Match-Ups: WVU - Rutgers

Check out the battles and items of import as WVU tries to position itself for a BCS bowl bid Game Scorecard
Sat 12/410 12:00 PM

Morgantown, WV

Mountaineer Field
Record: 8-3
BCS: 24
Last Game
Pitt W 35-10
Radio: MSN
Record: 4-7
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
Press Release
Season Stats
2010 Schedule

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WVU running back Noel Devine vs. Rutgers slash Mohamed Sanu

I know that this duo doesn't play against each other (and there's nothing dumber than doing match-ups or checklists featuring people that play the same positions). However, the interesting story of the injury-hampered stars of their respective teams could play a big part in this contest.

Mountaineers fans know the well-documented story of Devine's senior season. After starting out with a solid September, Devine's foot and ankle injuries have made him just another guy in West Virginia's offense. He rates his health status at about 75%, and although he will have a much better surface to run on this week than the sandpit of Heinz Field he had to contend with a week ago, he still will likely be absent the quick cuts and burst that made him such a dangerous presence.

On the Rutgers side of the field, Sanu is battling a hamstring injury that has likewise slowed him this year. Although he still sees the ball on the ground (59 carries) and through the air (42 receptions), it's likely that the Scarlet Knights would have liked to see him have the ball much more than that. Sanu has accounted for 873 yards this year, but there were probably visions of 1,500 total yards in 2010 – a figure that Devine was likely eyeing as a worthy rushing goal as well.

Which player will be able to shake off his injuries and come up with a big play or two? There no questioning the heart of either player, as both have battled to overcome their hurts. Obviously, West Virginia is playing for greater stakes here, so that adds a bit of motivation to Devine's side of the ledger, but Sanu, who was expected to be a focal point of the offense in the Wild Knight formation, would love nothing better than to end a disappointing season with a few big plays of his own.

WVU defense vs. Rutgers slash Jeremy Deering

If Sanu remains hobbled, the Mountaineers can't breathe a sigh of total relief, as freshman Jeremy Deering has filled in quite nicely for Sanu. He broke Sanu's record for rushing yards by a non-running back with 166 against Syracuse, and he's also developing into a solid receiving option.

Julian Miller
Deering isn't the passing threat that Sanu is, as he has completed just two of his three attempts for nine yards this year. Those passes serve as mere distractions to the straight runs that he is called upon to execute, and that's certainly what West Virginia will be focusing on stopping when he lines up in the backfield.

When Deering and Sanu are behind the center, West Virginia will have to execute some of the same tactics that it did against B.J. Daniels and other mobile quarterbacks it has faced this year. The Mountaineers will try to prevent big seams from opening up when either are in the shotgun, as they will be able to exploit those sorts of gaps for gains. Two such chasms allowed Pitt's Tino Sunseri, who isn't renowned as a runner, to scamper for big gains, and it's expected that Rutgers will try to execute some plays that use West Virginia's aggressiveness against it. If the Scarlet Knights can induce linemen upfield and drive a wedge with blockers to create a gap, it could move the ball on the ground.

Watch West Virginia's rush tactics when Rutgers uses Deering or Sanu. In all likelihood, WVU's defensive line will execute a more controlled rush, and ensure that they don't leave holes to be exploited by deep moves up the field.


Will Rutgers mail this game in? Given the intense nature of head coach Greg Schiano, that wouldn't seem likely, but the Scarlet Knights have been through a lot this year. While they weren't projected to be at the top of the league, a four-win season wasn't forecast by many either. The Scarlet Knights appeared to have enough talent returning to make a run at a finish near the top of the league, but now they have to come up with a win against the Mountaineers in order to have any chance to avoid the cellar.

A look at Schiano's post-practice interview session showed an almost funereal air. Schiano observed that he couldn't predict how his team would play (citing a statement from legendary coach Bear Bryant that echoed a similar outlook), and in all honesty he's probably right on target. There's just no way to know how a team in this position is going to play. Will they treat it as their "bowl game" and give it one last great effort? Or have the negatives of the entire season, topped off by the tragic injury to Eric LeGrand, simply worn the Scarlet Knights down to the point that there's nothing left to give?

* * *

West Virginia turned to a split backfield with Shawne Alston and Ryan Clarke in the third quarter against Pitt – earlier than it has featured one or both power backs for an entire drive this year. Will that continue against Rutgers?

Changes in the offense are subtle from week to week, as there usually isn't enough time to implement major changes in tactics. However, the use of the bigger backs has been growing, albeit slightly, in recent games, so might we see more of this set – perhaps even in the first half? If West Virginia wants to put a diversified offense on the field, it makes sense to give this pair a chance early on, and not just as late game closers. Certainly West Virginia shouldn't ignore its other players, but this duo has earned their chances as well. Clarke is averaging 3.8 yards per carry, and while that's not an eye-popping number, remember that his 73 carries include a lot of very short yardage tries, where two yards often equals success. Alston, meanwhile, is thumping out 4,7 yards per carry, and has lost just six total yards this year.

* * *

Despite its use of the "Wild Knight" offense, Rutgers is built to be a rushing team, with play-action passes working off successful runs. That just hasn't happened this year, however, as the Scarlet Knight running game is averaging an anemic 2.8 yards per carry. Even when sacks are pulled out of the mix, Rutgers still isn't cracking the 4.0 yards per rush barrier – and that spells doom to teams without quick strike capabilities. While quarterback Chas Dodd has been able to generate some offense in the passing game, the lack of a consistent running threat has kept Rutgers from controlling the action as it likes – and has led to mounting losses. With tough-running Joe Martinek again out due to injury, Rutgers will have to try to cobble together a running game from wide receivers in the backfield and an assortment of backs, none of whom average more than 33 yards per game. If Rutgers can't get at least some semblance of a run game going, it won't stand much chance of pulling the upset.

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