A win is a win, yet there was something about West Virginia’s 26-11 victory over the SEC’s Missouri Tigers that wasn’t very satisfying.
Sure the Mountaineers rushed for 241 yards and averaged five yards a carry against what was supposed to be a stingy Tiger defense. Certainly QB Skyler Howard had an efficient game against a Missouri defensive secondary that was determined not to get beat deep. There’s no doubt that both Rushel Shell and newcomer Justin Crawford ran over, through and around the impenetrable defensive line of the Tigers.
Impressive stuff for squad picked to finish only 7th in the Big 12. Especially considering the Mountaineers had their way with a Missouri defense built to stop the ground-n-pound offenses in the SEC without starters LG Adam Pankey (suspension) and LT Yodny Cajuste (injury).
What’s not impressive is how WVU came away with only two touchdowns in five trips inside the red zone. WVU had 3 possessions stall at the Missouri 2, 9, and 5 yard lines. There’s no way to sugarcoat WVU’s failure to score touchdowns when inside the 10. Missouri stacked the box and dared WVU to run. WVU couldn’t punch it in. That ghost of seasons past – finding a way to turn touchdowns into field-goals – will haunt the Mountaineers going forward if not corrected very, very quickly.
Despite the red zone concerns there’s a lot of positives for WVU going into to next week’s game against Youngstown State. RB Justin Crawford was one bright spot as he showcased his speed and elusiveness rushing for 101 yards on 21 carries. The offensive line was as good as advertised even without Pankey and Cajuste. QB Skyler Howard was rarely pressured and never sacked. Howard was far more accurate on intermediate routes as evidence by Daikiel Shorts catching 8 balls for 131 yards.
Slack production from WVU’s dynamic duo of Shelton Gibson and Jovon Durante was due more to Missouri’s game plan – to play deep with max coverage while betting their defensive front could stop the Mountaineer running game – than anything.
So why does this WVU victory feel so unsatisfying? A win over an SEC team – even a bad one – is something to feel good about. WVU was never in danger of losing the game. The Mountaineers looked to be the better team and the score should have reflected the ease the Mountaineers had with the Tigers – but didn’t. Convert two of the missed red zone opportunities and a final score of 34-11 is much more satisfying than the 26-11 final.
WVU’s offensive production against one of the nation’s best defenses can’t be overlooked despite the red zone failures. If the red zone issues can be corrected WVU has the offensive firepower to average 45-50 points and become a contender for the Big 12 championship.
The jury is still out on the Mountaineer defense. The 1st team gave up only 3 points and played well throughout the game. Kyzir White was as good as advertised. True freshman DE Reese Donahue, LB Zach Sandwisch and LB Adam Hensley all earned playing time and saw action. Let me stress they earned playing time and performed well.
Defensive coordinator Tony Gibson, a rising star in the coaching ranks, said in his post game comments that his expectations for this defense increased given their performance against Missouri. He’s not alone. It’s apparent Gibson’s defense has talent and speed at nearly every position.
What Gibson’s defense lacks is seasoning. Missouri did it’s best to give the WVU defenders experience t by running 92 plays – each snap a chance for the newcomers on the Mountaineer defense to gel as a unit. That’s not just a cliché in this case. Gibson’s version of the 3-3-5 defense is aggressive and complicated. Cover schemes and assignments depend on each player recognizing the play and adjusting accordingly. Inexperience usually means a missed assignment and glaring hole in a defense that requires defenders to flow to the ball. What that means is this: given the talent and depth of the Mountaineer defense it should improve as they gain experience as a unit because they will stop thinking and start reacting with instinctual awareness – that’s what makes the 3-3-5 hum.
|3rd Down Eff||10-24||6-16|
|4th Down Eff||1-3||0-0|
|Yds Per Pass||5.3||6.8|
|Yds Per Rush||3.8||5.0|
Emptying The Notebook
WVU manhandled Missouri on both sides of the ball which is especially impressive considering the o-line was without two starters.
Justin Crawford gives the Mountaineers a running back with the ability to hit the homerun from anywhere on the field.
The offensive line showed improved pass protection and limited pressure on Howard and didn’t allow a sack.
WVU’s red zone troubles resurfaced as the Mountaineers squandered three 1st and goal opportunities and had to settle for field-goals.
The Mountaineers continued their habit of bad turnovers none worse than backup QB William Crest’s unforced fumble when attempting to pass on called run play.
Highlights from West Virginia’s 26-11 win over Missouri on Saturday at Milan Puskar Stadium. pic.twitter.com/IXOT43B5Ep
— WVU Football (@WVUfootball) September 3, 2016