Match-Ups: WVU - Louisville

A face-off of strengths will be one of the key factors in the West Virginia - Louisville football game. Game Scorecard
Sat 11/20/10 12:00 PM

Louisville, KY

Papa John's Cardinal Stadium
Record: 6-3
Last Game
Cincinnati W 37-1013-16
TV: Big East
Radio: MSN
Record: 5-5
Last Game
USF L 24-21
Rosters/ Bios
Press Release
Season Stats
2010 Schedule

Series: WVU 9-2
First Meeting: 1984
Last Meeting: 2009
Press Release
Season Stats
2010 Schedule

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WVU run defense vs. Louisville running backs

Stopping the run is always goal number one of West Virginia's defense, but that task will be magnified against a Cardinal rushing attack that features a talented backfield filled with options.

The first, and most obvious, is Bilal Powell, who has jumped into the lineup and been spectacular, averaging 134 yards per game. Almost forgotten is Victor Anderson, who ran for 1,047 yards in 2008 and appeared primed for stardom before injuries derailed his career. Together, the duo gives Louisville a number of different ways to attack defenses in the running game, making this face-off an intriguing one from a tactical standpoint.

Most rushing games haven't been able to run around WVU's defense. The Mountaineers' pursuit, coming from the second level of its 3-3-5 base alignment, is simply too fast to beat to the corner consistently. West Virginia has also tackled very well, and that combination has made the defense almost impervious to attack on the edge. The story has been similar on the inside, where Chris Neild anchors the middle and makes power running difficult. He's played at an all-conference and perhaps even an all-American level.

So, what is left for the Cardinals to attack? Look for UofL to try to copy the success Syracuse had with one type of play. The Orange were able to run a bit by starting out with what looked to be a stretch play, then kicking out the widest defender and cutting the run up inside the tackle/tight end gap. The Cards will also likely try a few outside runs in order to set up this look. West Virginia countered the Syracuse success with an adjustment with its safeties in run support, so it will also be interesting to see just how the Mountaineers respond to Louisville's attempt to establish the run. The Cardinals have a veteran offensive front featuring four seniors, so the battle with WVU's outstanding defensive line should be a good one.

WVU wide receiver Tavon Austin vs. Louisville defense

Last week, West Virginia got Austin involved in the offensive scheme, in both the running and passing games. The Mountaineers must continue to do so, and perhaps even more heavily, to ensure continued offensive success.

Tavon Austin
While the Mountaineers have a number of other players capable of moving the ball and making things happen offensively, none have Austin's combination of moves, speed and breakaway ability. That doesn't mean that he should be getting 20 touches per game, but WVU can put pressure on Louisville's improving defense by getting the ball to him in a variety of ways. The jet sweeps, in which Austin takes a handoff while in motion from the slot, is an effective maneuver, and while it has a bad rap, the occasional horizontal screen pass isn't bad either. In order to provide contrast, the Mountaineers should continue to attack with him downfield as well, as it did against Cincinnati, where the result was two early touchdowns and a stranglehold on the eventual outcome.

The Cardinals have made good improvement on defense under head coach Charlie Strong. While they are still yielding a bit over 300 yards per game, they are holding opponents to just 19.4 points per contest, and aren't suffering the massive breakdowns or giving up the hugs plays that gashed their defense in previous seasons. Holding Austin in check will be a difficult task for them, however, especially if the Mountaineers continue to use him in a variety of ways. It's not just a matter of covering him on pass plays, which can be difficult enough as he matches up against safeties when running against man coverage out of the slot. Defensive ends and outside linebackers must contain him on sweeps, and pursuit must arrive quickly in order to stop cutbacks and quick upfield moves.

Keep track of how West Virginia uses Austin early, and watch Louisville's coverages, especially when he's in motion. The Cardinals will likely be paying extra attention to him after his performance last week.


West Virginia has done a decent job of avoiding sacks this year, but has been vulnerable to pass rushes on occasion. Louisville brings an outstanding player in that regard, defensive end Rodney Gnat, to the field on Saturday. How will WVU try to contain Gnat, who has used a variety of moves to record seven sacks this year (including 4.5 against Eastern Kentucky) as well as the rest of the Cardinals' edge pressure?

The Mountaineers may have to help against them with an extra blocker, be it a tight end or a running back, and may also try to move the pocket away from pressure on occasion. WVU has rolled its pass protection a good bit more this year than in past seasons, and while some of that has obviously been due to the change in offensive style, it also has allowed the Mountaineers to attack from different angles in the passing game. Keep an eye on WVU's pass protection schemes, and see how much pressure (and from where) the Cardinals are able to generate against the Mountaineer passing game.

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Regular readers of this feature know our view on statistics – that they can be overrated and overhyped at times without providing much in the way of insight. That's isn't always the case though, and this week's stat to watch should be one that points the way to success for the team that comes out on top. The subject? Louisville's offensive success on third down.

So far this year, the Cardinals have been successful on 40% of their third down conversions. That's not due to any secret formula – Louisville has put itself in many manageable third down situations via its running game, and has executed well in those situations. Pitt was the only team which has really throttled the Cards offensively, and if Louisville can continue to convert and keep the ball, it is going to be a threat to win every game it plays.

Facing that is a WVU defense that has been stellar on third down. The Mountaineers allow success on just 22% of opponents' tries on that down, which puts them atop the NCAA rankings in that statistical category. Again, there's no mystery here. West Virginia is forcing opponents to throw the ball, and doesn't allow many third and short situations. WVU tackles very well, and its veteran defense hasn't made many mistakes that opponents can exploit.

Which team wins that battle? While the third downs themselves are important, first down will also be critical. How many yards does Louisville get on the initial play? Can West Virginia force some negative yardage plays to get the Cardinals away from their run game? Those factors will be key in the battle for third down supremacy.

* * *

The Cardinals feature a balanced offense, and have moved the ball against almost every foe, so it's unrealistic think they won't be able to get the ball in scoring position at times against the Mountaineer defense. The key, and one that is overlooked by the way in which stats are tracked by the NCAA is the number of times they get it into the end zone as opposed to being forced into field goal attempts.

On the season, teams have snapped the ball inside WVU's red zone on 17 different drives. While WVU has yielded scores on 14 of those occasions, only four of those have been touchdowns. The Mountaineer defense has forced ten field goal attempts, which is simply outstanding. NCAA stats only look at the number of scores in the red zone, so WVU's 82% "failure" rate ranks it just 58th in the nation. That's quite misleading, though. A more accurate measure would be number of points yielded in the red zone. West Virginia's total? Fifty-eight – which would put it number one in the country.

The lesson here is clear. Count points, not scores, in the red zone. If WVU just yields field goals, it's going to record a win.

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