Sat 11/03/12 3:00 PM
Milan Puskar Stadium
Kansas St 55-14 L
Okla St 36-14 L
Series: WVU 1-0
First Meeting: 1984
Last Meeting: 1984
MATCH-UPS AND STORYLINES
TCU Defensive End Devonte Fields vs. WVU pass protection
Fields, an All-American candidate, puts tremendous pressure on oppsing passers -- and a bit of physical hurt, too. He's racked up eight sacks so far this year, and has 14 tackles for loss -- almost half of his 36 total tackles this season.
Fields achieves pressure with a quick start and excellent leverage. He can turn the corner when offensive tackles don't get out of their stances quickly enough, and he can also bull rush and push off opponents to get a more direct path to the passer. He uses his arms well to keep blockers from tying him up, and is tough to handle in open space.
If West Virginia's offense is to rebound, it will have to figure a way to slow Fields' rampages in the backfield. Obviously, Mountaineer tackles Nick Kindler, Pat Eger and Quinton Spain will have to be technically sound, but the key may come from West Virginia's running backs. Pass protection from the backfield has been spotty this year, and that, as much as front line failings, has contributed to WVU's hurried passing attack.
Watch WVU's early passing attempts. Is a back picking Fields up? Is it Andrew Buie or Dustin Garrison? If not, WVU may be forced to use a blocking back in pass protection, which takes another potential receiver out of the pattern. That reduces the number of options Geno Smith has to target in the passing game. If WVU can keep Fields in check, it will have a great chance to rekindle its passing attack.
TCU Quarterback Trevone Boykin vs. WVU Defense
I'm not expecting West Virginia's defense to suddenly flip a switch and become the second incarnation of the 1996 unit. However, there are a few things it must do to keep Boykin out of his comfort zone.
It might sound counter-intuitive to suggest that WVU needs to force an opponent to throw, given the sad state of the Mountaineer pass defense. However, there's nothing more demoralizing to a defense than having a team march the ball downfield on the ground. Also, there are simply more mistakes that can happen throwing the ball than running it, so WVU must find a way to contain Boykin and make him a thrower.
Boykin has been respectable throwing the ball, but his yards per attempt ratio has not been great. If the Mountaineers can figure out a way to get close to receivers in pass coverage (and perhaps force a turnover or two) they could build the bit of confidence they need to climb out of the hole which they have dug themselves.
THINGS TO WATCH
In this game, the outcome could come down to one big play. Who is primed to make sometheing happen? Both teams are struggling to find leadership, and haven't come up with game changing plays in recent weeks.
For TCU, could it be return specialist Skye Dawson, who averages 23 yards per kickoff return and 14.3 per punt runback? Or might Elisha Olabode, who seems to always be around the ball (three interceptions, one fumble recovery, two touchdowns) add to his impressive run?
For West Virginia, Tavon Austin is always in the mix, but the Mountaineers need to get Stedman Bailey back in the threat zone as well. A big catch and run might be just the spark the Mountaineers need to get back on the winning track.
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What will West Virginia's fan support be like? The Mountaineer fan base was in a tizzy in the week following the Kansas State debacle, but things have quieted a bit with the off week. Will that factor cool WVU's home field advantage? Will support be loud, or will low temperatures and cooler reactions make for a lukewarm reception at best?
Understand that this isn't a criticism of WVU fans. More and more, when a team loses a game or two, fans lose interest. That's the nature of being a fan these days (at least for many), so it will be interesting to see what kind of reception West Virginia gets when it takes the field.
One thing the Mountaineers don't need to hear is another shower of boos, but if things get off to a bad start, it won't be a surprise to hear anything else. For a number of reasons, a good start is important for West Virginia in this game.
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Can TCU close out drives? That could be another key point in what figures to be a close game. The Horned Frogs have had 40 possessions with at least one snap in the red zone this year, but have scored touchdowns on just 22 of those drives. Add in seven field goals, and that's still 11 excellent scoring chances that have come up empty. TCU has committed seven turnovers, lost the ball on downs twice, missed two field goals and run out of time once on those 11 drives -- and those are points that it could ill afford to miss.
Can WVU come up with a stop or two and continue that storyline? Cauing one or two empty possessions, or forcing field goal attempts instead of touchdowns, could be just the ticket to help rebuild the confidence the defense sorely lacks.