A Look Inside … Game Twelve

Another season, another South Florida game that could make or break West Virginia's BCS hopes.

BlueGoldNews.com Game Scorecard
Thu 12/1/11 8:00 PM

Tampa, FL

Raymond James Stadium
Record: 8-3
BCS: 23
Last Game
Pitt W 21-20
Sirius\XM: 94\190
Web: BlueGoldNews.com
Record: 5-6
Last Game
Louisville L 24-34
Press Release
Season Stats
2011 Schedule

Series: Tied 3-3
First Meeting: 2005
Last Meeting: 2010
Press Release
Season Stats
2011 Schedule

Click for Tampa, Florida Forecast

This, as head coach Dana Holgorsen has noted, is it. This is the game, via scheduling setup more than anything, that will define West Virginia's season. Win, and the Mountaineers are assured yet another share off a Big East title and remain in the hunt for that suddenly elusive BCS bid. Lose, and the three league defeats constitute a lesser season than most anticipated. This one shapes up about how most would expect.

  • We'll start with defense this week. Jeff Casteel's unit has shown solid improvement since making a few personnel moves. WVU has been better against both run and pass, gotten off the field more effectively and applied increased pressure. But USF's B.J. Daniels, if cleared to play, won't sit in the pocket and take nearly the negative yardage plays as did Pitt's Tino Sunseri. Daniels, a solid scrambler, can make a few plays with his feet, and the possibility of that has hurt the odd stack in the past. WVU must lessen their all out pressure and try to make Daniels a pocket passer. The Mountaineers were quite effective in doing that in last season's win, as Daniels forced a bad pass before halftime that resulted in an interception and resulting offensive touchdown.

    Look for a more steady, controlled pressure package that puts a premium on Daniels' passing ability. Since the Bulls lost star wideout Sterling Griffin, their average yards passing per game has dropped almost 100 yards per game. The massive production decrease, at least partially attributed to Daniels' injury as well, has put more pressure on the running game, and solid defenses like Louisville have capitalized. West Virginia has allowed some big plays, and those areas have hurt them against the USF in the past.

    WVU D vs. USF O
      WVU USF
    Scoring 26.2 ppg 29.5 ppg
    Rushing 138 ypg 184.3 ypg
    Passing 197.2 ypg 250 ypg
    If the defense isn't put in short yardage situations by the offense and special teams, it will likely be able to keep plays in front of it and force prolonged drives. That will help, because Daniels often gets impatient and forces throws downfield. In the layered look off the 3-3-5, that often results in interceptions. Controlled pressure and keeping the wideouts in front will be of primary concern.

  • South Florida's run game, tops in the Big East, has been hurt somewhat by Daniels' loss (57 yards per game on the ground). If Daniels is, indeed, back, it means WVU can't focus mainly on the run game. That hurts, as the ground attack has gotten much better in the last couple seasons. USF uses transfer Darrell Scott, a one-time WVU recruit, alomng with a few others to pound inside and outside. It's not a quick-hit approach, and head coach Skip Holtz is more likely to try and slow this game down some if the home team can scratch out decent yardage on the ground.

    This is among the better offensive lines West Virginia will play this year. The Mountaineers, once again, need to hold up in the middle and get good tackling from their linebacking corps. Watch the battle up front. WVU didn't exactly win on either side of the ball against Pitt, but wasn't hurt a ton on defense because of Sunseri holding on to the ball. If it can't manage some adequate play here, the Bulls could get the run game going, and that, added to play action, could prove a difficult dose to overcome. Tackling, line play and solid assignment football are the order of the day.

    The tight ends aren't as much of a concern as they were against Syracuse, but USF will definitely throw in a few crossing routes to try and clear some areas. Misdirection could be big as well, as the team speed makes this a viable option for Holtz. With the line likely to give some time for counters and double moves downfield, backfield discipline is imperative. West Virginia hasn't matched up poorly in the past as much as it hasn't executed. If the stack isn't put in bad field position and can execute base fundamentals, West Virginia has a nice shot at slowing South Florida.

  • Special teams. There's a lot to like about West Virginia's performance against Pitt – and there are a few things to worry about versus South Florida. The punt unit might have shored itself up some if Corey Smith can stay consistently good. The kickoff coverage was again decent. The field goal unit remains an unknown, at least to those not viewing practice. The punt fielding was horrendous, with two turnovers that changed the entire complexion of the game. USF ranks No. 1 in punt coverage in the nation, allowing 0.4 yards per return. WVU hasn't shown much flash in any return game in awhile, but what the Mountaineers can't afford to do is give up major field position – or turnovers – in any exchanges.

    Austin – or whoever is deep – needs to be able to field the ball. The return, as always, remains secondary, though perhaps a bit more in this game. One never knows when problems could arise for West Virginia's punters, so long rolls off unfielded kicks could absolutely help decide the game. Turnovers will be a killer. The Mountaineers are not likely to get the negative yardage plays they did against Pitt in this game.

      WVU USF
    Net Punt 35 yds 35.5 yds
    Punt Ret 12.2 yds 6.4 yds
    KO Ret 22.7 yds 20 yds
    Managing to win a game with a couple major miscues when fielding punts is rare; doing it in consecutive games hardly ever happens. Don't be shocked if the two returnmen look is back. WVU, especially when looking at South Florida's ability and numbers in covering kicks, needs to be far more concerned about fielding them and simply avoiding muffs than any kind of big play the other way.

  • USF doesn't have any player as explosive as Austin in the kick return game. Of course, it was noted here last week that Pitt didn't, either. Still, West Virginia should be able to cover kickoffs and punts well, and should hold its own when returning kickoffs. Bulls' placekicker Maikon Bonani has missed seven of 23 field goal tries, and anything beyond 40 yards becomes a quite iffy proposition. Don't expect either team to try many long field goals, especially in the heavy, moist air in sea-level Tampa. Short, directed punts or fourth down chances would seem far more likely. This is an area West Virginia needs to play evenly in. It doesn't have to win it, or put on major return displays. Field punts, stay solid on coverage and don't turn the ball over. Hitting field goals inside 38 yards or so helps as well. In short, give yourself a chance to win. Anything extra is just that.

  • Finally, to the offensive finale'. If anything, Dana Holgorsen has shown an ability to completely change the direction and focus of his offense quickly. The staff flipped the halftime script and went from a mainly passing team to one determined to run to open the third quarter. That greatly aided West Virginia's comeback. It again looks as though WVU matches up far better in the passing game than it does trying to run. The Bulls are first in the nation in tackles per loss, and often make several negative yardage plays. The Mountaineers are prone to losses in the run game, though when offense gets rolling on the ground, as it did versus Pitt, it's capable.

    West Virginia will start throwing, but might need to toss in some screens and misdirections to slow USF's pass rush. The Bulls average almost four sacks a game, and get after the pocket very well. There aren't any incredibly explosive players like the former staff brought in, but the front is solid across the board and can pressure even in o four-on-five situation. Geno Smith might not have time for major downfield routes, though certainly the Mountaineers will try a few. Look for quick ‘handoffs' to Austin, some screens on the edge away from pressure and out of a more traditional execution, and some midrange throws.

  • USF's secondary has made some big plays, but allowed them as well. West Virginia will test it with a variety of throws, and it should find success here. As long as Smith doesn't force the ball downfield, or try to make a play where there isn't one, continued probing of a decent defensive backfield should yield dividends. WVU's receivers should be able to find areas in which to settle. That and some comeback routes will set the stage for deeper throws that could hurt USF when it begins to creep up.
    WVU O vs. USF D
      WVU USF
    Scoring 35.4 ppg 22 ppg
    Rushing 116.9 ypg 105.5 ypg
    Passing 351.4 ypg 244.6 ypg
    This is an average defense with the strength up front – but more experience in the secondary. Give Smith some time, call a smart game and make catches when the throws are there. If that happens, and WVU doesn't turn the ball over on offense or on special teams, it's hard to fathom it won't score points.

  • Intangibles. This is the scary aspect of this game. West Virginia has seldom played a complete game against South Florida, and it hasn't really pieced together a complete game this season. It probably won't start now, so the question is can it play well enough, versus a team with just as many flaws, to win on the road? USF doesn't have the NFL talent is has in the past; neither does WVU. Both teams are mistake prone. There are good and bad match-ups on both sides of the ball and on special teams. This just keeps coming back to execution and basic fundamentals. At the very least, West Virginia needs to make South Florida beat it. In at least two of its losses, and even in some wins, the Mountaineers have been their own worst enemy.

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