I was not one of the students who set couches on fire after West Virginia’s 28-7 win against a third-ranked Virginia Tech team back in 2003.
Let me repeat that: I was not one of those students.
What I did do is watch a lot of Mountaineer football in the following years. Some results have been fantastic, like the Sugar, Orange, and Fiesta Bowl wins. Other games have been utterly pathetic, like the 2007 loss against Pitt, which should be forever erased from the annals of Appalachia.
I’m a Philly sports writer and West Virginia alum, so I wanted to give some perspective on the Birds’ additions of Rasul Douglas, Shelton Gibson, and Tyler Orlosky.
CB Rasul Douglas (Round 3, pick 99)
Everyone immediately points to his eight interceptions, which topped the Big 12 last year.
He’s a ball hawk with great hands and route-jumping ability. Douglas is also a strong tackler who will wrap up and finish the play, unlike a lot of NFL corners who shy away from contact.
The thing that nobody really talks about is the West Virginia defensive scheme and system, which is a base 3-3-5 “stack.”
West Virginia has used this defense going back to the days of Jeff Casteel, who was former WVU Head Coach Rich Rodriguez’s defensive coordinator. Casteel originally stayed in Morgantown when Rodriguez left for Michigan, but they reunited in 2012 at Arizona.
Some things to know about the stack:
- West Virginia usually struggles to recruit defensive linemen, so this scheme removes one from the field.
- “Athlete”-type recruits can easily be converted from wideouts to corner backs or spur safeties in an alignment that allows five on the field.
- The odd arrangement allows mix-and-match blitz packages to come from different areas of the field.
- It’s vulnerable to a power running game. We were absolutely destroyed by Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon last year.
- It’s strong against Big 12 passing attacks.
Tony Gibson, the current defensive coordinator, kept the 3-3-5 and really tweaked it when WVU joined the conference a few years back.
This is typically what it looks like:
In that shot above, you see three down linemen, three linebackers, and five defensive backs. One outside linebacker is creeping up to the line to create a four-man front. Sometimes you can add the spur safety in there. It’s a pretty flexible system.
The best defensive performance of 2016 probably came in a 48-17 win at Texas Tech when Pat Mahomes, the Chiefs’ first-round draft pick, couldn’t navigate the stack to save his life. Gibson would either drop into zone coverage with a three-man rush, or throw blitzes from different angles. Rasul Douglas finished with three solo tackles and a sack. Mahomes went 28 for 44 for one touchdown and one interception.
He just couldn’t figure out stuff like this, which was a base rush and Douglas corner blitz.
The following week, playing against Oklahoma, Mahomes was 58 for 88 (!) for 734 yards with five touchdowns and one pick. Tech lost the game 66 to 59, so go figure.
For additional context, West Virginia went into the season without its best safety, Dravon Askew-Henry, who injured his knee during the summer. The Mountaineers also saw three members of the secondary, Karl Joseph, Daryl Worley, and K.J. Dillon, all graduate to the NFL. A fourth defensive starter, linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski, was drafted by the Bears.
That makes Douglas’ 2016 performance even more impressive, since there were a lot of concerns on the defensive side of the ball coming into the year.
In the same way that quarterbacks can be the product of a system, keep an eye on how Douglas performs in different packages. He only played 18 games in his college career, and every single one was in a very specific scheme that was programmed to stop Big 12 air raid and shotgun running attacks.
He didn’t execute a lot of press coverage in that scheme, which is going to be an adjustment for him in the NFL. Douglas does have the size and specs to jam at the line of scrimmage, but it will take some time.
On this play against TCU, you see him playing man coverage, but he doesn’t interrupt the route and succumbs to a great back shoulder throw without turning his head.
That’s a great throw, and he’s going to see a lot more of that in the NFL, unless Brock Osweiler is the opposing QB.
WR Shelton Gibson (Round 5, pick #166)
The buzz around Philly is that Gibson can take the top off a defense, which is absolutely true.
He was a favorite target of Skyler Howard, who had no inhibitions when it came to throwing the football down the field.
There wasn’t much difference between his 2015 and 2016 seasons. Gibson had about 70 more yards last year, but one fewer touchdown, and he wasn’t able to top the 1,000 yard receiving mark despite catching all of those long balls.
One reason is because he simply didn’t have the same volume of activity as other receivers. Gibson had the fewest receptions (43) among the eleven Big 12 receivers who had more than 800 yards.
For comparison, teammate Daikiel Shorts actually had 20 more receptions (63), and Ka’Raun White, Kevin White’s brother, had five more catches (48).
Here’s what the WR stats looked like after WVU’s garbage bowl game performance:
Shelton Gibson – 43 catches for 951 yards and eight touchdowns (22.1 YPC)
Daikiel Shorts – 63 catches for 894 yards and seven touchdowns (14.2 YPC)
Ka’Raun White – 48 catches for 583 yards and five touchdowns (12.1 YPC)
Jovon Durante – 35 catches for 331 yards and two touchdowns (9.5 YPC)
Gary Jennings – 10 catches for 165 yards and two touchdowns (16.5 YPC)
Gibson isn’t going to be a reliable possession receiver. He’s weak on underneath routes and does have the tendency to short-arm and drop balls on crossing patterns. If you want to make the DeSean Jackson comparison, he is similarly averse to short and intermediate inside routes and would rather try to get behind safeties.
And that’s fine, because he doesn’t need to be the do-all receiver on a proper NFL team. Why would you ask a deep threat to run short routes anyway?
On 17 receptions of 20 yards or more, Shelton Gibson had 726 receiving yards. Second most in this draft class in 2016.
— Ben Natan (@TheBenNatan) April 29, 2017
The other reason Gibson didn’t catch 50 or 60 balls is because WVU just didn’t throw it as much as other Big 12 teams. The team finished 6th in the conference with 409 passing attempts. Texas Tech topped the list with 653 attempts and Kansas State was last with 309 tries.
When it came to running the football, the Mountaineers were third in the conference with 574 attempts.
That’s about a 60/40 split in running/passing, which might explain why Gibson didn’t catch as many balls as other Big 12 receivers. You also have to consider that your quarterback, gunslinger or not, isn’t throwing deep at a percentage that matches short and intermediate attempts.
It’s the same reason why DeSean reached 1,000 yards on 100 targets and 56 catches last year, while Michael Crabtree had the same yardage on 145 targets and 89 catches.
C Tyler Orlosky (undrafted free agent)
I’m stunned that he went undrafted.
Orlosky is your typical “football player,” which means that he’s a bit undersized and not the greatest athlete.
He makes up for it with technical soundness, experience (he was a three-year starter), and high-level intelligence.
He’s a large guy who will junk up the line of scrimmage and pass-protect at a high level.
I do think he’s better in that department than run blocking, which might seem weird to say after I highlighted the run/pass ratio. But the thing with Orlosky is that he’s not going to “wow” you in space. He won’t move laterally or hit the second level to finish a block in the same way that Jason Kelce does it (or used to do it).
Like most Big 12 teams, we ran the ball primarily from the shotgun. You would see some I-formation and under-center running at the goal line, and in short yardage situations, but we would mostly run read option outside the tackles or hit the interior gaps from the pistol.
Dana Holgorsen also likes to run from this formation, which I guess you would describe as some sort of derivative of the diamond.
Orlosky holds his block and helps create that big seam right down the gut.
I read somewhere that he was only credited with one sack allowed in 2016, which doesn’t surprise me at all. Most of the sacks we gave up were because Howard would scramble or try to do too much after initially having time to get rid of the ball. He was a high risk and high reward quarterback.
The offensive line has been one of our strengths in recent years and Orlosky is a big reason for that. It’s no coincidence that Wendell Smallwood ran for 1,519 yards in 2015. Justin Crawford went for 1,184 this year.
Overall I think there’s a lot of potential for all three of these guys.
We’ll see if their weaknesses become sticking points at the next level.
Let’s go Mountaineers, let’s go drink some beers.