Scoring can be a difficult proposition for some teams, but West Virginia has added some wrinkles to increase their chances when they get into the red area. Matty Brown demonstrates the Mountaineers red zone creativity after they struggled to put the ball in the end zone last season despite having a solid offense.
The West Virginia Mountaineers are undefeated and, with the talent they have on both sides of the football, could possibly win the Big 12 title. Historically, the Mountaineers’ red zone offense has been a major weakness. The problems in this area of the field were apparent in 2015, where West Virginia placed 92nd in red zone efficiency despite having the 34th best offense in terms of points per game. In Week 1 of 2016, red zone issues continued for the offense, with the Mountaineers settling for field goals on four of their five redzone trips against Missouri. However, thanks to creative play-calling from head coach Dana Holgorsen, WVU has improved each week inside the opposition’s 20-yard line.
West Virginia vs. Kansas State
13:44 Fourth Quarter, 3rd and goal on Kansas State’s 1. West Virginia 3, Kansas State 16
The Mountaineers’ offense lines up in a full house formation, as they did on an earlier occasion in the red zone with 4:36 left in the third quarter. On that play, Rushel Shell fumbled after being limited to a minimal gain. Here, they shift into a T-Split Left formation.
The defense responds by moving its linebackers inside, into a defense designed to stop a quarterback sneak. The defensive line will submarine the offensive line, and the linebackers will aim to shoot their gaps and stop the inside run. The mobility and physicality of quarterback Skyler Howard (#3), combined with his position right under center, makes a sneak threatening. What makes the sneak even more likely in the eyes of the defense is that WVU executed the same shift and attempted the play on the previous snap.
The defense’s reaction to the formation means that there is plenty of space on the edges, particularly to the left. WVU exploits the defense, utilizing information gathered from their previous play. They run an outside stretch play, and the only man in position to effectively defend the play is defensive end Reggie Walker (#51). Walker, though, is blocked by the two backs that Justin Crawford (#25) is running behind. Fullbacks Michael Ferns (#47) and Elijah Wellman (#28) completely flatten Walker, creating a clean path for Crawford, who is able to enter the endzone untouched for the one yard touchdown.
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Texas Tech vs. West Virginia
7:08 Second Quarter, 3rd and goal on Texas Tech’s 5. Texas Tech 7, West Virginia 10
On the two downs preceding this play, Texas Tech had held runs to short gains and had displayed solid coverage on routes going into the endzone. The Mountaineers decided to be a little more inventive on this third down.
Lined up in a shotgun formation with an empty backfield, it is immediately apparent pre-snap that the Mountaineers’ defense have a numbers advantage in a crucial area. On the left side, West Virginia has three receivers covered by two Texas Tech defenders. It is almost as if the defense is trying to double-team wide receiver Daikiel Shorts Jr. (#6). Shorts had three receptions for 100 yards against Texas Tech, so he was certainly a threat and once the football is snapped, Shorts’ hitch route does indeed draw two defenders.
Whatever Texas Tech is attempting to do, the result is calamitous, as West Virginia runs a quick screen to Crawford. With two blockers in front of him this is essentially a run play outside of the tackle box. Ferns and Wellman do a great job once again, with Wellman keeping his man to the outside of the play and Ferns driving his man into the endzone. As a result, Crawford is yet again able to waltz in for the touchdown without a defender touching him.
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Of course, the West Virginia attack has room for improvement: They are currently ranked 61st in red zone efficiency despite being the 42nd ranked offense. Nevertheless, if their offense in the red zone continues to be innovative, it may help on their path to a Big 12 title. What is certain is that it will cause defenses serious problems, particularly in the generally poor-defense filled Big 12.