Match-Ups: WVU - LSU

West Virginia will likely face key tests at just about every position against LSU, but these stand out as we continue to preview WVU's trip to the bayou.

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Sat 9/25/10 9:00 PM

Baton Rouge, LA

Tiger Stadium
Record: 3-0
Coaches' Poll: 21
Last Game
Maryland W 31-17
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Record: 3-0
Coaches' Poll: 12
Last Game
Miss St W 29-7
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Series: First Meeting
First Meeting: 2010
Last Meeting: 2010
Rosters/Bios
Press Release
Season Stats
2010 Schedule

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MATCH-UPS AND STORYLINES

WVU left guard Eric Jobe vs. LSU defensive tackle Drake Nevis

Jobe, expected to make his first start at left guard against the Tigers, won't be assigned to block Nevis on every play. But he's going to be a primary opponent, and the success the Mountaineer transplant has against one of the best defensive linemen in the nation will serve as a benchmark for WVU's offensive line success.

Jobe is a veteran, so he's not going to lose this battle from an experience standpoint. However, he is making a start at a position that is new to him. This will be his first start on the left side, and although he has 21 other starts in his career, he's making a change that involves the reversal of every technique he employs on the right side. His power leg and kick leg are now reversed. Hand position changes. Everything is mirrored. Performing that well is a challenge in any circumstance, must less when matched up against Nevis.

The Tiger defensive lineman has racked up linebacker-like statistics through the first three games of the season. He has 18 tackles on the year (that's second on the team), with five of those coming behind the line of scrimmage. He's accounted for 3.5 sacks, and even has an interception to his credit. Basically, he's a lineman-sized guy who plays with the speed and athleticism of a linebacker, and he has been a destructive force for LSU in 2010.

To combat this, look for WVU to try to use his speed and aggressiveness against him. While West Virginia isn't a big trap blocking team, it might pay dividends to invite him across the line and catch him with a pulling blocker from the opposite side. Double teams will certainly come into play, and West Virginia will likely have to keep an extra blocker in on some passing plays to help against a rush that has garnered 11 sacks to date.


WVU defensive scheme vs. LSU receiver Russell Shepard

LSU's multi-talented offensive weapon figures to get the ball in a variety of ways against the Mountaineers, and the tactics WVU uses to try to contain him must be well-executed to keep big plays from breaking out.



Sidney Glover
Shepard can line up at wide receiver, running back or quarterback for the Tigers, and although his play from the latter spot is usually limited to direct snaps, runs, and handoffs, it wouldn't be a surprise to see him throw a pass, either. So far this year, he has carried the ball 17 times for 144 yards and two scores, and caught six balls for 58 yards and another touchdown. Just as West Virginia does with its playmakers, the Tigers move Shepard into different positions to create favorable match-ups, ad so far the results have been good for the former quarterback who split time between that position and wideout in 2009. Although he hasn't done so this year, the threat of him throwing the ball makes him even more difficult to contain when he gets the ball in the LSU backfield.

West Virginia will have to be very disciplined in its approach to Shepard. Aside from blazing speed, he can make defenders miss, and while he doesn't have the stop and go moves of a Noel Devine, he changes gears quickly and makes very smooth moves while running at top speed. He continually stresses defenders by getting upfield, and doesn't waste a lot of time dancing in place.

To combat him, WVU will likely have to bracket him with defenders when he lines up at wideout. If he goes in motion or shows reverse action, the defender with backside responsibility will have to make sure to stay in his assigned area in order to string him out if he gets the ball coming back against the flow. And lastly, the WVU deep secondary, which plays aggressive run support and swarms to the ball, has to make sure that a pass or some other gadget play isn't in the offing when Shepard is involved. All of these things can cut down on the aggressiveness a defense displays, so the Mountaineers have to guard against being too cautious. That's a fine line to have to tread when playing against explosive opponents.


THINGS TO WATCH

One of the topics of conversation all week has been West Virginia's susceptibility to big plays. The Mountaineers have given up four plays of fifty yards or greater the past two weeks (by comparison, LSU has yielded three plays of 40 yards or more all season). But while the defense certainly wants to cut those big gainers out, there remains the fact that West Virginia's defensive philosophy, like any that emphasizes swarming to the ball and overloading against the run, is going to be susceptible to the occasional big gainer.

That's not to say that coaches and players simply shrug off big plays and don't address them in practice. They aren't willing to live with the mistakes that often cause a long run or pass. However, knowledgeable fans understand that a defense can't cover every single thing on every play. West Virginia's number one goal on defense is to stop the run, and it will occasionally sell out to do so. WVU will overwhelm rushing lanes and swarm to the ball, and many times that results in the elimination of the running game as a factor. Many times, that's the key to victory. The downside, of course, is that without very good execution, holes sometime result that can be exploited with a deep pass or a trick play.

The question to ask, then, is one of balance. Is it better to shut down five or six drives early at the risk of giving up a long score or two, or play it a bit more conservatively, yield some short gains, and hope for a mistake or a turnover to snuff out a drive? Neither approach is wrong, and WVU fans have seen their teams employ both over the years. But if the Mountaineers can continue to hold opponents to an average of 62 yards per game on the ground, as they have done through the first three games, a big play or two probably isn't going to be enough to flip the scoreboard.

* * *

You've heard discussion of LSU's environment and the crowd all week, and we won't rehash that here. But one thing to watch in that area is the way in which West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith handles the noise. Other than the first half at Marshall, when a convoluted play signaling system caused confusion, Smith has been very good at dealing with crowd noise, distractions and pressure in making adjustments, changing plays and getting the offense into the right call.

Smith looks to have more freedom at the line to change calls than most any sophomore in recent WVU history, and it's just another testament to his coolness under pressure. This week, though, he likely won't be able to use many verbal calls in changing things up or calling for snaps. WVU will likely go on a silent snap count, and use some hand signals to check out to a different play, and when doing that it's incumbent on the other 10 players on the field to concentrate even more strongly to make sure everyone runs the same play. It sounds simple, but in the heat of battle, it's key. Watch West Virginia's receivers and exterior linemen. Are they getting the calls? Any signs of confusion as the play clock is ticking down? Those factors, especially early in the game, will be big ones for the Mountaineers.

* * *

This is a tough thing to quantify, and an even tougher one to discern, but West Virginia must take the initiative in this game. Comments about playing it close to the vest and keeping things safe early in the game are common, but they're also wrong. West Virginia must play its normal game and attack both offensively and defensively if it is to have a chance to win.

That doesn't mean the Mountaineers need to come out bombing the ball all over the field, or blitzing on two out of every three downs. Getting out of their normal rhythm isn't going to yield magic results. Think of how many times an underdog comes into a game and tries to throw a deep ball on its first play, or runs a reverse on the opening kickoff. More often than not, that helps the favorite, which shuts down the play and gets an early advantage. But West Virginia can't hand the ball off on ten of its first 12 plays, or suffer three or four three and outs in the first half. It needs to let Smith, no matter his level of experience, throw the ball. It has to try its jet and orbit sweeps, and keep throwing the crossing routes. It needs, in short, to be itself.


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