Match-Ups: WVU - Syracuse

Two schemes. Two individual factors. How will this quartet combine to determine the outcome of the West Virginia - Syracuse game? Game Scorecard
Sat 10/23/10 12:00 PM

Morgantown, WV

Mountaineer Field
Record: 5-1
BCS: 23
Last Game
USF W 20-6
Radio: MSN
Record: 4-2
Last Game
Pitt L 45-14
Rosters/ Bios
Press Release
Season Stats
2010 Schedule

Series: Syracuse 30-27
First Meeting: 1945
Last Meeting: 2009
Press Release
Season Stats
2010 Schedule

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WVU rushing defense vs. Syracuse running back Delone Carter

Syracuse has had reasonable success with its running game in general, and with Carter in particular. As the Orange figure to attempt to limit West Virginia's possessions and shorten the game, Carter and his ability to set Syracuse up in manageable conversions could be one of the keys to the game.

After a promising start to his career as a freshman in 2006, Carter missed the 2007 season due to a dislocated hip, then played sparingly in a backup role in 2008. He bounced back a year ago to gain 1,021 yards and average 4.3 yards per carry, but didn't get the sort of notoriety that other Big East backs did. This year, he's averaging a solid 4.6 yards per tote, and is on track for another season of 1000+ yards, and can be the key to a Syracuse attack that is striving to hold on to the ball more and keep opposing defenses off the field.

Carter has a mix of skills that make him a game long threat. He's strong, not easy to tackle, and will keep pounding away at opposing defenses. If he can get four or five yards on early down carries, Syracuse will have a chance to execute a ball-control strategy and keep West Virginia in check. The Mountaineers will counter with a run defense that is ranked number one in the league, so this won't be ab easy task, but some WVU foes have popped a few consistent gains by running inside the offensive tackles. Look for Syracuse to try to counter West Virginia's pursuing speed by doing just this early on. Later series might see some play action and counters to work on WVU's pursuit speed as well.

Carter isn't a flashy runner, but he has the ability to set the tone for a Syracuse offense that hopes to at least match its 39% third down conversion rate and improve its nearly six minute per game deficit in time of possession.

WVU passing attack vs. Syracuse blitz

West Virginia countered heavy pressure from USF a week ago with a variety of screen passes that were mostly of a horizontal nature. The Mountaineers did go play action out of the I-formation and score on a deep pass, but for the most part chose to get rid of the ball early rather than try maximum protection schemes. Will that continue this week?

Jock Sanders
Syracuse has blitzed and brought pressure from all angles in 2010, as the Orange hope to create big plays on the defensive side of the ball. Whether that's because this scheme best fits its players, or if the SU coaching staff thinks that it's the best way to stay in the game is unknown, but so far this year the 'Cuse has been a banzai defense. Cornerback Mike Holmes leads the team in sacks with three, and no fewer than nine different defenders have gotten in on the sack parade.

West Virginia has some different options it can go to in order to combat the all-out charge. It can, as mentioned earlier, try to throw around the blitz with the screens, or it can keep a tight end and a running back in for pass protection and try to gain enough time to throw the ball down the field. It could also try to work some draw plays into the game plan, in order to find a crease against a defense that has left more than a few of them in its efforts to create on that side of the ball. Might this be the week that the tight end makes a reappearance in the passing game? On those plays when the tight end gets into the pattern, it seems to be a perfect opportunity to hit Will Johnson or Tyler Urban on a hot route, or in a zone vacated by a rusher.

A look at Syracuse's defensive numbers might not seem to suggest a huge vulnerability on pass defense, but last week Pitt was able to throw for 266 yards while scoring four times through the air. On a couple of those occasions, the Panthers caught the Orange in a blitz and beat them for scores, including a simple wide receiver screen that turned into a 79-yard scoring jaunt. West Virginia will have certainly studied the development of that play more than once this week as it prepares its tactics against what it expects to be an all-out defensive assault.


West Virginia has done well in recruiting high school running backs that end up starring at other positions, but Syracuse has also done well as it has shuffled players around to fill gaps. Senior linebacker Doug Hogue is the standout of that group, having morphed from a running back into a Dick Butkus Award candidate in 2010. Those that remember him as a backup runner the first two years of his career should recall a physical player who dealt out punishment at the end of runs, and he plays defense with the same sort of abandon.

So far this year, the aggressive New York native has 39 tackles. He's a great pursuer of the ball, so look for West Virginia to try to get him moving in the wrong direction a time or two in order to take advantage of that trait. Despite playing just half his career on defense, he's already 15th on the Orange career tackles for loss list, which shows he gets upfield in a hurry. If WVU can get him to chase a wild goose a time or two, it should be able to hit a big play. But if Hogue plays with discipline, he'll almost certainly be a productive force for the Syracuse defense.

* * *

WVU linebacker Pat Lazear continued to work his way back into the lineup during WVU's win over USF, but it wasn't a full-time move. That fact meant some shuffling in the Mountaineer linebacking corps during the game. When Lazear was in, Anthony Leonard moved over the the strong side spot at times in place of Najee Goode. When Lazear was out, Leonard shifted back to the middle.

Such in-game switches might cause some confusion at times, but it didn't seem to affect the play of Leonard, who has had a very productive senior campaign. Still, these moves bear watching during the coming weeks. When Lazear comes in, does Leonard get all the snaps at the sam, or does Goode take some to give him a rest? How many snaps does Lazear play this week, and in future weeks? On a positive note, Lazear's return gives assistant coach Jeff Casteel the chance to rest and rotate his 'backers a bit more – just hopefully not at the expense of defensive continuity.

* * *

After witnessing a decided lack of buzz for last Thursday night's game, I am left to wonder at just what things will be like for Saturday's noon kickoff. Early kicks often don't allow the crowd to build any sort of enthusiasm, what with late arrivals from tailgating. For some reason, there's not much excitement about this team, even though it is developing an outstanding defense and a maturing passing attack. (I know, it just isn't "sexy". Or it doesn't have any "juice".)

The opponent also will contribute to what I fear will be another ho-hum atmosphere. Syracuse, while improving, isn't ready to challenge for a Big East title, although the Orange have already shown the ability to knock off a talented team. If the visitors get off to a good early start, will there be a groundswell of support to try to kickstart the Mountaineers? Or will the boos start to sound?

I'm far to jaded at this point to suggest that people change their behavior. But I do know that it can have an effect on play, and on the performance of 20-year old athletes. Will West Virginia's fans make Mountaineer Field an intimidating place to play again? I can attest to the fact that the 1996 defense fed off the roars it received after shutting down opponents. There's no reason that defense can't be viewed as being as exciting as offense – it's just that many fans have been conditioned otherwise by writers and broadcasters who can't see past offensive statistics.

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