because of injuries?
No. White's injury didn't help, but the only TD came with Brown in the game (hey they're both color names, huh, huh, huh) White came back in and had a couple good plays, but the problem was with his pass accuracy, not his legs. And the injury was to his non-throwing hand.
Does the spread work in the cold?
Yes. The spread works fine in the cold. It was stopped in this game because of scheme, superior D-line play, and turnovers.
Should we be worried?
That's up to you. If the kicker makes the first two kicks, that starts to change what pitt can do, they wouldn't have been able to run on 85% of their plays. If there's no turnovers, then this game probably turns into a 2 TD win for WVU. yes they were 4 TD favorites, but that was a BS line because of the talent of pitt's front 7 and RB's. The way wanndtstache was calling the game neither team looked like it would have more than 6 possessions.
But two very glaring concerns stood out.
#1: Freshmen make mistakes. About 5 plays were blown up because of mistakes by inexperienced players. And each of those was a big mistake. We're going to be very inexperienced this year. All it takes is for one guy to not hold his block and a 30 yard play turns into a 5 yard loss.
#2: Their O-line was manhandled. Let's hope this has more to do with the fact that they were a bunch of 3* and 2* players and not because of any failing of our saviour, Barwis be His name.
Also, it'd be nice to have a QB who can hit small targets in the 4th quarter. Especially since it seems we're recruiting a lot of 'small targets'.