West Virginia Study: Virginia Tech’s Greatest Challenge So Far

Virginia Tech vs. WVU
Virginia Tech and West Virginia face off on Thursday night. (Ivan Morozov)

Get your mind right—it’s Black Diamond time. 


Graham Harrell is the new OC in Morgantown, and he’s an Air Raid guy at heart. He was a Heisman finalist QB’ing at Texas Tech under Mike Leach, and you see a lot of those influences. WVU’s had a lot of Air Raid scheming over the years, so what they do won’t look too different from up in the stands.

One thing I noticed is that they seem to have juiced up the screen game quite a bit:

This is a packaged play, with the line and back running Outside Zone to the left, while the bunch grouping set to the boundary runs a perimeter screen. Quarterback JT Daniels recognizes that Pitt is at a numerical disadvantage over the bunch set, so he fires off the screen, giving receiver Kaden Prather (#3) a nice catch and run. Perimeter screens can be risky, as they lead to picks and fumbles when blown up, but here WVU’s set their tight end as the lead blocker, which helps keep things safe, as we used to see Dalton Keene do a bit. They’ll run screens off motion, too, with a receiver sweeping across the formation; when they catch somebody who doesn’t adjust over, it leads to big yards. As aggressive as Tech’s defensive backs have been about making plays in the backfield, I’m worried about the Hokies covering stalk-and-go plays where WVU fakes a screen and goes deep.

As you might’ve guessed from their success on that screen, they’re a zone-heavy team. Some of that might be a choice-by-default, since I saw pullers tripping and falling when they went to gap stuff. They aren’t heavy with option runs—from what I can tell, QB JT Daniels has one keeper on the Zone Read in three games. That said, head coach Neal Brown is on a hot seat, and if there’s a time for him to break tendencies and increase risk tolerance, it’s probably now, with WVU running a 1-2 record and having already lost their other big OOC rivalry tilt to Pitt.

As to the players, they have a lot of new starters at the skill spots, but boy do they seem the same as last year’s crew. Once again, they’ve got a speedster raising heck at wide receiver. Last year, it was Winston Wright Jr., and this year it’s Bryce Ford-Wheaton (#0) who’s doing it all:

At 6’3, he’s like a bigger version of BC’s Zay Flowers. He’ll run a fade route where he drops a gear and buzzes his feet like he’s breaking, then keeps on with the fade. That’s a bad recipe for the Hokies’ corners. The only knock on him, as it often is with hyper-athletic receivers, is that he has a few drops. In fact, a ball bouncing off his hands sealed the loss to Pitt. Kaden Prather (#3) is another receiver to watch for—that was him getting speedy in the very first clip. Like Ford-Wheaton, he’s also got ball control and security issues. If I reach into my bag of speculation, I’m tempted to say that VT won’t win if these guys have a good day with their hands.

The Mountaineers