Match-Ups: WVU - UConn

The focus is on schematic actions and reactions, as well as "fit", in our look at some of the key items in the UConn-West Virginia game.

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
Roster
Press Release
Season Stats
2011 Schedule

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

Click for Morgantown, West Virginia Forecast


MATCH-UPS AND STORYLINES

WVU Passing Game vs. UConn Secondary

The moment that stats came out from UConn's loss to Western Michigan, the predictions began. The Huskies yielded 479 yards through the air to the Broncos, so West Virginia should easily be looking at the same total in this week's game, right? Well, not necessarily.

Of course, West Virginia is going to throw the ball against the Huskies. Dana Holgorsen and his offensive assistants will have plays and formations that they believe will work against any defense, and those will get early looks in the game. However, some of West Virginia's success will depend on just how much the visitors sell out to prevent a particular play phase. If UConn decides to drop deep and prevent the big play, as Bowling Green did, it can keep West Virginia's yardage total down. Of course, that opens up other avenues of attack, as the Falcons found out when WVU ran wild against its thinly-defended defensive front.

There are two things to watch here, and both will always be important in figuring out how a game will play out. First, what does UConn do at the snap? Forget the pre-snap jumping around – it's often meaningless and is designed simply to try to confuse the quarterback. A team can line up with seven or eight in the box, then drop five of them out into coverage. Look at the defense a couple of beats after the snap, and you'll get a better picture of its philosophy.

Second, understand that WVU, like many teams, calls several plays and formations early in the game mostly to see how the defense lines up and reacts to them. That doesn't mean those plays are throwaways, by any means. But they do have further purpose. Holgorsen, along with Shannon Dawson and Jake Spavital in the coaches' box, want a look at how the opponent responds. From that reaction, other play calls, designed to take advantage of those responses, occur.

Granted, it can be difficult to file all that information away while watching the game in person. But if you are the type that watches games more than once, you can look at early formations, not the plays run, then see different plays run from the same set later in the game. It's a fascinating cat-and-mouse contest that plays out in a different manner each week, and is largely determined by what the defense does. Just about any defense can take a particular play phase away from an opponent. The trick for the offense is to identify that and find an alternative that attacks weak points in the day's scheme.


WVU Linebackers vs. UConn Running Game

The key word for this match-up is "fit" – with a couple of different definitions.



Jewone Snow
The first is the more traditional sense of the word, that is, the way in which West Virginia's linebackers fit the duties of their positions. We all know that Najee Goode can play any of the three spots, but defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel thinks that Goode might be best suited to the sam (strong side) spot. If he stays there, that would mean Jewone Snow would need to stay in the middle, where he performed pretty well in his first start against Bowling Green. On the weak side, Casey Vance and Josh Francis have split time recently, with Francis getting more over the past couple of weeks.

Vance is a solid performer, but he doesn't have the speed of Francis. Francis is still learning the defense and individual technique. Put them together, and you'd have the perfect will 'backer, but for now WVU will have to do with mixing and matching as the situation dictates.

The second "fit" is the way in which WVU's linebackers fit up into the run defense. "Fit" in this sense, means filling assigned gaps to close down running lanes. West Virginia has been shaky in this aspect of the game this year, and it has showed in statistics. The Mountaineers have yielded 127 yards per game on the ground, a number well above Casteel's goal for his troops. Part of that problem has been hesitancy on the part of some of the linebackers. Without full confidence in their play, they are a times a bit slow in making the read and getting into their assigned gaps against the run – and that's often all it takes to make the difference between a stuff at the line and a four-yard gain.

That's not a knock on those younger players – it's a natural progression that most players go through. A year from now, they'll be playing with more confidence, and that hesitation will be just a memory. But for now, it's one of the biggest aspects of line play to watch. How quickly do the 'backers make their decisions and go? Are they taking false steps before they do so? Those are big factors in getting to the correct spot on time, and making sure that the "fit" is correct.


THINGS TO WATCH

West Virginia's search for an effective combination on its kickoff coverage team lead to more personnel moves than a corporate takeover last week, so it's one of the areas to track in the Connecticut game.

"There were a total of about 20 new faces on the kickoff team," Holgorsen said. "We were firing people left and right, trying new people, firing and re-hiring, replacing and moving people around."

The changes were evident from the opening kick, when Pat Miller and Keith Tandy took over spots on the coverage team. They were joined by Eain Smith, Travis Bell, Matt Moro, Brantwon Bowser, Jared Barber, Wes Tonkery, Cecil Level and Josh Francis on the initial team. After two big returns however, the shuffling began. Troy Gloster, Taige Redman, Stedman Bailey and Shaq Petteway also made appearances, and the mix was different on many of the eight remaining kickoffs in the game. Even the kicker was swapped out late, as Tyler Bitancurt handled that duty on the final two boots of the afternoon.

While WVU made some of those changes in response to Bowling Green's early success, it also had planned to look at some different people and combinations on the unit.

" That's been something that we've been doing, but we did it through the course of the game because we had a lot of opportunities," Holgorsen said. "In one sense, there is nothing like live work on that unit which you can't get in practice. Due to the fact that we had a lot of reps at it, we had a chance to get 23, 24 or 25 guys in the game at that one particular unit."

With that said, the sense remains that a final 11 hasn't been identified. Watch the personnel on the first kick this week, and then note how it changes from kickoff to kickoff.

* * *

WVU also displayed another new offensive alignment against Bowling Green – one designed to get more blockers at the point of attack for power runs. Breaking out of its "fully-loaded pistol" where three backs surround Geno Smith in the shotgun, two backs quickly shifted to one side, creating an overload that the Mountaineers used to run for two first downs in the game. Watch for that formation and action again, but also watch for some sort of counter off it. UConn, and future opponents, will be ready to shift its defense to meet that look, so it will be no surprise if Holgorsen already has another play to run from it. Perhaps a bootleg away from the strength with some sort of pass to the back side of the formation?


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