Match-Ups: WVU - Norfolk State

While the game might appear to be a mismatch, there are several battles of interest to watch in Saturday's West Virginia - Norfolk State football contest. Game Scorecard
Sat 9/10/11 1:00 PM

Morgantown, WV

Mountaineer Field
Record: 1-0
Rank: 19/24
Last Game
Marshall W 34-13
Radio: MSN
Record: 1-0
Rank: NR
Last Game
Virginia St. W 37-3
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2011 Schedule

Series: First Meeting
First Meeting: NA
Last Meeting: NA
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2011 Schedule

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WVU cornerbacks Keith Tandy and Pat Miller vs. Norfolk State quarterback Chris Walley

West Virginia's corners did a solid job against Marshall freshman quarterback Rakeem Cato, yielding just 5.5 yard per attempt and allowing just three completions of 10 yards per more. However, things weren't perfect against the Herd, and Norfolk State will be looking to capitalize on some of the situations that Marshall could not.

With Cato, a true freshman, playing in his first-ever collegiate game, Marshall was ultra-conservative. It often flooded one side of the field with receivers and then threw to a single receiver on the backside, mostly opting for out and dig routes that offered safe throwing angles. That was a smart move, but it also meant that Marshall didn't get many chances for big plays – and when it did, it failed to convert them. The biggest came after the lengthy delay in the third quarter, when Marshall ran an out and up to Antonio Wilson. The Herd receiver was wide open, but Cato failed to connect, and with it went their chance to mount a rally.

In Walley, the Spartans have a thrower with the ability to make that play. The preseason all_MEAC first team pick completed 25 of his 29 pass attempts in a season-opening win over Virginia State, and also got the ball downfield, racking up 255 yards and two scores against no interceptions. It's difficult to know what sort of defense Virginia State possesses, but it's also a safe bet that any quarterback who completes 86% of his passes in a game has some talent. (That's not a one-game aberration, either, as Walley connected on 61.4% of his attempts in 2010.) We're not nominating Walley for the Harlon Hill Trophy just yet, but if his receivers can shake free, it's a good bet he's going to find at least some of them.

For West Virginia's it's all about discipline. The Mountaineers want to be aggressive and break on the ball, but they also can't over-commit in their eagerness to cause turnovers. Tandy is a seasoned performer, and Miller is rounding into shape as a solid complement on the opposite side. If they don't bite on fakes and double moves, WVU will be well-positioned to put a big dent in the excellent numbers NSU rolled up in week one.

WVU run game vs. Norfolk State linebacker Corwin Hammond

As WVU head coach Dana Holgorsen said repeatedly on Tuesday, blocking left something to be desired in the opener. To improve on that play, the Mountaineers will have to control Hammond, a preseason second team all league pick who came out smoking the the Spartans' opener.

Matt Lindamood
Hammond, a redshirt senior, made an early case that his preseason ranking was a bit low as he racked up nine solo tackles, including two behind the line of scrimmage, in NSU's blowout win. At 6-1 and 220 lbs, Hammond is by no means an undersized player, and he exhibits a nose for the ball that resulted in a team-best 76 tackles in 2010.

For West Virginia, the onus isn't on just one player to keep Hammond in check. Certainly, he'll see offensive linemen coming at him on certain plays, but there will also be assignments for running backs, of both the fullback and tailback variety. In order to produce a more consistent running game, WVU must be able to get to the second level of NSU's 3-4 defense and clear a path through the linebacking corps – and Hammond will be a focal point of those assignments.

It can be difficult to keep from watching the ball on every play from the snap, but keeping an eye on other positions as the play begins can offer some insights into the way in which the game is unfolding. In last week's game, a quick survey of Marshall defense showed lots of blitzing and extra rushers as the Herd attempted to disrupt West Virginia's offense. It achieved the goal in the run game, but the fluidity of Geno Smith in the pocket, along with a number of unrecognized good protection sequences, allowed WVU to flourish through the air. This week, watch Hammond and fellow inside linebacker Onyemechi Anyaugo. If WVU can control that pair, it figures to run up some much more impressive numbers.


Both teams showcased very good punt return performances in their openers. Regular readers of this column know that special teams yards – hidden yardage – are often overlooked factors in a game. Certainly, big strikes such as Tavon Austin's 100+-yard kickoff return are huge, but so too are those returns that pick up the equivalent of a first down or two.

Against Marshall, Austin had 46 yards on three punt returns for an average of 15.3 yards per runback. Norfolk State was nearly as good, averaging 11 yards per return on three chances, with Victor Hairston leading the way with two returns for 29 yards. Which team will get the upper hand in the return game? And if there's not a big scoring runback, which squad will consistently gain ground on special teams?

West Virginia will be looking to correct the mistakes that allowed an 87-yard punt return for a score in week one. Those included a punt that was, according to head coach Dana Holgorsen, not kicked in the correct direction, and some bad angles in pursuit by the coverage team. Such items were worked on extensively in the preseason, but as is often the case, full judgment on a team's readiness to play can't be made until games are played. West Virginia also lined up in an unbalanced formation on that punt, with two bullets on the right side of the formation, and none on the left. Watch to see if the Mountaineers stick with that alignment, or if there's a changeup in the initial formation on punts.

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Will more true freshmen see their first action against the Spartans? Just five first-year players made it onto the field against Marshall: Andrew Buie, Vernard Roberts, Avery Williams, Dustin Garrison, and Shaq Petteway. During fall camp, Holgorsen suggested that at least twice that many could see action in 2011, so keeping an eye on the participation chart should be worthwhile in the first few games of the season. Of course, the shortened Marshall game may have contributed to the short numbers on the freshmen participation list, as a few more might have gotten the chance to see some time during a fourth quarter that seemed open to a blowout.

In addition to that quintet, six other true freshmen dressed for the Marshall game: Paul Millard, Jared Barber, Nick Kwiatkoski, Connor Arlia, Kyle Rose, and Ben Tomasek.

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It may have been just our perception, but it seemed as if umpire Jeffrey Akers was a bit slow in spotting the ball for play on several occasions during West Virginia's win over the Herd. In cases where the offense substitutes a player on the field, the umpire is required to stand over the ball and allow the defense time to make its own substitutions, but if none are made, he is supposed to get the ball down and get out of the way with all due speed. That didn't always happen last week, so it will be interesting to see how quickly the ball is spotted this week, and in subsequent weeks. There are bound to be differences between different officiating crews, but the hope is that the ball is made ready for play quickly to allow West Virginia's offense to operate at a quick pace when Holgorsen desires it.

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