Fri 10/28/10 8:00 PM
Syracuse L 19-14
Louisville L 26-0
Series: WVU 6-0
First Meeting: 2004
Last Meeting: 2009
WVU – Nick Kindler (Shoulder) Out, Tavon Austin (Shoulder) Probable, Scooter Berry (Knee) Probable, Will Clarke (Ankle) Probable, Darwin Cook (Ankle) Probable, Matt Lindamood (Neck) Probable.
UConn – Marcus Campbell (Knee) Out, Geremy Davis (Knee) Out, Yawin Smallwood (Shoulder) Out, Kelmetrius Wylie (Knee) Out, Matt Box (Head) Out
WVU Offense vs. UConn defense
West Virginia's offense is still searching for its most effective abilities, seemingly sans a clear plan of how it will attack foes in key game situations. The jack-of-all-trades, master-of-none approach hurt the Mountaineers against Syracuse and has been among the forefront topics entering the contest at Connecticut.
If WVU sticks with what is most available to be exploited, in this game that means running the ball. UConn ranks seventh in the Big East in both scoring and total defense and has yet to hold any BCS-level foe to fewer than 21 points.
Foes have rushed for more than 150 average yards per game, and though WVU hasn't established itself physically much this season, this could be the outing in which to do so (despite some added advantages in the passing portion). Much of the starting defense is comprised of sophomores and/or players who lack vast experience. And outside of Michigan's Denard Robinson, who repeatedly gashed the Huskies as UM tallied 30 points, UConn hasn't seen a backfield player with Noel Devine's speed and shiftiness. The tailback appears healthier now than at any time since LSU, and because Connecticut's backend players are unlikely to tackle in the open field as well as Syracuse's, the senior could break bigger runs.
The issue, as always, will be blocking and getting defenders out of the box. The former is a yet-unproven commodity with this team, and one that might now be expected to continue to struggle for the remainder of the season. Part of the remedy could be to run more power sets and give Devine an additional blocker in the run game, or get away from the smaller back and utilize additional size via Ryan Clarke and Matt Lindamood – a set that was successful against South Florida and abandoned versus Syracuse.
UConn's front four is average, with the strength on at the ends. WVU must handle the interior and keep solid sophomore end Trevardo Williams from plunging upfield and disrupting plays before they develop. That will allow bodies, hopefully, to get into UConn's linebackers, the core of the defense.
The threat there is middle ‘backer Lawrence Wilson, who leads the team with 62 tackles. The 6-1, 226-pounder's 2.5 sacks aren't eye-opening, but he runs well, attacks the ball and manages to scrape and keep gap control as needed. He has experience in strongside linebacker Scott Lutrus, who has the strength and size to slow the run well.
This is a classic 4-3 front in that the line is asked, foremost, to keep blockers off the backers and allow them to run to the ball. There typically isn't anything surprising from Connecticut in terms of stylings or blitz packages. But recall that in last season's series meeting, head coach Randy Edsall had the Huskies blitzing on almost every down. That forced West Virginia to make significant halftime adjustments, and, towards the end of the game, call a typically-unused play that sprung Devine for the game-winning score. Overall, however, this front seven is pretty standard issue.
The bigger issue for Edsall, a stop-the-run-first coach, could be WVU's passing game. It's unlikely Geno Smith will have another three-interception game this season, especially one in which he makes the obviously erroneous throws he did last week. Add in UConn's all-sophomore secondary, one that has allowed more than 200 average passing yards per game, and the Mountaineers aren't likely to flex their aerial muscles if they don't do it this game.
There are risks in that the Huskies have shown an ability to pick off passes and bring some pressure. But with this skill vs. skill match, Smith's improvement and an almost-certain refocus, West Virginia would appear to have advantages throwing the football. The key is execution and getting Smith's ‘clock' more in-tune with game action. The sophomore has held the ball far too long at times, perhaps giving the impression that the Mountaineer line was playing worse than it actually was. The line surely must pick up the blitz better, and if it does that, it would seem that Smith and the wideouts could well find some operating room against this Connecticut team. Let's hope the latter get past the sticks in key situations.
|By The Numbers|
|Scoring Offense 26.1 ppg||Scoring Defense 12.6 ppg|
|Rushing Offense 142.9 ypg||Rushing Defense 151 ypg|
|Passing Offense 220.3 ypg||Passing Defense 206.1 ypg|
Advantage: West Virginia
WVU Defense vs. UConn Offense
This has always been a great match-up for West Virginia. Connecticut likes to run first, then use play action; try to power foes, then hit them with basic, safe passing plays. The Huskies place a bit more emphasis on not beating themselves than in forcing plays where there likely aren't great opportunities. The Mountaineers have thrived on this in the past, stuffing the run to force long third down chances and shutting down foes short of the sticks. And with the Huskies sans former starting quarterback Cody Endres (suspended for the remainder of the season for violating team rules), one would anticipate even more emphasis on the ground game and safe, quick throws.
Tailback Jordan Todman (5-9, 193 lbs.) averages 140 yards per game, good for second in the Big East. Part of that is ability, part opportunity. Todman gets plenty of carries, and should be a workhorse again Friday. The junior finishes plays well and will continue to drive his legs and use power after initial contact. As always out of the stack, West Virginia must get multiple players to the ball and wrap tackle better than it did against SU. It must also utilize leverage, though more in the tackling sense than in sealing off cutback lanes. This is a power back, a north-south runner who sticks with force over finesse.
Concerning the quarterback situation, Edsall started redshirt freshman Michael Box over Zach Frazer against Louisville despite Frazer being the starter for the first four games this season. Box didn't fare well, and indeed Connecticut failed to score at UofL. Frazer had completed 47 of 91 passes for 53 yards, two touchdowns and an interception over the first four games. It would seem that Frazer would be the better bet against West Virginia, a team that can confuse signalcallers with varying alignments, pressure packages and angles. But even with the former Notre Dame transfer at the helm, it doesn't appear as though UConn's passing game, which ranks 102nd, would be much to fret about.
The top receiver is Michael Smith, a junior with 24 catches for 414 yards and two scores. As always, UConn will also try to get the ball to its tight ends, and backs out of the backfield. They will have time to run routes, as the offensive line has been very good this season. Center Moe Petrus will need help from his guards to handle Chris Neild, and he'll get it in the form of either Mathieu Oliver (6-6, 294 lbs., Sr.) or Zach Hurd (6-7, 325 lbs., Sr.). The Huskies have among the more sizeable lines West Virginia will face all season, and although the front isn't Wisconsin-like in their execution and talent, they can move players effectively and keep pressure off the pocket. The secondary play and the blitz will be imperative for West Virginia, likely just behind slowing the run and tackling well.
Left tackle Mike Ryan's (6-5, 333 lbs., Jr.) match with Bruce Irvin should be one to watch here. Ryan moves well, shows good body control and first-step quickness and sets adequately. Irvin will be tested here – and it would seem so will Ryan. Irvin isn't likely to get free shots, or be able to get to the quarterback in the first two to three seconds. But with the expected longer third down passing situations, this battle could be as much about attrition and staying with the attack than anything else.
|By The Numbers|
|Scoring Defense 13.3 ppg||Scoring Offense 28.1 ppg|
|Rushing Defense 97.4 ypg||Rushing Offense 183.7 ypg|
|Passing Defense 148.4 ypg||Passing Offense 163.4 ypg|
Advantage: West Virginia
WVU Special Teams vs. UConn Special Teams
Connecticut has struggled with deeper field goals this season, as placekicker David Teggart has missed four of five from 40-plus yards. From inside that range, however, he has connected on eight of nine, meaning Edsall won't hesitate to take the points and not force things, especially against a West Virginia offense that hasn't done much to scare the majority of foes.
The Huskies, should they get multiple chances, are solid in the kickoff return game, averaging a league-second-best 24.3 yards per return. The punting game, however, has struggled with Cole Wagner netting just 32 yards per kick, five fewer than West Virginia. The Mountaineers would appear to be able to at least stalemate – if not win – the placekicking and punting aspects, and should be able to hold its own on kickoff coverage if it can wrap tackle effectively.
Neither team is exceptional at one area, and WVU would seem to have the better overall athletes. This is one of the few games this season in which the Mountaineers get a slight edge with the specialists.
|By The Numbers|
|Net Punting 37.5 yards||Net Punting 32 yards|
|KO Returns 17.8 yards per return||KO Returns 24.3 yards per return|
|Punt Returns 9.5 yards per return||Punt Returns 9.6 yards per return|
Advantage: West Virginia
PICKS TO CLICK
On Offense: Geno Smith.
On Defense: Anthony Leonard.
This has always been a very good on-paper game for West Virginia. And, typically, the Mountaineers have executed effectively enough to win. If it tackles well, WVU should be able to at least slow the running game enough to force whatever quarterback plays into uncomfortable situations. It's then that the turnovers and mistakes begin to mount. On offense … it's certainly more puzzling. It's difficult to scout a game when, from week-to-week, there's no indication of what WVU will do – and not in a great way. The Mountaineers could come out winging the ball all over the lot. It appears they could do so against a young, still-developing secondary. They could run some additional power sets, give Devine an added blocker or go with more of the Lindamood-Clarke looks. What most would really desire to know is, if a key situation presents itself, what does West Virginia do offensively? The question in this game might not be scoring more than Connecticut (WVU should be able to do that), but scoring enough on its own merit to showcase some nugget of what it migrates toward when a game's on the line.
WVU – 24 UConn – 16