WVU Offense Plans to Serve Some Humble Pie

MORGANTOWN, West Virginia — Coming into the primetime game this Saturday night, WVU fans have more to be excited about than they realize. Not only is this the opportunity to see what could be among the better whole teams that HC Neal Brown has put together for the school in his time here, but you have arguably the hardest game on the schedule to kick off the season. While the Mountaineers arrive as 20.5-point underdogs to the Nittany Lions, this game could be much closer than analysts predict.

The cause? Penn State Defensive Coordinator Manny Diaz. While hailed as a top defensive mind in college football, schemes as successful as his are bound to develop cracks and vulnerabilities. This style of defense Penn State now runs is constructed to keep people off schedule using a combination of mixed pressures from all three levels of the defense. While this has led to Penn State becoming recognized as one of the most chaotic defenses Big Ten rivals will face, there have been ways to exploit this design in the past. Some teams have been so successful at this that it even cost Coach Diaz his job.

Chinks in the Armor

As the defensive coordinator under Mack Brown at Texas University in 2013, the Longhorns would suffer a serious defeat against underdogs BYU on the road. Their formula for success was exploiting the blitz packages chosen by the coordinator to have a record-setting night of rushing 550 yards, handing UT a 40-21 loss and immediately leading to the release of Manny Diaz.

While he piled up several of the worst losses in the University of Miami‘s school history (including a loss to FIU and rival FSU in a year where the Seminoles would not make a bowl game), this style of defense is still in use because, for the most part, it usually works. When it doesn’t, it is very obvious.

Diaz’s defense traveled to Ann Arbor to face Michigan last season, and the typically chaotic Nittany Lions were stunned at the ground game. This began with the impressive performance of the offensive line. Their ability to create gaps and the fast action of running backs would lead the Wolverines to 418 rushing yards and a 41-17 victory.

Capitalizing on the Chaos

So how does this help West Virginia? Given the uncertainty of the strides Garrett Greene has taken in the passing game and the level of performance expected by a very young receiving corps, the Mountaineers will rely heavily on the running game. Fortunately, multiple options behind center should give the Nittany Lions some pause. CJ Donaldson is back and healthy, Jaylen Anderson is ready to break loose, newcomer and instant summer and fall camp star Jahiem White should see playing time, and you have the elusiveness of Greene himself.

The Mountaineers should put forth one of the best offensive lines in the Big 12, able to hold their own against an unproven defensive line that required several replacements after this year’s NFL Draft. Creating a lane for any backs to allow consistent progress in the running game can keep this contest competitive.

Last year with one of the worst secondaries in the country, WVU was encouraged by many analysts and sources following the team to adopt a blitz-heavy offense to create havoc and pressure on a quarterback and limit completions. Penn State runs this style of defense.

What that does forces man-to-man coverage in the field, leaving opportunities for new receivers to make their mark breaking away from safeties and corners. It also forces at least one member of this defense not in the blitz package to check down and contain Garrett Greene to avoid continual rushing yardage.

Traditionally, blitz-heavy teams can struggle against highly mobile quarterbacks who instinctively run versus waiting for receivers to find openings. As we saw in games like the Oklahoma matchup last year, Greene is quick to take off when he feels the play is breaking down, and rapid decisions like this could exploit very tiny weaknesses in an otherwise formidable Penn State defense.

The chaotic defense is feast and famine in the mostly-mild Big 10 East offenses, and apart from the actual competition of Michigan and Ohio State, the eating is good. WVU has to keep every runner in this one to sneak a win in Happy Valley.

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Benjamin Gilbert
Benjamin Gilbert here - panhandle resident and enjoyer of Pitt losses. First and foremost, I am a lifelong West Virginia Mountaineer fan and do my best to inspire that passion in my beautiful wife and talented kids. Unfortunately, fandom doesn't always pay the bills. I have been writing for a decade and a half for various professions and multi-faceted franchises, so writing is what I do. Combining my skills with my passion for the WVU teams, I always seek to provide fair and honest takes on our path to finding the top of college athletics. Let's Go.