Match-ups: WVU - Rutgers

Offense vs. defense with a twist, and a battle for minds that Sigmund Frued could appreaciate --- take the headlines in this week's key battles between WVU and Rutgers. Game Scorecard
Sat 10/29/11 3:30 PM

Piscataway, NJ

High Point Solutions Stadium
Record: 5-2
BCS: 25
Last Game
Syracuse L 23-49
Sirius/XM: 92/194
Record: 5-2
Last Game
Louisville L 14-16
Rosters/ Bios
Press Release
Season Stats
2011 Schedule

Series: WVU 32-4-2
First Meeting: 1921
Last Meeting: 2011
Press Release
Season Stats
2011 Schedule


WVU rushing defense vs. Rutgers rushing offense

On its face, it's the resistible force against the moveable object. Rutgers' rushing offense manages a woeful 92 yards per game (112th nationally). WVU's run defense, while not atrocious, is giving up 130 yards per outing (43rd nationally). Both figures, however, are last in the Big East. So why is this so important?

West Virginia's defensive philosophy is to make its opponent one-dimensional. In most years, that means taking away the run, and for the most part the defense under Jeff Casteel has excelled in that area. This year, it's been a struggle, and as a result WVU has again had problems getting foes off the field on third down. Rutgers, under Greg Schiano, want's to play ball control, especially against the Mountaineers. It's been able to survive this year without a good rushing game because it is getting more extra chances with the ball than any other team in the nation, as it leads the land in turnover margin. Without those extra tries, the Scarlet Knights certainly wouldn't have five wins.

Barring another turnover onslaught, this match-up will go a long way in determining whether or not Rutgers can keep WVU to its target of two possessions per quarter. If it can do so, it will send the Mountaineers home with their second consecutive road defeat. This battle will be an easy one to track .Can RU get the three or four yards per carry, especially on first down, that Syracuse managed? Or can WVU get some tackles for losses and take the Rutgers running game out of the picture? Of course, the offense could help by getting off to a good early start and forcing the Scarlet Knights to play from behind, but the main battle will be determined by two units that haven't been as successful as they hoped. Which one will break out and have the better game?

WVU State of Mind

Ordinarily, I'd include an item like this as a "Thing To Watch" but I think its importance has risen due to a couple of factors.

The item – the state of mind of the Mountaineer football team – would have been in question after last week's result even without the conference turmoil, but when that's added into the mix, I believe it becomes a key element in Saturday's game.

One the one hand, you have the Mountaineer coaching staff, which is doing everything it can to keep the team concentrating on the Rutgers contest. Quite correctly, head coach Dana Holgorsen and his subordinates note that there is nothing they can do about West Virginia's admission to the Big 12, and thus they don't spend time talking with the team about it. Sure, there might be a few comments passed during down time, but on the practice field and in the meeting rooms, it has to be all business. Winning in Division I is difficult under the best of circumstances, and coaches constantly strive to "minimize distractions" – which means keeping any outside events from influencing the team's practice and preparation.

On the other is the relentless assault of news and opinion. While most players probably don't read the newspapers, they read Facebook and Twitter, surf the Web and get information more immediately, and much more often, than their fathers or older brothers did. There's no way that coaches can keep them, if they choose, from being inundated with information.

Of course, not every player is going to be affected by these distractions. Many probably don't care what conference they are going to be in. Some are likely rooting for the chance to play Teas and Oklahoma. Others don't want to lose those eastern games, which might be closer to their homes. Some might be distracted and affected by last weeks loss more than others, who are able to put it behind them and go forward. The point, however, is a simple one. West Virginia has far more distractions this week than it does in an average week. How will the Mountaineers handle it? There's no way to predict that, but it's going to play a huge part in the outcome of the game.


There will be a lot of eyes on the match-up of West Virginia's offense vs. WVU's defense. The Scarlet Knights lead the league in seven different defensive categories, and are sixth in the nation in first downs allowed, giving up just 14.6 per game. As you watch WVU's offense, two categories sill bear monitoring – first downs and plays.

WVU managed 20 first downs against Syracuse, but had just 65 plays on offense, while the Orange had 74. Usually 20 first downs will result in more snaps than 65, but the combination of turnovers and six possessions of three plays or fewer doomed the Mountaineer effort in the Dome. Unless WVU scores quickly on multiple drives (it did so on just one of those six possessions against the Cuse) it needs to snap the ball 70+ times on offense.

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Head coach Dana Holgorsen noted that West Virginia missed some chances to take advantage of Syracuse's blitzing schemes by utilizing its running game last week, so look for the Mountaineers to be more conscious of chances to run against the Scarlet Knights. The key to this will be recognition by quarterback Geno Smith, who often goes to the line with both a running and a passing play to check to, based on what the defense is showing. WVU had just two backs carry the ball against Syracuse, but both Dustin Garrison and Shawne Alston averaged more than five yards per carry – the problem was that a combination of the score and some Mountaineer impatience allowed them a total of just 20 carries.

How can WVU use its run game against the blitz? Draws are the obvious choice, but some traps, called against the right blitz, could also yield big gains. Remember A.B. Brown galloping down the field unmolested against Pitt when the Panthers came with an all-out blitz, or Curlin Beck sealing WVU's win over Oklahoma in 1982 with a romp against a Sooner defense selling out against an anticipated pass? A couple of plays like that would go a long way toward slowing some of those aggressive tendencies of the Scarlet Knights.

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