Preview: WVU - Rutgers

West Virginia tries to seal at least a share of the Big East title in the regular season finale against Rutgers.

BlueGoldNews.com Game Scorecard
Sat 12/410 12:00 PM

Morgantown, WV

Mountaineer Field
Record: 8-3
BCS: 24
Last Game
Pitt W 35-10
TV: ABC
Radio: MSN
Web: BlueGoldNews.com
Record: 4-7
BCS: NR
Last Game
Louisville L 40-13
Rosters/ Bios
Press Release
Season Stats
2010 Schedule

Series: WVU 31-4-2
First Meeting: 1921
Last Meeting: 2010
Rosters/Bios
Press Release
Season Stats
2010 Schedule

Click for Morgantown, West Virginia Forecast


INJURIES

WVU – FB Chris Snook (Head), Out; LB Donovan Miles (Ankle), Out for Season; DL Donovan Pearson (Toe), Out for Season, OL Nick Kindler (Shoulder), Our for Season, OL Jeff Braun (Shoulder), Probable; RB Noel Devine (Ankle) Probable; DL Chris Neild (Hamstring) Probable.

Rutgers – RB Joe Martinek (Ankle), Questionable; WR Quron Pratt (Seizures), Out for Season; DT Eric LeGrand (Neck), Out for Season; LB Jim Dumont (Knee), Out for Season; FB Edmond Laryea (Knee), Out for Season; QB Steve Shimko (Shoulder), Out for Season; WR Timothy Wright (Knee), Out for Season; RB Casey Tuner (Groin), Out for Season.


GAME OUTLOOK

WVU Offense vs. Rutgers defense

The Scarlett Knights typically stout 4-3 set has had difficulty stopping the run, ranking last in the Big East after having allowed at least 150 yards in six games. Cincinnati, Connecticut and Pitt especially gashed Rutgers, hitting RU for between 200 and almost 300 yards per foe. Solid first down yardage has translated into difficult defensive situation in second and third downs, which hasn't let Rutgers pressure the pocket much (it has 15 sacks on the season). That, in turn, as allowed quarterbacks to pick apart secondaries, to find open wideouts and move the sticks. It's a continually snowballing problem, and it hasn't shown many recent signs of abating. Rutgers has solid players, especially along the line with tackle Scott Vallone and end Jonathan Freeney. Both were considered potential first-team Big East picks, but haven't quite matched that. Vallone, 6-3, 270 pounds, has amassed 38 tackles but just 1.5 sacks. Freeney has 33 tackles, seven for loss. Add in Alex Silvestro (56 tackles, 4.5 sacks), and it would seem the Knights should be limiting the run game better than they are. The line is athletic, has experience and some depth – but none of it is directly responsible for execution, and that is what has been lacking. One would expect West Virginia to be able to again use Shawne Alston for more power while continuing to mix Noel Devine in as needed.

The linebackers are a bit younger, led by Antonio Lowery. The junior has a team-best 86 tackles and moves well in space. He isn't a pure run-stopper, but does have the proverbial nose fro the football and seems to be in on a quite high number of defensive plays. He mans an outside spot and is playing alongside teammates with lesser experience, so he often draws the difficult blocks in an offensive scheme. That has caused a lot of ball carriers to get into the third level for big gains, giving one an idea of why safety Joe Lefeged is third on the team with 68 tackles. Free safety Kaseem Greene (6-1, 215 lbs.) is still developing his potential, and doesn't always read the offensive sets well. If Geno Smith has the time, West Virginia has the playmakers to exploit a secondary that has allowed more than 200 yards per game and 18 touchdowns against eight picks – numbers that are second-worst in the conference. WVU seems to have either dialed in or dial back in the passing game, as it hasn't made huge mistakes there as it did earlier in the year, though the numbers are down some in the last three games. Still, if the Mountaineers are making good gains on first down, it should be able to move the ball passing as needed.

Overall, this has simply been a disappointment for Rutgers, even without considering the issues with defensive tackle Eric Legrand, who was paralyzed after an injury suffered in a game this season. The emotional toll was significant, but doesn't account for the entirety of the mediocre play. The Knights seemed fine six games in, as they had not allowed any more than 24 points in any game, and that in a 27-24 victory over UConn. Then, starting with a 41-21 loss at Pitt, RU gave up 41, 28, 10, 69 and 40 points in five straight losses. It appears the team has largely quit, and playing in Morgantown in a game West Virginia must have to maintain a chance of going to the BCS and winning a share of the league title won't aid in snapping the 16 game road skid. If WVU doesn't beat itself, Rutgers should not be able to make enough plays on this side to help an offense facing one of the better defenses in the nation.

By The Numbers
West Virginia Rutgers
Scoring Offense 25.9 ppg Scoring Defense 25.7 ppg
Rushing Offense 161.4 ypg Rushing Defense 155.1 ypg
Passing Offense 201.9 ypg Passing Defense 205.5 ypg

Advantage: West Virginia


WVU Defense vs. Rutgers Offense

The Knights were expected to lean heavily on a ground game that had proven itself time and again under head coach Greg Schiano. The idea, after former starter Tom Savage was injured in the fifth game, was to allow freshman quarterback Chas Dodd to develop while forcing the backs and line to should the load. That hasn't worked, as Rutgers averages less than 100 yards per game on the ground with a paltry nine rushing scores – last in the Big East. Worse, RU's 2.7 yards per carry is also a league last by more than a full yard. That has left Dodd in the precarious position of trying to throw his way to a win, and one can guess what has transpired. Opposing teams, stuffing the run, have played pin-the-tail on Dodd, who has been pinballed around the pocket early and often. Dodd has connected on 99 of 172 passes for 1,321 yards and nine scores. His worst game was an abysmal three of 11 effort against Syracuse, but he did handle Cincinnati's defense decently two weeks ago in a 69-38 defeat. At just 6-0, Dodd isn't the ideal quarterback to have sit in the pocket and try to see over much taller lineman. He also isn't a runner, and so often gives way to receiver Mohamed Sanu in the wildcat formation. Sanu, a sophomore, is actually the team's leading rusher at 30 yards per game.

Starting running back Joe Martinek, questionable with an ankle injury, averages less than 27 yards per game and has just four touchdowns this season. If Martinek doesn't play, freshman Jordan Thomas is expected to start. That gives Rutgers even less experience and depth in an already thin backfield that has three wideouts in its top five in rushing. Sanu leads the receivers with 41 catches for 398 yards and a couple scores. Deep threat Mark Harrison (6-3, 230 lbs.) has tallied 681 yards and averages almost 20 yards per grab. West Virginia needs to at least contain if not totally corral the sophomore, who has a team-best eight TDs. The tight end, usually a threat in the RU pro-style offense, hasn't been as much of a factor this season, but that could change versus the Mountaineers. Sophomore D.C. Jefferson, at 6-6, 256 pounds, has the size and range to be a legit target down the seam for the Knights if they can give Dodd the time. WVU must be aware of this, though if it can bottle the run as expected, the downs and yardage needed will do much in the way to hurt the Knights.

This seems, maybe more than any team West Virginia has faced in recent memory, to be an execution and experience issue much more than a lack of talent or skill. Schiano has recruited well, and his players typically develop nicely as their careers progress. But a freshman signalcaller, a line that has allowed a Big East-worst (again) 46 sacks and a backfield that lacks a legit threat and could be minus a starter has simply been too much to overcome. Rutgers continually must attempt long third downs, meaning the line needs to protect longer, the wideouts have to run longer patterns, opposing teams have more time to pressure. There's little wonder the Knights are converting just 30 percent of their third downs. They are, however, avoiding turnovers with just four fumbles and eight picks on the season. RU's plus-seven turnover ratio is the best in the league, so don't anticipate the visitor's beating themselves. West Virginia should limit the run, force poor passing situations, then take advantage of a young quarterback. It's a recipe that has often worked, and should again; one would be shocked to find any predictions in which Rutgers reaches the mythical 21 points against WVU.

By The Numbers
West Virginia Rutgers
Scoring Defense 12.6 ppg Scoring Offense 21.5 ppg
Rushing Defense 87.1 ypg Rushing Offense 104.4 ypg
Passing Defense 168.6 ypg Passing Offense 198.9 ypg

Advantage: West Virginia


WVU Special Teams vs. Rutgers Special Teams

This is the team West Virginia comes closest to matching in overall numbers. The Knights have an advantage in kickoff return, while WVU's coverage has been much better. The Mountaineer returners will face a kickoff unit that is netting just 40 yards, while RU's return men average about five more yards per attempt than their counterparts. The field goal numbers are also similar, with San San Te making 14 of 20 attempts (Tyler Bitancurt had made 10 of 14 tries) with a long of 43 yards. He has struggled beyond 40, missing five of seven. RU punter Ted Dellaganna averages 41-plus yards per punt; West Virginia's punt coverage has been solid to good. It's fielding of punts has not. Rutgers is adept at blocking kicks. If the Mountaineers can avoid that, they can pull even in this area.

By The Numbers
West Virginia Rutgers
Net Punting 37.2 yards Net Punting 34.8 yards
KO Returns 18.7 yards per return KO Returns 23.3 yards per return
Punt Returns 8.7 yards per return Punt Returns 8.8 yards per return

Advantage: Even


PICKS TO CLICK

On Offense: Eric Jobe, Jeff Braun.

On Defense: Brandon Hogan.


PREDICTION

West Virginia should be able to run with power, throw intermediately and stop Rutgers in just about all phases. The Mountaineers, as they have done twice in Big East play, could beat themselves, but there's little here in indicate Rutgers can do much in the way of knocking off WVU at home for the first time in 17 tries. If West Virginia plays intelligently, doesn't turn the bal over and executes, it should win. That really could have been said of about at least 10 games this year. With just one more between West Virginia and another (shared) Big East championship, a letdown would be catastrophic. There's no, truly, just one more to go in the season. The focus has to be on it. This one's closer than expected.

West Virginia – 27 Rutgers – 16


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