Match-Ups: WVU - Cincinnati

Battles on the offensive and defensive lines highlight this week's featured confrontations as the Mountaineers travel to Cincinnati. Game Scorecard
Sat 11/12/11 12:00 PM

Cincinnati, OH

Paul Brown Stadium
Record: 6-3
Last Game
Louisville L 35-38
Sirius/XM: 128/203
Record: 7-1
BCS: 23
Last Game
Pitt W 26-23
Rosters/ Bios
Game Notes
Season Stats
2011 Schedule

Series: WVU 15-3-1
First Meeting: 1921
Last Meeting: 2010
Game Notes
Season Stats
2011 Schedule

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WVU rushing defense vs. UC running back Isaiah Pead

So you thought this game was going to be a match-up of high-powered passing attacks? That's certainly one aspect that could play itself out, but close examination of the Bearcat offense reveals that they don't air it out as much as popular perception holds. Zach Collaros is a very good passer, and has put up big numbers at times, but the fact is that UC's offense starts with its rushing game. Pead, who is averaging 6.0 yards per carry this year and is fourth among active NCAA career rushers with a 6.4 yards per carry mark. That speaks not only to his personal consistency, but also to his importance in the UC offense. Running out of the Bearcats' hurry-up spread attack, Pead makes defenses account for him first, thus opening up both running and passing lanes for Collaros.

At least 30 times per game, the Bearcats will begin their play with a zone read look. If Pead gets the ball 17 of those times, he's going to be around the 100-yard rushing mark, given his averages this year. That's a number that the Mountaineers can't afford to give up, as it will allow UC to control the ball and have manageable second and third down distances on their drives.

Stopping the zone read is a matter of discipline, and that's something West Virginia hasn't shown a great deal of this year against the run. WVU has struggled to get all of its players into their proper gaps against the run, and has allowed a number of big gains on cutback rushes. That is one of the things that Pead does best. He has excellent vision, and is always looking for a gap into which he can cut back against the initial flow of the play. If the Mountaineers don't cover the cutback and defend the back side of the play as well as the point of attack, UC will roll offensively.

When you see UC begin a zone read look, try to sneak a quick glance at the second level of the defense. Are WVU's backers and safeties "fitting up" into gaps along the front, or are there creases being left undefended? Also, watch the Bearcat offense, as it will, at times, feature a designed cutback play against the flow just to test the Mountaineers' readiness in defending the run.

WVU interior offensive line vs. UC defensive tackle Derek Wolfe

Wolfe, a 6-5, 300-pound senior, has the ability to win one-on-one battles and make plays on the front line.. Even double teams don't always contain the anchor of the Bearcat defensive front, who tops the Big East in sacks and seems to spend more time in opponents' backfields than he does on his side of the ball.

Jeff Braun
Penetration is a key in disrupting West Virginia's offense, but that's not jet limited to the passing game. WVU's series of sweeps and ends around can't succeed if defensive linemen get across the line and force the runner to alter his path, and that's something at which Wolfe excels. The big defender has 12 tack;es for loss this year, including seven sacks, and is an handful for any scheme to contend with. He's stout against the run and collapses the pocket against the pass, and is one of the players the Mountaineers will have to neutralize if they are to have offensive success.

Wolfe is the leading tackler among UC's defensive linemen, so it's not as if he's just eating up space. He has 37 stops this year, including 21 solo hits – both indicators that he's not just disrupting plays, he's ending them. Add in two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries, and it's easy to see that he has had an impact in every defensive play phase this year.

West Virginia can't be expected to completely stymie a player such as Wolfe, but it has to limit his penetration and disruption. As demonstrated throughout this season, WVU's offense is, in large part, dependent on rhythm, timing and momentum, and just one negative play can knock that out of kilter and bring drives to a halt. If WVU can't keep Wolfe on his side of the line, or away from Geno Smith, its playbook will be limited to more maximum protection or quick release pass plays. Look for the Mountaineers to try some traps and other misdirection to get Wolfe out of position, but it may be difficult to get the savvy, experienced senior to bite.


Head coach Dana Holgorsen has drawn a great deal of attention with his statements about West Virginia's effort and the size of its traveling squad this week. Declaring "I'm only going to take players that want to win," Holgorsen indicated that WVU's dress list might only include 55 or so players. While that statement has drawn support from a frustrated fan base that has also detected the same lack of enthusiasm that Holgorsen has seen, could it put the Mountaineers into a bad situation in the game?

From the start of his head coaching tenure, Holgorsen has been averse to dressing players for no reason. The home sidelines have been more sparse than usual, with only those players who are anticipated to play getting to dress, or even stand on the sidelines. The first year coach noted that policy helps avoid confusion on the field, but might it also be affecting team enthusiasm somewhat? Getting to dress and be on the field after a long week's worth of practice and studying is a reward, and in Holgorsen's view it must be earned, but maybe that message isn't getting through.

On the flip side there is something to be said for having the entire team together, and that hasn't happened in any game this year. Having the freshmen, redshirts and scout team members on the field with the team during games might help a bit in team building, and provide some of the energy that has been missing this year.

However, that's not the way that Holgorsen is approaching it, so all eyes will be on West Virginia's demeanor on Saturday. If WVU comes out lifeless on Saturday, or in any of its remaining three regular season games, it's going to bring the heart of this team into serious question.

* * *

Among the many parts of the Cincinnati team that have meshed successfully, punting is one that has stayed below the radar. Like offensive line play or officiating, punting is one of those aspects of the game that don't get much notice until there are breakdowns, and there haven't been many of those in the Queen City this year. Bearcat booter Pat O'Donnell is first in the Big East and ninth nationally with a 45.3 yards per punt average, and has put 14 of his 31 kicks inside his opponents' 20-yard line. Obviously, a Bearcat offense that can move the football has given O'Donnell the chance to get those kicks in place, but he's delivered consistently, and has "flipped the field" on many occasions this year. He has eight kicks of 50 yards or more.

Contrast that with WVU's punting. The Mountaineers, are averaging just 38 yards per kick, and included in that number are four shanked attempts that cost WVU valuable field position in two games. To date, UC is netting 40.1 yards net on its punt attempts, while the Mountaineers are getting just 33.8. While that six yard difference may not sound like a lot, it can pile up over the course of a game, If each team punts five times in this game, that would result in a 30-yard advantage for UC.

West Virginia is facing another possible switch in punters, so that's the first thing to watch this week. Michael Molinari and Corey Smith both competed in practice this week for the job, and either could be the starter on Saturday. The pressure will be on, as both have suffered consecutive bad kicks this year, but they will have to deliver in order to keep the Mountaineers from sustaining a blow in the field position battle.

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