Opposing defenses have blueprint to stop WVU offense

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MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- In the early stages of the Big 12 season, West Virginia has plenty of questions left to answer. At the core is this: Was Saturday's 37-0 shutout loss to Maryland now the norm or an aberration?

The primary cause for concern was the dismal performance by redshirt freshman quarterback Ford Childress and the offense. The final stat line included just 62 passing yards, six first downs and 2 of 12 on third-down conversions.

"I've never been a part of something like that," redshirt sophomore receiver K.J. Myers said. "I haven't been shut out like that, either. Something has to give. We have to switch something up and do something different this week with our approach."

The explanation for the radical downturn, from a game-plan perspective, is rather simple and defenses likely have taken note.

West Virginia's inability to move the ball was due to something of a perfect storm orchestrated by Maryland coach Randy Edsall, who took the bad hand injuries dealt him and spun it into a win. Edsall did the opposite of what West Virginia expected his defense to do. Maryland, leading Division I in sacks, was sure to blitz early and often against a weak offensive line and rookie quarterback.

"Maryland will zero-blitz us and pressure us," West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen said four days before the game. "They might do it every single snap."

But they didn't. Maryland abandoned its strength and still smothered the Mountaineers.

When the Terrapins' top two cornerbacks, Jeremiah Johnson and Dexter McDougle, went down with injuries in consecutive weeks before the West Virginia game, Edsall knew his weakness would be in pass coverage. If he stuck to his guns and stacked the box, sending six or seven rushers, he would live or die by the blitz, depending on how quickly Childress got rid of the ball.

So Edsall reversed course. He adjusted his 3-4 defense by dropping linebackers into coverage to help his hobbled secondary, leaving plenty of running room and little pressure on Childress.

The result?

West Virginia's line couldn't handle even a three-man rush, the running backs never found their footing and the wide receivers had just one catch. Childress was forced to dump the ball off to running backs out of the backfield, and there were up to seven defenders in coverage ready to make tackles.

Far from blitz-happy, Maryland "was much more basic" than what West Virginia had seen on tape, Holgorsen said.

A prime example of Edsall's approach duping the Mountaineers came in the closing moments of the first half when Childress, trailing, 23-0, and with his back to his own end zone, saw six defenders on the line of scrimmage and readied for a scenario he envisioned all week: the blitz.

But at the snap, three defenders immediately dropped into coverage, Childress' protection broke down and his short pass into the seven-man secondary was tipped and intercepted at the line of scrimmage by linebacker Yannick Cudjoe-Virgil.

"We abandoned taking advantage of what they were doing up front and were not able to put the ball in play during the pass game," offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson said. "We put Ford in some bad situations early."

Maryland's defense had just two sacks, three fewer than its previous per-game average, but it also forced five turnovers.

So, back to the initial question: Was the lopsided loss the norm or an aberration?

Time will tell.

But with No. 11 Oklahoma State visiting Morgantown Saturday, Holgorsen does expect one constant: "They are not going to blitz a bunch."


Stephen J. Nesbitt: snesbitt@post-gazette.com, 412-290-2183 and Twitter @stephenjnesbitt. First Published September 27, 2013 4:00 AM


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