A Look Inside...Game Six

West Virginia has owned Connecticut since the two began Big East play, and it again appears the majority of talent lies with the Mountaineers. Mistakes like last season, however, are almost certain to lead to another upset. Here's a look at how the teams stack up.

BlueGoldNews.com Game Scorecard
Sat 10/8/11 12:00 PM

Morgantown, WV

Mountaineer Field
Record: 4-1
Polls: 16/19
Last Game
B Green W 55-10
TV: Big East
Sirius: 92
Web: BlueGoldNews.com
Record: 2-3
Polls: NR
Last Game
W Mich L 31-34
Press Release
Season Stats
2011 Schedule

Series: WVU 6-1
First Meeting: 2004
Last Meeting: 2010
Press Release
Season Stats
2011 Schedule

Click for Morgantown, West Virginia Forecast

The 2-3 Huskies have a trio of close losses that led WVU head coach Dana Holgorsen to note UConn should be 5-0. While that might be a stretch, first-year head coach Paul Pasqualoni's team has executed well enough in the majority of games to win. The problem has been the offense, which rates last in the Big East in total yardage per game and sixth in points.

  • Those stats would logically lead one to believe that West Virginia should be able to slow the Huskies enough for the home team's offense to win the game. And it's difficult to argue with that. Pasqualoni is balancing three quarterbacks that have yet to make any kind of solidifying effort to start, and the points have at times been tough to come by. Add in that Connecticut is trying to play with more power and straight ahead running than the past Syracuse option teams, and the match-up looks good for West Virginia.

    There isn't any way to sugar coat this, so simply stating it is likely most effective: there isn't much vastly interesting about this game, and slowing UConn will involve fundamentals. West Virginia must tackle and get off blocks effectively. The Mountaineers should be able to handle the Husky wideouts with single coverage on the outside, meaning more players will be available around the ball and at the point of the running attack. The bodes well, as long as ball carriers are secured and brought to the ground. Check and see if UConn runners are getting extra yards after contect, and whether, on play action calls, the Mountaineer corners get caught looking in the backfield. It will be tempting with as much as coordinator George DeLeone wants to run and control clock (and keep WVU's offense off the field), and allowing a series of big plays will make the game closer than it should be.

  • Another important ideal this week, aside from the always imperative hustle and tackling, is playing assignment football and fitting up well. The fit up, or where players are situated to plug gaps and counter opposing blocking schemes, is a major issue against an option offense – and UConn certainly has some of that available even if it's no Syracuse circa 1998. Connecticut doesn't have an incredible playmaker at quarterback like Pasqualoni used to use to effect with Donovan McNabb, and that has hurt both ground and air production. WVU probably doesn't need to worry about the quarterback rushing for major yardage, which will allow it to focus its fit on the running backs.

    Defensive players will need to plug gaps well and man their assignments in this north-south, physical battle. This will be a contest as much about discipline as any other. Check out the linebackers and spur and bandit slots to see how they are attacking run responsibilities. Is there a defender on the back and pitch man? Is there miscommunication with a couple players taking the same assignment and allowing an open run option? This isn't as difficult an offense to stop on a per-down basis as is that of Maryland or LSU, but any issues with on-field location will hurt because of the size and blocking ability of Connecticut.

    WVU D vs. UCONN O
    Scoring 22.6 ppg 24.8 ppg
    Rushing 127.4 ypg 127.6 ypg
    Passing 179 ypg 215.2 ypg
    On this side of the ball, expect a grinder. Connecticut will take deep shots as they become available, but there's no doubt the coaching staff would love to control the time and ball with a steady dose of a series of backs. If WVU doesn't slow the run, it will be a difficult day because of the limited number of possessions available to each. We note this every week, but line play is big in determining down and distance edges to each side. Nose tackle needs to do its typical part, and the rest of the line must hold up under a continual game-long pounding. Of course, if the offense rolls and UConn is forced to play from behind, the advantages to West Virginia expand tremendously.

  • Which brings us to the flip side. West Virginia's offense might have appeared to actually play better than it did. The Mountaineers fumbled four times (two by newfound starter Dustin Garrison), but didn't lose any of them. Geno Smith also threw at least two passes that likely should have been intercepted – one a throw into double coverage in the end zone to Tavon Austin on which the wideout almost made a fantastic play. If Bowling Green converts half of those opportunities, the contest is much closer than the resulting final score. WVU has playmakers at the skill slots. And they know they can make plays. But forcing the ball into the end zone against a couple defenders while in field goal position isn't even a reasonable play. Turnovers were obviously the difference in last year's loss at Connecticut that cost West Virginia an outright Big East title and BCS berth. The Mountaineers are again better than UConn on paper. But as Holgorsen often says, turnovers are the most important stat there is outside the final score. And it reads here that turnovers or major mental mistakes are the only way the Huskies win a second straight game. WVU must play smart and make UConn win. The game can't be given away like last season.

  • Look for long fields again. West Virginia's poor punting and kickoff coverage efforts combined with solid special teams by Connecticut should make for a few 80-plus yard drives, should WVU be able to piece them together. That's not a major concern, as the Mountaineers have shown they can start at their own five or the opponents and score. But the longer the field, the more potential for mistakes and defensive stops. If West Virginia adequately holds onto the ball, check to see if the staff calls a few more running plays in close and how Connecticut chooses the play them. Do the Huskies dare sneak added players into the box, knowing how well WVU can throw? Do the corners play close, opening deep routes? How far back are the linebackers? All this combines for the offensive play call.
    WVU O vs. UCONN D
    Scoring 40.4 ppg 18.4 ppg
    Rushing 133.2 ypg 75.2 ypg
    Passing 362.8 ypg 240.4 ypg

  • Corey Smith shanked his only punt last week, and the coaching staff said they'd address the ongoing problem via another open tryout in practice. The results of that are thus far unknown. Check the lineup on West Virginia's initial punt. Is Smith again entrusted, or does Michael Molinari get an in-game opportunity. Placekicker Tyler Bitancurt will not be used as a punter because of the extreme motion and stylistic differences between the two kicking slots. Smith is on the proverbial short leash, and any poor punts will likely result in Molinari getting a chance.
    Net Punt 28.5 yds 36.4 yds
    Punt Ret 14 yds 5.2 yds
    KO Ret 23.4 yds 21.6 yds

  • West Virginia did choose to place an additional punt returner in the typical offset formation against Bowling Green, and it worked as one of BGSU's shorter kicks that would have rolled was fair caught, saving a probable 10 yards of field position. Look for WVU to again try the formation. It takes away a blocker, but is certainly the safer, more consistent way to field kicks. It also opens up chances for a surprise or two out of the alignment (throws to the opposite field, reverses, laterals, etc.). Those could be planned out of the traditional look, but it sets itself up a bit better with this look.

  • The Mountaineers were hammered on the first two kick returns by Bowling Green, and likely only escaped down no more than a score at any time because of the fumble on the opening kick. After the first two returns went up the middle for major gains and horrid defensive field position, the staff switched to pooch and a line-drive kick. That appeared to help the effort. Once the game was in hand, following the final three WVU scores, the staff smartly again kicked the traditional way, forcing the Mountaineers to practice coverage in a live game atmosphere. West Virginia faired better, but there's no doubt Bowling Green's drive and determination had wilted at that point.

    Check the first kickoff. Is it driven deep? Short? Pooched? Squibbed? Where does it fall within the field of play, and are there players there to cover capable of breaking up the initial line of blocks – and not simply running around them, as that has been part of the issue to date. Simply having excellent athletes that can play in space doesn't equate to great coverage success if the athletes have to navigate open field blocks by avoiding them. There must be players who can drive through and relocate opposing blockers to allow others to get to the ball. This has yet to be shown consistently, and should be something, with UConn's size, that's worth watching this weekend. Is West Virginia physical enough at the point of attack, or are there quite solid space athletes pushed away from the returner? Solid field position would go a long way to the Huskies ideal of playing ball control, run-based offense and eating clock.

  • And finally, despite much of the above, something tells me the Mountaineers will break a couple solid returns in this one, likely on kickoff. And that Bitancurt is due for a miss.

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