A Look Inside…Game One

BlueGoldNews.com will take a look inside the Xs and Os of each football game this season, and put the spotlight on one particular aspect of that week's contest. For the opener, we focus primarily on West Virginia itself.

BlueGoldNews.com Game Scorecard
Sun 9/4/11 3:30 PM

Morgantown, WV

Mountaineer Field
Record: 0-0
AP: 24
Last Game
N.C. State L 23-7
Radio: MSN
Web: BlueGoldNews.com
Record: 0-0
Last Game
Tulane W 38-23
Rosters/ Bios
Press Release
Season Stats
2011 Schedule

Series: WVU 10-0
First Meeting: 1911
Last Meeting: 2010
Press Release
Season Stats
2011 Schedule

Click for Morgantown, West Virginia Forecast

As much as this match-up will be about individual and unit battles, it might behoove fans to focus on the home team in the initial outing. WVU has changed schemes significantly on offense and tweaked multiple areas within the special teams game. Here are a few things to look for in both, with an emphasis on the Mountaineers.

  • West Virginia is likely to utilize a few base plays, but disguise them well with varying formations. Thus, much of what one sees when viewing Dana Holgorsen's offense appears to be more complex than it really is. While it's difficult to mentally log formations while viewing the game in real time, take a look at how many backs WVU routinely employs, and how often – and in what situations – the Mountaineers employ them. On pass plays, see if the backs are staying in to block (and if they are doing it successfully, or getting steamrolled by the rush), and how quickly they release to the outside or get upfield and settle into an open location as a receiver. Are they merely brushing a defender, or actually engaging on full-on pass protection? This is among the most difficult areas to polish for freshman, and with Holgorsen noting that he'd play multiple backs, see who usually does what.

    Also, because this is the first collegiate game for several backs, try to glean some insight as to who handles the game situations better. This is difficult without knowing what the per-snap assignments are, and if one is viewing on television or from upper deck seating, it compounds the issue. Too much dancing in the backfield, not being assertive in movements and a general lack of attacking responsibilities could indicate some stage fright. And which back has it could vary on a weekly basis. But, at least for 60 minutes, get an idea of who is a gamer and who might not be.

    WVU O vs. MU D
      WVU MU
    Scoring 25.2 ppg 28.8 ppg
    Rushing 159.7 ypg 145.2 ypg
    Passing 213.0 ypg 240.8 ypg
    Last skill slot note on this side of the ball: Finding green. Being able to settle into open areas in the defense is key in this passing game. See which wideouts are finding the open areas, who is choosing – because players have the selection ability – to break routes off and who is going vertical, and are those sound decisions based upon location of corners, safeties and others. Are the players helping Geno Smith by getting to the maximized field location in a minimized time. And is Smith doing his part, putting the ball on the focused outside shoulder area Holgorsen dearly loves, is he allowing receivers to make plays and generally getting in and out of the huddle effectively.

    Finally, on offense, check the line splits. See exactly how wide Bill Bedenbaugh's charges will play, and how they handle the largely zone blocking set-up. See who seems to handle the rush well, and who excels more within the run game. And take a look at Quinton Spain to see how he is fitting in, how much time he is getting and where. Situationally, third and two or three could be among the more interesting play calls. Do the Mountaineers go to the power game or stick with short passes? And which back plays in which situation, and picks which holes best to grind it out for the first. This is all pretty basic, every-game stuff, but at least for the first few weeks, it's more about West Virginia then the opponent.

  • On the flip side, see how West Virginia's odd stack is responding after losing its core strength. It's almost a cliché that an effective football defense shares the strong-up-the-middle
    WVU D vs. MU O
      WVU MU
    Scoring 13.5 ppg 20.8 ppg
    Rushing 86.5 ypg 97.2 ypg
    Passing 174.6 ypg 217.1 ypg
    ideal cherished in baseball, and the Mountaineers are sans their best lineman, linebacker and an NFL free safety. See how new nose tackle Jorge Wright holds ground, if he is getting pushed back or managing to at least neutralize the line of scrimmage. Are the linebackers getting to the ball quickly, and are they manning assignments well, or getting swept up in any misdirection plays. And how's Eain Smith handling the prime safety slot that has always been a key to WVU's defensive success. We'll explore in-game battles more often as the season progresses, but, again, for this one it's about self-examination.

  • And on special teams, which was hit or miss in the Bill Stewart era, watch for varying tactics. Is WVU kicking the ball deep, or lofting or squibbing it? Are the kicks pinpointed toward the numbers and out, or down the hash? On punts, how's the hang time, location and set-up? Does former NFL special teams guru Daron Roberts like tighter formations, or does he split out multiple bullets (players lined up away from the tighter protection pocket for coverage, or fake, purposes on punts), and how many to each side? How are players attacking foes and the opposing blocks? And did West Virginia, as it advertised and desired, find players who can operate in space and make plays in the special teams game?

      WVU MU
    Net Punt 37.5 yds 34.2 yds
    Punt Ret 8.41 yds 6.35 yds
    KO Ret 19.17 yds 22.56 yds
    Check the line play on point-afters and field goals. It is holding or giving ground? Are kicks getting needed height quickly? And, obviously, trajectory and accuracy are imperative. Will West Virginia line up just one punt returner? Or will it stagger them as has become increasingly popular in the college game? And who, indeed, is back on both punts and kickoffs? Stedman Bailey and Devon Brown are listed as the first two on kick return, with Tavon Austin handling punts. Does Andrew Buie get a shot on kickoffs? Is Broderick Jenkins inserted if WVU does use two return men on punts? And how do any youngsters field the ball?

  • Also, on each snap, check the tempo and execution. If West Virginia aligned and ready on offense and defense, or is it getting players in and out later in the play clock? It is comfortable on quick-change situations, such as a fumble or interception? How does it operate out of the shadow of its own goal, and can it finish drives once inside its 20 to 30-yard line (as inside the 30 is the new red zone, according to ESPN)? This is a measure or prep and confidence in what one is doing, as much as anything else. Above all – enjoy the experience. We have 13 of these this year, and time will pass quickly. Relish the ride.

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