A Look Inside...Game Nine

Again in control of its BCS berth, West Virginia plays host to Louisville looking for a record-setting fifth consecutive series win.

BlueGoldNews.com Game Scorecard
Sat 11/5/10 12:00 PM

Morgantown, WV

Mountaineer Field
Record: 6-2
BCS: 24
Last Game
Rutgers W 41-31
TV: Big East
Sirius/XM: 85/85
Web: BlueGoldNews.com
Record: 4-4
Last Game
Syracuse W 27-10
Rosters/ Bios
Game Notes
Season Stats
2011 Schedule

Series: WVU 10-2
First Meeting: 1984
Last Meeting: 2010
Game Notes
Season Stats
2011 Schedule

Click for Morgantown, West Virginia Forecast

Doses of good and bad were sprinkled throughout the Rutgers game, and it reasons the Mountaineers must play much better through the final four games if they expect to remain in contention for the Big East title. First on the docket: A Louisville program feeling burnt from Big XII expansion talk and looking to take it out on a program it considers a rival. Here's a look inside the game, and a few things to watch on Mountaineer Day.

  • First up, the offense. This is the best opposing unit Dana Holgorsen's group will face the remainder of the regular season. Louisville's defense ranks first in the Big East in scoring and total defense and has been especially solid against ground-based foes. That's not, however, what West Virginia does especially effectively. The Mountaineers match up here quite adequately, as the Cards have allowed almost 200 yards per game via the air and more than 200 to all but a pair of teams.

    WVU should be able to move the ball consistently in this game, using intermediate routes to move the chains. UofL's best defensive player is a linebacker, and that should not affect much on the outside. Watch the wideouts, and how much separation the Cardinals are willing to give. If, as expected, the visitors slow the run, the coverage could loosen up some to deny the big play and force the Mountaineers to piece together several good plays for elongated drives. For a team that has relied on the big play of late, that could be tougher than most fans would like.

  • Part one is, again, the line play. If it has another Syracuse outing, Louisville will be in prime position for an upset. If it performs as it did versus LSU, West Virginia should be fine. The difference there is the way in which the teams attacked (SU with zone blitzes and LSU in a straight man-to-man athlete vs. athlete battle). UofL is more likely to choose the former, knowing it needs more than a four-man rush to get to Geno Smith.
    WVU O vs. UofL D
      WVU UofL
    Scoring 38.6 ppg 16.2 ppg
    Rushing 127.2 ypg 97.4 ypg
    Passing 354.9 ypg 198.2 ypg
    WVU must communicate well and pick up the blitz packages to give Smith time. If the line can do that and Smith doesn't force throws, it reasons that West Virginia's offense should have enough in the tank to outscore a team averaging just 17 points per game offensively.

  • The receivers need to provide some separation and give Smith slightly better windows in which to throw. The quarterback was limited by Rutgers' solid coverage at times – in addition to the obvious weather issues – and never looked totally comfortable throwing the ball in the blizzard. Louisville's secondary isn't playing at the level of Rutgers', so some of those windows should indeed be a bit bigger. This is an area WVU should be able to take advantage of this weekend. Check the individual battles on the outside and see if the Mountaineers' better athletes can make a few more plays in the passing game than they have the previous few weeks.

  • Desire. Want to. Intensity. These have been missing in portions or all of some games. West Virginia lacked it again last week in the first half on both sides, so this serves as a sort of segue between offense and defense this week. The line has to want to open holes. The defense has to bring intensity, and intelligent intensity at that. Wrap tackle. Get players to the deck. The big hit is nice, but not at the expense of additional yardage. The backs again played solidly, and that should continue, albeit against a good front and linebacking package from the Cardinals. It figures Louisville will attempt to use this game as a measuring stick and for better emergence on a national scale with a win over a Top 25 team. Add in the Big XII issues, the fan base complaining about their Mountaineer counterparts and other off-the-field happenings and the visitors would seem to have an advantage here. West Virginia, even at playing at home at noon, needs to start well and show some edge to its play.

  • Defensively, there won't be a better on-paper game this season. Louisville ranks last in the Big East in scoring offense (113th nationally) and net just 330 yards per game. The Cardinals also like to run ball control, using the backs to keep the clock moving and take pressure off its defense. That reads as a great match-up for the 3-3-5, usually. But WVU has struggled to stop the run this season, and isn't getting off the field on third downs. UofL doesn't figure to be able to put up a myriad of points, and at least a portion of the goal for head coach Charlie Strong will be to simply gain first downs, chew up plays and time and keep Holgorsen's offense off the field and, thus, in-check.

    Keep an eye on Louisville's first down success. Second and midrange of short yardage will put the Mountaineers in a hole and limit what coordinator Jeff Casteel can do with sets, fronts and blitz packages. WVU needs to slow the run on first down to give itself a fair chance to get off the field and allow the offense to get into a flow. If the Cards can push WVU's undersized line and gain five-plus yards routinely, the Mountaineers are going to struggle and give up time and offensive plays that might be needed. In an underdog role, if you're not losing the team often feels like it's winning. Louisville wants to keep the chains moving, maintain possession, run well and limit WVU's chances. Simply remaining close gives it a chance for a road win in the fourth quarter. Directly, line play and tackling well will be huge for the indirect benefit of second and manageable situations.

  • Which leads to third down. Count how many third and longs (three-plus yards) Louisville converts, and how well West Virginia does stopping those tries. If UofL can hit on 40 to 50 percent, they have a solid chance in the game. WVU would prefer to limit those numbers to at least less than 33 percent, and more like 20 to 25.
    WVU D vs. UofL O
      WVU UofL
    Scoring 26.1 ppg 17.6 ppg
    Rushing 133 ypg 123.1 ypg
    Passing 196.5 ypg 329.4 ypg
    A part of this will be pressure on the pocket. This has been documented here before, but the Mountaineers are not getting home and finishing blitzes. The linebackers either don't get pass the line, don't take a solid angle or run past the quarterback. Bruce Irvin has been pushed outside often this year and been brushed pass a signal caller who simply steps up in the pocket. When he has tried to go inside, the guard has helped the tackle shut him down.

    And the backside pursuit or interior pressurization of the pocket has not happened, so that step-up leads to increased time and often a rollout. That results usually not in yardage lost, but at worst a throwaway and a net of zero yardage for either side. It's a defensive win, but not as significant a one as a sack. Watch the rushers and see who is actually able to get to the QB and if those plays are finished, or merely an incomplete pass results. Negative yardage was once a big part of the odd stack. It has lacked that this season.

  • Turnovers. This won the game at Rutgers last week, bailed out a slow offense against Connecticut and doomed West Virginia in its two losses. It is, as Holgorsen notes, the biggest stat other than score. Smith should not be forced to throw poor passes as he was in the Dome, because Louisville's offense shouldn't be able to put those kinds of points on the board (of course, the same was thought about SU). But fumbles, turnovers in the red zone, etc. will play a major role in this game. The weather forecast is good, WVU's offense is averaging solid points, if not exceptional halves, and Louisville hasn't moved the ball well this season. If the defense can force a couple turnovers, the going should be much easier. Again, though, there must be a balance between trying to strip the ball and allowing extra yardage.

  • Specialists. This is a battle between ability and inconsistency for both teams. West Virginia has been much more consistent on field goals this season, but had a number of solid returns against it in the special teams game. The athletes are there to make the plays, but they have yet to be completed consistently. Louisville's issues are within the field goal unit. It has made eight of 12 tries, including every attempt from inside 30 yards and beyond 50 yards (two from that distance). But it has missed four of eight shots from 30 to 50 yards, a bit of a puzzle. The punting teams are quite similar, though the Mountaineers have settled on Michael Molinari while the Cards are still using both placekicker Chris Philpott and punter John Blesar.
      WVU UofL
    Net Punt 35.1 yds 35.8 yds
    Punt Ret 12.7 yds 6.3 yds
    KO Ret 22.5 yds 21 yds
    Blesar was better against Syracuse, netting 42.5 yards per punt, but the staff has said both will still be tried at times. In the return game, UofL is unable to match the explosiveness of Tavon Austin, and really hasn't found that marquee player it had so many of in the mid-2000s.

    As long as there are no major physical breakdowns, both of these units should stack up quite decently against each other. Don't expect too many fireworks, as this, like other portions of the game, could develop into a very workmanlike effort. Outside of Austin, this has a relatively bland flavor to it this week.

  • And finally, the fans. This is a litmus test for the students. Or, rather, perhaps a final chance to prove they deserve to keep all their seats. As of midweek, only 8,000 tickets were claimed out of 12,500 allotted. The general tickets are sold out. Again. This isn't Bowling Green in 42 degree weather with blowing rain. It's going to be nice. It's a Big East rival on a weekend without much else to do in the middle of the semester. The kick's at noon. So what? Nebraska and Wisconsin routinely kick at 11 am, and the student sections are full. And neither have won as many BCS games as West Virginia has in the last ten years. Neither, in fact, have won any BCS games.

    Louisville isn't Texas or Oklahoma. Louisville isn't Iowa State or, in the manner they usually play, Kansas or Baylor, either. There are not going to be opponents at Mountaineer Field every week that have four national titles and are ranked in the top 10. It simply isn't possible. There are many explanations, the gist of which harbors around easier access and better foes. This is a solid BCS level foe. And at least one of every three seats not only isn't going to be used – but has not even been claimed yet. Pitiful. Use it or lose it. It's probably the last chance to show the students will do the former before Oliver Luck has them doing the latter.

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