A Look Inside...Game Two

A second round of insights and updates on things to watch as West Virginia plays – hopefully – its first complete game of the season against Norfolk State.

BlueGoldNews.com 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
Web: BlueGoldNews.com
Record: 1-0
Rank: NR
Last Game
Virginia St. W 37-3
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Game Notes
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2011 Schedule

Series: First Meeting
First Meeting: NA
Last Meeting: NA
Game Notes
Season Stats
2011 Schedule

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That completeness needs to come in a variety of ways, from a full 60 minutes of actual time to finding better ways to execute in pass blocking, the run game and getting max effort out of its most talented athletes in each phase. We'll again start with a look at West Virginia's offense.

  • In the opener, WVU appeared to throw well, using a variety of formations and pass plays that enabled it to move the ball and put up 27 offensive points despite lacking much semblance of a decent ground game. The Mountaineers were routinely stood up along the line, and its linemen never seemed to be able to get into Marshall's second level and create better seals and creases for the backs. Part of that is simply sheer athletic ability, and it's worth noting that this line probably isn't among the most agile West Virginia has had in the last decade. As it switched from a spread zone scheme to the more power-based sets of the last staff, its linemen were taught to drive block more than focus on the zone scheme. That has hurt, as Dana Holgorsen's new offense calls for a return to the zone blocking, with bigger lineman than what Rich Rodriguez desired from 2001-07.

    That jack-of-all-trades approach has led to a master-of-none. This is arguably the single biggest area of concern heading into the second game. But it's worth noting that, despite some thoughts to the contrary, the jelling of the line is probably the most difficult unit solidification on this side of the ball. These are slots for experienced, intelligent players who have manned a spot for multiple games with the same teammates around them. West Virginia has portions of that – but its continual switching of schemes has significantly hurt it. Take a look, again, at the splits and who starts where and how much the back-ups are being used. See if the line is indeed picking up blitzing players better, or appears to be a step low in sealing gaps. The latter was a problem in the opener, when Marshall shot or pounded through and was able to pressure Geno Smith.

    WVU O vs. NSU D
      WVU NSU
    Scoring 34 ppg 3 ppg
    Rushing 42 ypg 30 ypg
    Passing 249 ypg 131 ypg

  • There were plays in which Smith had adequate time. But many of the downfield plays made via the pass came off scrambles and excellent pocket presence. That certainly should be remedied a bit versus a FCS foe. The other thing to watch is the blocking by the backs. Holgorsen was forced the challenge them after the first few possessions against the Herd, but they never truly got better at attacking assignments instead of merely trying to execute them. Check the aggression level of the backs, if they seem to be bringing the hit to the defense, or simply getting in the way and taking the hit themselves. Are they getting touched in the backfield, or are they able to hit at least the first level with acceleration and a sureness of holes? And, again, see who is playing when (short yardage, third and long, first downs, etc.) and where, and in what sets.

  • Also take a look at Norfolk State's secondary. It will be set-up much differently, than that of Marshall. The Herd backed off the safeties to avoid getting beat deep, but then allowed West Virginia to routinely get inside the corners on slant patterns that twice ended up as scores. This is a difficult athletic match for the Spartans. But one can see whether the opposing staff will try to cover the deep portion of the field and try to force WVU to make its own mistakes, and perhaps whether they will gamble a bit, bringing pressure from various areas – a strength of the odd stack – or back off and try to create an incompletion or miscommunication that brings up a third and long situation. Finally, watch Tavon Austin. Arguably the most explosive player on the field, he didn't appear to be very crisp in his last outing and thus didn't get the reception numbers expected. Is he getting off the line well, fighting off coverage and generally working for the ball? Or does he appear content to try to run by people and not have to expound as much effort for the ball?

  • Defensively, this could again be tough to gauge because of the difference in athletes. Is West Virginia holding the center of the line? If they don't do it here, there's little reason to expect immediate improvement in time for the key tilt at Maryland. Is Bruce Irvin getting pressure from the outside? Does WVU's staff have him loop or stunt others to get him individual match-ups? WVU didn't collapse the pocket often versus Marshall, but it did seem to cover well across the board.
    WVU D vs. NSU O
      WVU NSU
    Scoring 13 ppg 37 ppg
    Rushing 72 ypg 178 ypg
    Passing 115 ypg 260 ypg
    The Mountaineers should keep things very vanilla in this one to keep any newer ideas off film (though Jeff Casteel and former UConn and new Maryland head coach Randy Edsall are about as familiar with each other as possible). How are the linebackers scraping and getting to the ball? Do they flow well, or are players running into each other in a mad dash?

  • West Virginia excelled in operating very smoothly on defense, getting players on and off the field as various situation required and never getting near a substitution penalty or anything that seemed disorganized. That should be expected to continue, as would a series of Norfolk State third downs. Do the Mountaineers bring pressure here, or do they lay back and let the secondary make plays and keep some things off film? Are the players ripping at the ball in an attempt for turnovers, and how is the wrap tackling? This is, obviously, all basic stuff. But again, this week is the last of two in which West Virginia will be able to primarily work on itself.

  • In the special teams game, see if players are holding their lanes and getting a hat on a hat. Norfolk State struggled in the punting game, and if they continue to average just 28 yards, there might not be enough hang time on the ball for West Virginia's returners to take advantage. The Mountaineers also must directionally punt better, as its lone miss against Marshall was brought back for a touchdown. Again, because of line issues, examine the up front execution on field goals and point afters.
      WVU NSU
    Net Punt 50 yds 28 yds
    Punt Ret 15 yds 11 yds
    KO Ret 59.5 yds 23.5 yds
    West Virginia typically kicked the ball deep against Marshall. If it does it again, and Norfolk State returns, see if players are getting to the ball quickly, breaking down and sealing any gaps and ability to reverse field. Also, the Herd got some pressure up the middle against the second three blockers on West Virginia's punt team several times. That needs to be remedied a bit. Continual pressure again could spell the need for a change, either in scheme or players or execution.

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