With the health of Oklahoma State starting quarterback Spencer Sanders up in the air for Saturday’s Big 12 opener, West Virginia University football coach Neal Brown and his coaching staff are preparing this week to see as many as three different passers for the Cowboys.
Sanders exited OSU’s season-opener against Tulsa last Saturday with an ankle injury on just the second drive of the game for the Cowboys. Backups Ethan Bullock and Shane Illingworth finished the game in his stead.
“I think what you do is you prepare for the guy that started the year, which is Spencer Sanders,” Brown explained to the media Tuesday afternoon. “If he’s well then my assumption is he’ll play and that’s who you prepare for. If another guy plays they’ll adjust and we’ll have to adjust. But I think going in, you prepare and you plan for the strengths of what [Sanders] does and his dual-threat ability and then if you need to adjust, you adjust.”
While playing against Sanders could prove difficult given his skillset, at least WVU knows what to prepare for. The redshirt-sophomore missed last season’s game against the Mountaineers with a thumb injury, but there are 10 other full games worth of film from last season the WVU coaching staff can look back on and evaluate Sanders from. For Bullock and Illingworth, there is no such luxury.
Neither Bullock or Illingworth had even appeared in an FBS-level college game before Saturday. Bullock played at South Dakota State in 2017 and then City College of San Francisco in 2017 and 2018. Illingworth is a true freshman. They both played against Tulsa, but Bullock attempted 13 passes against Tulsa, Illingworth just five.
WVU defensive backs coach Jahmile Addae said watching tape can show what a quarterback is physically capable of.
“You’re really just trying to get more of the physical skillset,” Addae said. “What he’s being asked to do in college is a little bit different than what he’s asked to do in high school and so you’re not necessarily looking at the scheme as opposed to what he’s capable of.”
When watching film, Addae said they are looking at how a quarterback runs, how strong his arm is, what his decision making is like and his ability to see downfield.
“You’re just trying to gather information,” Addae said. “It’s like anything else; if you don’t have information you’ve got to go dig and try to get it in every avenue in which you can and build a portfolio in which you feel good about using to defend him.”
To find out what those two are capable of, Brown said they watched as far back as their high school film.
“You go back and watch his high school film just to get a good understanding of who he is,” Brown said.
Bullock played nine games for CCSF last season, passing for 1,468 yards and 15 touchdowns. Illingworth was a four-star prospect from Norco, Californa and rated as high as the No. 2 quarterback in the 2019 class. He passed for 3,081 yards and 44 touchdowns.
Thanks to Hudl, we have access to some of the same film that Brown and the WVU coaching staff has of Bullock and Illingworth:
WVU and Oklahoma State will kick off Big 12 play at 3:30 p.m. on Saturday in Stillwater, Oklahoma. The game will be broadcast on ABC.