Match-Ups: West Virginia - UNLV

West Virginia's final non-conference game of the regular season might not have confrontations with national implications, but there are still some interesting battles and subplots to analyze.

BlueGoldNews.com Game Scorecard
Sat 10/9/10 3:30 PM

Morgantown, WV

Mountaineer Field
Record: 3-1
BCS: NR
Last Game
LSU L 14-20
TV: Big East Network
Radio: MSN
Web: BlueGoldNews.com
Record: 1-4
BCS: NA
Last Game
Nevada L 26-44
Rosters/ Bios
Press Release
Season Stats
2010 Schedule

Series: First Meeting
First Meeting: 2010
Last Meeting: ----
Rosters/Bios
Press Release
Season Stats
2010 Schedule

Click for Morgantown, West Virginia Forecast


MATCH-UPS AND STORYLINES

WVU secondary vs. UNLV wide receiver Phillip Payne

Payne is a big, consistent target for the Rebels who has put up excellent numbers through his two-plus years in Las Vegas, and he'll be a good challenge for a Mountaineer secondary that continues to work to eliminate the big play.

Payne has earned his yardage across the board this year, catching at least three passes in every UNLV contest. His biggest game came against state rival Nevada, in which he hauled in seven balls for a career-best 170 yards and a score, but he has two other 70+ yard games this year, and is an excellent target both in traffic and downfield. Payne uses his height to good advantage, and runs every route well. He doesn't just catch the ball under the coverage, as long gains of 65 and 45 yards this year attest.

West Virginia won't be able to jump certain routes against Payne, as he is an across-the-board threat. He can catch the ball anywhere on the field, and with his height it won't be a surprise to see Rebel quarterbacks give him a chance for a jump ball or two down the field. WVU, which has been trying to hone its man-to-man coverage to allow more rushers to get into action on pass plays, might be expected to give deep help in man coverage situations against the Biletnikoff Award nominee. In zone, WVU must clean up some of the issues that have resulted in long pass completions over the past couple of years In addition to cornerbacks Brandon Hogan and Keith Tandy, Robert Sands and Eain Smith (who mans the free safety spot in some third down defenses) will have to be aware of Payne's presence.

Look for UNLV to take a deep shot or two to Payne early in the game to reinforce his threat status and try to create some space for its creaky running game, which averages just three yards per attempt. Payne has the ability to win those one-on-one battles.

(And then, of course, as soon as we post this, it's announced that Payne did not make the trip to WVU due to some comments he made on his Twitter account. The analysis would have been good, had he been able to control his keyboard.)


WVU run game vs. UNLV linebacker Calvin Randleman

Randleman, a converted safety, is off to an excellent start at his outside linebacker position, and his physical skills can make him a tough handle against the run.



Donnie Barclay
To be sure, UNLV's defense hasn't been stellar in 2010, but that's not the fault of Randleman, who brings speed and athleticism to the outside linebacker spot. He has been solid in avoiding blockers and getting to the ball, often on his own. With 19 solo tackles among his 26 stops, as well as three tackles behind the line of scrimmage, Randleman has been a force for the Rebels defensively.

West Virginia's offense is at least familiar with facing off against players of Randleman's size and skillset, as it faces a crop of spurs and bandits from its own defense on some days in practice. Randleman is playing a true outside backer spot in the UNLV defense, and has been making plays by being quicker to the point of attack than those blockers facing him. WVU, which faces more speed, even from its defensive scout team, in practice, should have the tools to handle the senior backer, who has blossomed after a year as a backup with the Rebels following a transfer from Division II Ashland University.

There aren't likely to be any special schemes devised for this battle – it's all about the execution. West Virginia's running game, which has been adequate but not exceptional, will certainly use this contest as another chance to improve its play in preparation for the conference fights to come. And while the Rebels, at least statistically, aren't good against the run, this should be a decent measure of the progress WVU has made during its off week.


THINGS TO WATCH

Lineup watching will be a popular pastime for many West Virginia fans this weekend – or at least it should be. There are at least a couple of different angles to analyze in the contest.

First will be the availability of those Mountaineers recovering from injuries. How far have they progressed, and at what level of efficiency will they be able to play? The list includes Noel Devine, Josh Jenkins, Tyler Urban, Julian Miller, Will Clarke and Robert Sands. Are they healed enough to get back to a normal level of participation?

This brings up the question, which has been analyzed nearly to death this week, of pulling these and some other veterans to "save" them for the Big East schedule, which begins next Thursday. The conventional wisdom is to get them out of the game as soon as possible, but there are other angles to consider. These student-athletes work and grind for nine months during the offseason for the chance to play in a dozen-odd games. Is it fair to sit them down early in one of those games to save them for another one? There's definitely a "greater good" question in play here, and it shouldn't be suggested that backups should not get their chance to play as well. But getting guys out after just a couple of series might not be fair to them and all the work they've put in either.

At least WVU doesn't have the issues UNLV does. The Rebels listed about a quarter of the roster on this week's injury report.

* * *

How will the "rivalry effect" play in to this week's game? No, WVU and UNLV aren't feuding foes, but the Rebels are coming off their rivalry game – a loss to Nevada – one week ago. I've discussed the effects that the West Virginia game has had on Marshall, in both football and basketball, in games immediately following their losses to WVU, wherein the Herd put in so much effort and attached so much importance that they had nothing left to give in succeeding contests. We don't hear much about UNLV – Nevada here in the east, but it's important enough in the Silver State that it's a legislatively mandated contest. UNLV has lost to the WolfPack six years running, and it will be interesting to see if the Rebels have enough gas left in the tank to mount a solid effort.

UNLV has also attempted to mitigate the jet lag effects for the game by coming east on Thursday, rather than the standard Friday. Will that be enough to get the team acclimated to the time difference? On the surface, it seems like many of those factors are overblown by those looking for angles to the contest. With a mid-afternoon start (translating to an early afternoon kick on UNLV's home clocks), it doesn't seem as if that should be a big deal.

* * *

In a game that doesn't have a ton of standout individual confrontations to watch, spare a few moments to keep an eye on UNLV safety Mike Clausen. The junior began the year as the Rebels' starting quarterback, but was replaced by Omar Clayton in the opener. Clausen didn't let that stop him, however, and after moving to safety the next week, immediately made his presence know. He earned a start against Nevada after just three weeks on defense, and has six tackles and a pass interception to show for his efforts.

I know Clausen isn't going to win the Jim Thorpe Award, and since he's not on ESPN or hotdogging for the cameras, he's not a big deal to most football fans. He deserves a bit of appreciation, however, for handling what must have been a difficult situation and doing everything in his power to play and help his team. Those kinds of items are what make college football special.


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