Match-ups: WVU - JMU

Coaches' comments and motivational ploys have been the focus of the WVU - James Madison game to date, but there are actual on-field battles that deserve attention. Game Scorecard
Sat 9/8/12 4:30 PM

Landover, MD

FedEx Field
Record: 1-0
Polls: 8/9
Last Game
Marshall 69-34 W
TV: Root Sports
Radio: MSN
Record: 2-0
Polls: NA
Last Game
Alcorn St W 42-3
Rosters/ Bios
Press Release
Season Stats
2012 Schedule

Series: WVU 1-0
First Meeting: 2004
Last Meeting: 2004
Press Release
Season Stats
2012 Schedule

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JMU Quarterback Justin Thorpe vs. WVU Defensive Line

West Virginia needs to get more pressure on the quarterback than it did two weeks ago against Marshall. Although the Herd negated the pass rush to some extent by throwing a number of short passes and rollouts, they were also able to throw deep a couple of times, and completed one for a big gain. West Virginia can bring more players to attempt to overwhelm JMU's protection, but it also needs to get in Thorpe's face at times when there are only four rushers. It has to begin to develop players who can win heads-up battles and get into the pocket. If it doesn't, Thorpe is capable of completing passes to an array of receivers.

The added dimension here is that Thorpe is an accomplished runner and scrambler as well. Through two games, he has gained 177 yards (8.9 per carry) and has done so on both designed runs and scrambles off passing plays. While the Mountaineers are trying to get more pressure on him, they have to be careful not to allow gaping lanes through which he can dart for gains. Other than screen passes and draw plays, there's nothing that slows a defensive line's rush down than a mobile quarterback, so WVU's handling of Thorpe will be critical for the defense. One tactic the Mountaineers can employ is to try to collapse the pocket rather than running around its edges, and keep Thorpe contained when he drops back to throw. Nose tackles Shaq Rowell and Christian Brown will be counted on to bring that pressure in the middle in an attempt to crumple Thorpe's protection.

Thorpe has done well protecting the ball so far this year, tossing just one interception while recording a 141.2 QB efficiency rating. Of course, he hasn't faced athletes up front like West Virginia's this year either, so the early eye will be on the line's protection and how he reacts to any pressure WVU can generate. He gets the ball out early on throws, which leads to short and mid-range gains, but he does have seven receivers averaging between 10 and 17 yards per catch.

JMU Linebacker Stephon Robertson vs. WVU running game

Robertson, a preseason All-Conference and All-America selection, will play a key role in the Dukes' attempt to slow West Virginia's running attack.

Jeff Braun
Of course, some of that success will play into James Madison's defensive schem3. Will the Dukes sit back in coverage to prevent big plays from the passing game, or will they crowd the line to generate pressure and try to slow WVU's rushing attack, which took advantage of a deep-defending Marshall team to roll up 331 rushing yards?

Either way, however, Robertson will figure heavily in the ground defense. Even if JMU drops out against the pass, he'll be charged with containing the between the tackles runs that Shawne Alston turned into personal highlight reels against a Herd defense helpless to stop him. Robertson figures to be a much sterner test -- he racked up 113 tackles a year ago and brings solid technique and good fundamentals to bear when he brings down opposing ball carriers.

At five feet 11 inches and 215 pounds, he's not as big as most middle 'backers WVU will face, but he has the ability to get to the ball, and typically brings down his opponent when he does so. West Virginia, with a number of its own smallish stars, certainly understands that it's not always size that wins the battle.

When WVU runs the ball, especially on the read draws and other inside runs, find Robertson quickly, and note West Virginia's blocking efforts on him. Their success in controlling the JMU defensive stalwart will have a big effect on the Mountaineers' success in the running game.


Marshall ran a simple, safe, and very effective tight end route against the Mountaineers, which featured a rollout by quarterback Rakeem Cato, matched by tight ends dragging just a few yards past the line of scrimmage, mirroring the QB. The idea was to force WVU linebackers to make the decision to either come up and defend the run, or cover the tight end. Most times, Herd tight ends were left alone, and they caught several passes for decent, though not huge gains.

JMU tight end Brian Barlow is tied for second in Dukes receiving, having snared six passes for 76 yards in two games. Again, these aren't game-breaking numbers, but he has been effective in moving the chains, averaging 12.7 yards per catch. While JMU might not run exactly the same play as the Herd did, look for Barlow and Thorpe on similar rollouts where the quarterback has a run/pass option.

It should be noted tht totally stopping plays like this is very difficult. It's tough to get pressure on a QB who rolls out and throws a three-yard pass, so some of them are going to be completed. The key is to limit yards after the catch and bring the receiver down on the first tackle attempt. A team might complete a couple of these on a drive, but making them complete five or six to put together a lengthy foray is the goal. Remember that despite Marshall's success with the play, it also resulted in a score for WVU when Doug Rigg snared a bounce off Eric Frohnapfel's hands and returned it to point-blank scoring range. I would bet West Virginia's defensive coaches would take that trade every time.

* * *

West Virginia's new kickoff return alignment, which is something of a 4-1-2-2-2 alignment (the lone player is a couple of yards behind the front four in the middle of the formation) is interesting to watch. Keep an eye on the pairs of blockers in front of deep returners Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey, and how their paths fit into the overall blocking scheme. On the James Madison side, kickers Cameron Starke and Conner Arnone have combined to kcik four balls out of bounds on kickoffs so far this year. Whether any of those were intentional is unsure, but if the Dukes are going to try to kick away from Austin, we could see more of those, along with some great starting field position for WVU.

West Virginia, of course, would prefer to get its two starters some work with the new scheme. Austin and Bailey combined for just two returns in the season opener, with Austin gaining 35 yards and Bailey 17 on their sole chances.

* * *

Last week we made a hit on our player to watch, as J.D. Woods came up with some nice catches and all-around good play. This week we'll flip to the defense and recommend keeping an eye on 'star' Terence Garvin. In some ways, the star position is like Garvin's spur position of a year ago, but alignment and assignments can also change a good bit. Garvin was on the line for a number of snaps two weeks ago, and was an extra pass defender in some cases when three receivers lined up on one side of the field.

Watch Garvin this week, and keep track of his initial alignment, and what he does at the snap. As the counterpart to the buck position on the other side of the defense, he too has many different assignments on his plate.

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