Match-Ups: WVU - USF

Stopping the run. Containing a dominant defensive line. The storylines for recent WVU-USF clashes remain familiar ones in this tight series. 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
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

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WVU Offensive Linemen Curtis Feigt and Quinton Spain vs. USF Defensive Linemen Ryne Giddins and Keith McCaskill

Two Mountaineers getting their first starts will face a huge challenge in the form of two of the best defensive linemen in the league. Giddins has 41 tackles on the season, of which 11 came behind the line of scrimmage. He's been a force across the board, with 5.5 sacks, a pass breakup, three forced fumbles and a fumble recovery. McCaskill is nearly as potent, recording 24 tackles, including eight behind the line and four sacks. Together, they form the foundation of a defense that tops the Big East in sacks, and continues the recent tradition of great line play at USF.

How does West Virginia's new right-side duo combat Giddins and McCaskill? First, they must approach every play with a cornerback's mentality – play this play, then forget it and move on. They can't dwell on a mistake, and while they must learn from them, they can't be agonizing over or worrying about a missed block that blew up a play two series ago. They must play freely, without worry – something that offensive line coach Bill Bedenbaugh mentioned after WVU's win in the Backyard Brawl. They must trust the coaching they have received, pay attention to fundamentals, and approach each snap as a new challenge.

Against the Panthers, WVU was forced to throw away about 60% of its offense, because it couldn't block the Pitt front line. Fortunately, the Mountaineers finally were able to move the ball enough on the ground to get the win, but can it do so two games in a row? That's not likely. If USF rushes just four linemen, West Virginia must be capable of protecting Geno Smith and allowing routes to develop. It must also pick up blitzes to take advantage of one-on-one battles in the secondary – again, something that it couldn't do last week. Have Feigt and Spain and the time this week to make the improvements necessary to do that? It's not a one-week proposition, to be sure, but a good bit of West Virginia's game plan is hinging on the performance of the pair, as well as their teammates to the left.

WVU rushing defense vs. USF running backs Darrell Scott and Demetris Murray

With quarterback B.J. Daniels' availability still in question, the Bulls may lean heavily on their ground game – making West Virginia's desire to stop the run even more important.

Shaq Rowell
This isn't to downgrade the talents of USF backup Bobby Eveld, who had a solid game in the Bulls' contest against Louisville. However, to win this game with him at the helm, USF will need to keep him out of bad situations – long yardage second and third downs when WVU can bring its SWAT defensive package to bear. In Scott and Murray, USF has a pair of backs that are averaging 5.2 and 4.3 yards per carry respectively, and are good enough to control the game and set up makeable situations for second and third down conversions.

USF runs the ball well between the tackles, and will likely try the same sort of traps and inside runs that other WVU opponents have used successfully at times. Many of these plays involve pulling a backside guard or tack;e and bringing him either into the play-side guard tackle gap, or using him to kick West Virginia's outside defender toward the sideline, and provide a crease that the back can hit quickly. The Bulls can also be counted to try to move West Virginia's nose tackle to make running room right up the middle – again, tactics that have had some success this year.

WVU can counter this in a couple of ways. The first is by standing its ground on the inside – something Jorge Wright and backup Shaw Rowell did well after Pitt's first two drives. Rowell, in particular could be a key, after Josh Taylor again limped off last week and did not return to the contest. He must provide 10-15 solid snaps against USF, in order to allow Wright a couple of breathers during the game.

On the second level, West Virginia's linebackers have to execute their assignments. Getting to the correct gaps and making the right reads has been a major stumbling block for this unit all year, although that did again improve against Pitt. Casey Vance and Jewone Snow returned to duty for most of the game, and must continue to make the plays they did against the Panthers in order to keep USF from controlling the ball on the ground.


The availability of USF quarterback B.J. Daniels is the most-watched item in the USF camp this week, but you can bet there won't be any announcement about him before the game. Bulls' head coach Skip Holtz will play his status out until USF takes the field for its first offensive series, because he wants to give West Virginia no indication as to what type of offense it will have to prepare for. And with an already short week of preparation (WVU will have just three days of practice in Morgantown before departing for Tampa), the Mountaineers will be at a distinct disadvantage in trying to prepare for two different styles of quarterback on Thursday night.

Against Daniels, WVU's pass rush can't go as all-out as it did against Pitt's Tino Sunseri. Mountaineer rushers will have to be ready to react to his quick moves and scrambling ability, which he uses to both buy time for his receivers or to pick up yardage in the rushing game. With his shoulder injury, Daniels might be a bit more cautious than normal in running the ball, and also might not have the normal velocity he employs on his throws, but if he's in the game he can't be viewed as just a pocket passer.

Against Eveld, West Virginia will need to amp up the pressure and get to him quickly in an attempt to get him out of rhythm. He's a solid thrower who, given time, can move the ball, but he has four interception on just 67 throws this year, and the view is that he can be rattled if put under pressure. With Eveld in the game, look for WVU to rush more defenders on occasion, and bring different blitzes to try to keep Eveld out of his comfort zone.

* * *

What can WVU to get its offense back on track? The Mountaineers have averaged just 22.5 points in its last two outings, and both foes were able to crush West Virginia's offensive tempo by getting defenders into the backfield with regularity.

The typical methods to counter such upfield tactics are screens and draws, but those haven't been wildly successful either. West Virginia's screen passes haven't been effective because receivers have been jammed or tracked down at the line by close-up corners and linebackers, while defensive linemen have been able to get off blocks and make tackles against the run. WVU did have success against Pitt with one designed quarterback run, and although that's not Geno Smith's forte, he is good enough to gain yardage on the zone read. Four or five designed QB runs, especially a couple early in the game, could help to ease the pressure WVU sees up front.

Another tactic that could help is maximum protection on deep routes. While head coach Dana Holgorsen would prefer to flood zones with multiple receivers, at times a two-man combination route targeted at a specific spot in coverage can be enough to get a big play – provided it has the time to work. WVU could go to its diamond formation with a big back or two in the set to help the offensive line and give those routes a chance of success – and it would only take hits on one or two such plays to cause the USF defense to give some help to its secondary, which has yielded almost 11 yards per completion this year.

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