Minnesota Controls the Lines in Guaranteed Rate Bowl

Minnesota Controls the Lines in Guaranteed Rate Bowl
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Minnesota Controls the Lines in Guaranteed Rate Bowl

Five sacks, 66 rushing yards, and six points. That tells the story of West Virginia’s postseason as Minnesota controls the lines in Guaranteed Rate Bowl. Minnesota emerged from Phoenix with an 18-6 win by dominating both lines of scrimmage.

Pressure, Pressure, Pressure

Simply put, the Golden Gophers defense found their way into the West Virginia backfield time and time again in their late-night win over the Mountaineers. WVU’s offensive line looked outmatched for most of the game. Kept clean, signal-caller Jarret Doege generally does a decent job of moving the offense. Unfortunately, Doege was kept far from clean. The play below shows just how efficiently Minnesota’s defense got into the backfield. On top of the five sacks, Doege dealt with pressure on at least a dozen more plays just like this.

Doege never got comfortable in the pocket, and he looked indecisive the whole game as a result. Even facing minimal to no pressure, Doege often held the ball too long and saw plays break down as a result.

This is nothing new. WVU’s offensive line has been inconsistent in pass protection all season. Credit must also be given to Minnesota’s defense. They have some pro-caliber pass rushers who made life difficult for the bodies defending them.

West Virginia Failed to Rely on the Run

The run game fared a bit better (when it was relied upon). Removing the 30 yards lost on those five sacks, West Virginia still managed just 96 rushing yards on 22 carries. Tony Mathis played well throughout the game, piling up a consistent four yards per carry on 13 rushes. Justin Johnson also ran well in limited play, adding 35 yards on five carries. Unfortunately, West Virginia decided to forego the run for large chunks of the game. Indeed, they ran the ball just 38% of the time.

Perhaps it is easier to Monday-morning, err-Wednesday-afternoon, quarterback the game script than to deal with adversity in real-time. That said, Doege dealt with serious pressure, completed passes on just half of his drop-backs, and, as a result, averaged just three-and-a-half yards per passing play (and four-and-a-half yards per passing attempt).

Compare that to what Mathis and Johnson did with the ball. Collectively, they ran the ball 18 times for 91 yards. That amounts to over five yards per carry. When all was said and done, the run game was substantially more efficient than the passing game. While we certainly are not naive enough to believe that level of efficiency persists if the Mountaineers ran the ball 100% of the time. That said, we are confident enough to ask the question, “in a world where statistics are passed to decision-makers in real-time, why didn’t the staff adjust the game plan in the second half?”

Defense Left Hanging

For the negatives on the offense, the defense deserves plenty of credit. They gave up some chunk plays on the ground, to be sure. The Golden Gophers ran for 249 yards total. They averaged 195 this season, so the output is consistent. This is especially true considering Minnesota added 70 rushing yards on two fourth-quarter drives when West Virginia’s offense kept handing the ball back after three-and-outs on three of their four second-half drives.

Indeed, to expect the defense to continue to play with the same level of intensity when the offense keeps the ball for just seven minutes out of 30 in the second half is fantastical. Reality cannot match that expectation. The defense made plenty of plays.

Handed outstanding field position for its opening drive, Minnesota caught the Mountaineers off-guard early. But a huge third-down sack by Dante Stills pushed the Golden Gophers back enough to cause a missed field goal. On the ensuing drive, West Virginia managed four yards on three plays and gave the ball right back. Taijh Alston forced a fumble to end Minnesota’s next drive. Again, the offense returned serve with 0 yards on five plays.

Down 18-6 late in the third, Charles Woods handed the offense the ball on the Minnesota 45 with a heads-up pick. What did the Mountaineers do? You guessed it. They went three-and-out. As has been standard for the season, Head Coach Neal Brown gave Garrett Greene exactly one play to try and make something happen before yanking him.

Disappointing End to Disappointing Season

The 2021 Mountaineers season has largely been a disappointment. High moments include a win over Virginia Tech, a near-win against Oklahoma, and upset wins over Iowa State and Texas. Plenty of tough moments filled in the gaps. The low-scoring loss in which the defense did literally everything it could to keep West Virginia in the game fittingly ends the season on a sour note. We will have plenty of off-season commentary, but it will be hard to predict much of anything positive happening until we see tangible on-field results.