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How Oklahoma State Should Mirror Kansas (?) in Defending WVU’s High-Powered Offense

Why OSU’s defensive line might not be enough against the Mountaineers.



West Virginia quarterback Will Grier is leading one of the most productive passing attacks in the country this season. He’s incredibly talented in the pocket and also has the athleticism to scramble and make plays with his feet. The redshirt senior has thrown for nearly 3,000 yards and has 32 total touchdowns (31 passing, 1 rushing) on the year.

However, Grier had some issues this season against the Kansas and Iowa State defensive units. He threw 4 of his season total 8 interceptions and was sacked a total of 12 times in those two games alone. The Mountaineer QB has only been sacked seven times in the other seven games WVU has played this season. In addition, Grier threw for his second lowest yardage total against the Jayhawks (tied with the game against Youngstown State) and his lowest total against the Cyclones.

West Virginia was still able to pull out the victory against KU despite Grier’s subpar performance, but they weren’t able to overcome it versus ISU as they suffered their only loss of the season in Ames.

So, how were the Kansas and Iowa State defenses able to cause problems for Grier? Well, one of the primary reasons they saw success against the WVU quarterback is blitzing from the second and third levels. KU and ISU were sending five or more pass rushers on multiple occasions and doing a good job of getting both linebackers and safeties involved in the blitz.

For instance, a majority of Iowa State’s 7(!!) total sacks on the day came when a linebacker or safety was involved in the blitz. An example is shown in the clip below.

ISU is lined up, as they normally are, in a three down lineman front. As the ball is snapped, you can see the Cyclones bring extra pressure up the middle. With the Mountaineer running back drifting to the flat on a flare route, Iowa State has a five-on-five matchup with the WVU offensive line. The West Virginia secondary does a great job in zone coverage, and the O-linemen aren’t able to combat the rush, resulting in a huge loss on third down.

In this video, you see the Cyclone defense set up in a different look than what we saw above.

This time the safety is 10 yards off the line of scrimmage and takes off towards Grier just before the ball is snapped as the rest of the secondary into zone coverage. The defensive lineman to the bottom side of the screen slants inside on his rush, bringing the left tackle with him. This opens up a lane for the ISU linebacker to run straight toward the quarterback. The Mountaineer running back does a good job of picking him up, but now there’s no one left to block the Iowa State safety and he sacks Grier for a big loss.

In the game against KU, there were several occasions where the Jayhawks gambled and brought heavy pressure at Grier. And, as you can see below, there were a few times where it paid off.

Kansas lines up with three down linemen, similar to ISU’s fronts shown above, with two linebackers to the top of the screen and one lined up on the line of scrimmage as a stand-up defensive end. On the snap, the Jayhawks decide to show a rush from all three defensive lineman as well as all three linebackers.

The defensive lineman lined up to the top of the screen breaks off his initial rush and drops into zone coverage. By doing this, he occupies the right tackle, and although the rest of the offensive line does a decent job of picking up the blitz, the tight end blocks to his left and leaves a lane open up the middle for the KU middle linebacker.

Oklahoma State showed they were capable of executing successful blitz packages utilizing second and third level defenders in the second half last weekend against the Sooners. The Cowboys had a pressure rate of 50 percent, meaning they brought five or more pass rushers of 50 percent of their total plays, according to Adam Lunt on this week’s Tape Doesn’t Lie Podcast.

The disguised and delayed blitzes from the linebackers and safeties resulted in some timely sacks for the Cowboy defense, including the one below made by safety Kenneth Edison-McGruder.

Before the snap, KEM is slowly making his way up towards the line of scrimmage. As the ball is snapped, he breaks full speed around the edge and puts a nice move on the left tackle to get to Murray in the backfield.

Unlike the Cyclones, the Cowboys are in man coverage behind the blitz, and have all the receivers covered up (shown in the image below) allowing Kyler nowhere to throw the football.


In this next clip, the Pokes send both of their linebackers at Murray, but decide to delay the blitz by Amen Ogbongbemiga.

The five Sooner offensive linemen are preoccupied with the five OSU pass rushers (four linemen and linebacker Calvin Bundage) leaving a one-on-one matchup between OU running back Kennedy Brooks and Ogbongbemiga.

Brooks says his prayers … but can’t get an Amen (I’m sorry, I had to) as he sacks Murray on second down. Again, great coverage from the Cowboy secondary shown in the following screenshots.



The Pokes were able to get to Murray one other time on the day, another blitz from Edison-McGruder.

Oklahoma State dialed up the pressure a season ago in Morgantown against the Mountaineers and it was very successful. It led to the interception shown in this next video where the Cowboys brought six defenders at Grier.

As well as this pick by A.J. Green as the Cowboys bring Bundage off the edge and Phillips on the delayed blitz.

The WVU offensive line isn’t the best unit in the Big 12, but they have been solid this season (aside for KU and ISU), so I don’t think the Cowboy defensive line will be able to create enough pressure themselves. To slow down this powerful West Virginia passing attack, I think Jim Knowles will need to dial up the pressure similar to how he did against Kyler Murray in the second half of last weekend’s Bedlam matchup. In addition, the secondary will need to step up and be solid in coverage behind the blitz.

If the Cowboys can make Grier uncomfortable and force him to turn the ball over like he did a year ago, I think they will put themselves in a position to win this game. The three-headed monster the Mountaineers have at running back can put up some numbers and cause issues for this OSU defense that’s struggled against the run, but if Grier is off his game, I don’t think they can do enough on the ground to beat the Cowboys.



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