Russell Ath Bowl Preview: Miami Hurricanes DL vs WVU OL

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Nov 19, 2016; Raleigh, NC, USA; North Carolina State Wolfpack running back Matt Dayes (21) is tackled by Miami Hurricanes defensive lineman Gerald Willis (91) during the second half at Carter Finley Stadium. Miami won 27-13. Mandatory Credit: Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports

Manny Diaz has almost completely turned around the Miami Defense this year. They are playing more aggressively than they did in 2015. How do they matchup against a tall West Virginia Offensive Line in the Russell Athletic Bowl?

West Virginia’s offensive line has been among the best in the country this year. They have moved a up tempo, high octane Mountaineer offense. This will arguably be the Miami Hurricanes Defensive Line’s toughest test this season.

The depth chart of the West Virginia Offensive Line reads like a basketball team. Two deep from tackle to tackle, all but one player is 6’4 or taller. They are also big for an offensive line that primarily uses the spread. Their lightest player up front offensively is listed at 294 pounds.

West Virginia’s offensive line has been consistently good against the pass and the run. The Mountaineers rank no lower than 28th in run blocking, with the exception of third and short. The Mountaineers have struggled as a line on third or fourth and two or less yards to go. They rank 70th in short yardage situations on third or fourth down.

West Virginia’s pass protection has been good, but not nearly as good as the run blocking across the board. The Mountaineers rank between 38th and 63rd in pass protection.

The rankings are provided by Football Outsiders. Their explanation of their rankings are:

Run-blocking stats

  • Adjusted Line Yards: One of only two opponent-adjusted numbers on the page, this aligns with the ALY figure FO tracks for the NFL and is presented on a scale in which 100.0 is perfectly average, above 100 is good, below 100 is bad.
  • Standard Downs Line Yards per Carry: The raw, unadjusted per-carry line yardage for a team on standard downs (first down, second-and-7 or fewer, third-and-4 or fewer, fourth-and-4 or fewer).
  • Passing Downs Line Yards per Carry: The same unadjusted averages for rushing on passing downs.
  • Opportunity Rate: The percentage of carries (when five yards are available) that gain at least five yards, i.e. the percentage of carries in which the line does its job, so to speak.
  • Power Success Rate: This is the same as on the pro side — percentage of runs on third or fourth down, two yards or less to go, that achieved a first down or touchdown.
  • Stuff Rate: Same as STUFFED on the pro side — percentage of carries by running backs that are stopped at or before the line of scrimmage.

West Virginia’s run blocking stats are as follows.

Offense Adj. LY Rk Std. Downs Line Yards Rk Pass. Downs Line Yards Rk Opp. Rate Rk Power Success Rate Rk Stuff Rate Rk
West Virginia 110.9 28 3.34 16 3.76 23 43.9% 18 67.6% 70 16.3% 24

Their 110.0 score compared the average is excellent. Twenty-eighth nationally, or in the 22nd percentile in the Football Bowl Subdivision. When most people think of the spread formation and a team that uses run/pass options the emphasis is usually on the pass. The spread is almost self explanatory. It allows teams to spread out the defense as well as their own formation.

The Mountaineers are 16th nationally when running on standard down as explained above. The Mountaineers rank 18th nationally in rushing. They average 239.5 yards per game. Running the ball on passing downs, or their Passing Down Line Yards Per Carry, the Mountaineers offense is at 3.76 or 23rd in the nation.

The West Virginia line has helped propel Justin Crawford into one of the best backs in the country. Crawford averages 7.44 yards per carry, seventh in the country, third among power five running backs and first in the Big XII.

The Mountaineers Standard Line Success Rate is 43.9 percent, 18th nationally. West Virginia has a deep, but smallish stable of running backs. Rushel Shell who is the Mountainers second leading rusher with 521 yards is 5’10 220 pounds and their only running back over 203 pounds.

Their depth chart lists the fullbacks and tight ends as one position at FB/TE. Elijah Wellman has 14 carries for 44 yards this season without getting into the End Zone. His backup Trevon Wesco has no carries and just one reception. It’s primarily a blocking position in Dana Holgorsen’s offense.

This creates problems on third and short. The Mountaineers have a 67.6 power success rate. That rates 70th in the country. Miami’s opponent’s convert at a rate of 38.9 percent overall on third downs, 58th nationally.

On fourth down the Hurricanes have been among the nation’s best. Miami opponents have converted seven of their 22 attempts on fourth down, 31.8 percent. That puts the Hurricanes 12th in the country.

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Nov 12, 2016; Charlottesville, VA, USA; Virginia Cavaliers quarterback Kurt Benkert (6) throws the ball as Miami Hurricanes defensive lineman Trent Harris (33) and Hurricanes defensive lineman Tyreic Martin (90) chase in the second quarter at Scott Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Although the Mountaineers are primarily a running team, their pass offense still needs to be respected. Fifty-Eight percent of West Virginia’s plays on offense and 47.2 percent of their yardage comes via the ground game.

West Virginia Quarterback Skyler Howard likes to spread the ball around. Four different West Virginia Receivers have over 30 receptions and 300 yards. They will be without second leading receiver Ka’Raun White who is out for the season with a broken leg. White is the brother of the Chicago Bears Kevin White.

Without White, Howard still has leading receiver Dakiell Shorts, Shelton Gibson who led the Mountaineers in receiving yards, yards per catch and touchdowns and Jovon Durante. Crawford and their other running backs don’t play a vital role in their passing game.

The offensive line has been solid pass blocking this season. West Virginia allowed 21 sacks in 12 games this season. That comes out to 1.75 sacks allowed per game, 42nd nationally.

Football Outsiders explains their pass blocking as follows:

Pass-blocking stats

  • Adjusted Sack Rate: An opponent-adjusted version of a team’s sack rate — sacks divided by (sacks plus passes), presented on a scale in which 100 is perfectly average, above 100 is good, below 100 is bad.
  • Standard Downs Sack Rate: Unadjusted sack rate for standard downs pass attempts.
  • Passing Downs Sack Rate: Unadjusted sack rate for passing downs pass attempts.
Adj Sack Rate Rk Std. Downs Sack Rate Rk Pass. Downs Sack Rate Rk
120.3 38 3.7% 38 7.7% 63

The Mountaineers scored 120.3 on Adjusted sack rate. 120.3 is significantly higher than average and ranks 38th in the nation. On their standard down pass attempts, WVU also finished 38th and on Passing Downs they were a bit further down at 63rd.

Judging from football outsiders measurement of the West Virginia offensive line, the key for Miami will be getting the Mountaineers into third and fourth down situations. Even on third and fourth and short they have struggled this season.

Look for Manny Diaz to blitz frequently and to scheme to get the Mountaineers into the late down situations.

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