Eyes On The Opener

With all eyes on the quarterback slot, BlueGoldNews.com takes a look at some other areas on which to keep an eye in the Mountaineers' opener versus William and Mary.

BlueGoldNews.com Game Scorecard
Sat 8/31 12:00 PM EST

Morgantown, WV

Mountaineer Field at
Milan Puskar Stadium
Record: 0-0

Last Game
Syracuse 14-38 L
TV: FOXSports1
Sirius\XM: 132/192/192
Web: BlueGoldNews.com
Record: 0-0

Last Game
Richmond 14-21 L
Rosters/Bios
Press Release
Season Stats
2013 Schedule

Series: WVU 15-0-1

First Meeting: 1954
Last Meeting: 1972
Rosters/Bios
Press Release
Season Stats
2013 Schedule

Much like last season, the first game is mostly about WVU against itself; how do the Mountaineers execute in basic play phases, how is the communication between players and from the sidelines, are the plays rushed in, or is the team set and ready for the snap in a timely manner that doesn't often challenge the play clock? Does the defense appear to react well, to tackle cleanly, to operate effectively in space, all aspects not necessarily easy to pinpoint against a lesser foe? What of the corner play? Are the defensive backs getting their heads around on passes and challenging the ball and wideouts efficiently and without penalties?

How's the new shuffling – as opposed to a backpedal – that was implemented by first-year cornerbacks coach Brian Mitchell? Does it indeed appear the secondary is in better position to play the man and the ball? Do the Mountaineers fit the run well, without leaving glaring gaps? Defensive coordinator Keith Patterson has stated that how his team fits up – fills gaps, knows and executes their proper locations and angles on the field – won't be in game one what it will be in game three to four to five for all obvious reasons: More experience, greater recognition and understanding of opposing schemes from seeing multiple looks through significant snaps.

Is the new style of getting upfield quickly and not sidestepping on the snap being executed? Again, without a knowledge of exactly what was called and the idea of execution on the play, answers aren't extremely easy to formulate. But one can get a general idea.

What of the rotation along the line and at linebacker? Who is playing where and for how many snaps? When the game is, indeed, in doubt, how many players does Patterson feel can help the Mountaineers win? Who does he trust in third and long against second and short situations? One would assume more players would be used in a game such as this, but the coaches could elect to take another approach and still drill the key defensive players as much as possible with a key upcoming road game at Oklahoma.

More obvious should be the kicking game abilities. Special teams coordinator Joe DeForest has said WVU must be "creative" because it doesn't have a player who can consistently kick the ball into the end zone for a touchback. Do the Mountaineers employ the skykick? Are they able to directionally kick well? How is the placement and depth? The same for punts – how does Nick O'Toole handle the pressure of a game situation? Are the kicks clean, and the steps and "get-off time" solid? And placekicker Josh Lambert – can he overcome potential first-game jitters and make the kicks he missed in the Gold-Blue spring game, when his first pair of attempts went wide before he nailed consecutive field goals later in the contest. How much pressure, in terms of distance, do the coaches place on him? Snaps, holds, etc. all clean?

What type of returns, and with whom, does West Virginia utilize? Will the Mountaineers, as DeForest has said they could, place two players back on punts for more surefire handling? Obviously, WVU isn't giving any major secrets away in a game like this (at least one hopes it isn't in a position of need to do so), but overall crispness of play gives much insight to how early the overall team can be polished with a big week two looming.

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The offense begs its own questions. Who, again, plays where and for how many snaps? How does center Tyler Orlosky match-up against a solid defensive tackle in 6-3, 280-pound George Beerhalter, a seasoned senior out of Pittsburgh who likely would quite enjoy a win over the Mountaineers. Is the center-quarterback exchange clean? How does the starting quarterback handle any audibles (again, difficult to tell sans understanding what WVU was trying to do in certain sets versus what the defense shows)? Are passes forced? How's the pocket presence? How much does West Virginia challenge vertically? How big of a role do the backs play in the pass game? Do the Mountaineers line up more frequently in power or more run-based sets to utilize greater depth, numbers and talent at the position?

Who did offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson settle on at receiver? Dawson said in the preseason the wideouts hadn't given as much effort as requested. Players must have emerged, so who gets rewarded with the initial snaps of the game? Do the resulting players hustle? Show some desire and grit while blocking? Does the offense, as an entirety, play until the whistle, getting downfield and continuing to try and aid in the action even after the initial execution? See what backs get what carries in which situations. Who provides the power? The balance? Who appears to have an inside edge in becoming the every-down player, even with the coaching staff certain not to show too much?

Does the line show some added punch in power or goal line plays with the new blocking tweaks under first-year position coach Ron Crook, he of the power and double-team preference? Is the pass protection adequate? How many linemen see time when the game is in doubt, if it remains so long enough for that style of situation to materialize? And if, indeed, mop up time arrives, who gets the second snaps at quarterback, at running back, at receiver and other positions?

A summation: This is about execution and effort. Who has it, who shows it and how dependable are both when game time finally arrives. The win, as it typically is, will be the most focused upon ideal. But, again, as always, the win shouldn't be the primary focus; it should be the end goal, the bi-product of a focus on other imperative aspects. It's been a long time coming. Enjoy.


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