Musings, Matchups and More: Towson

Our series of WVU - Towson preview articles continues with a look inside the expected matchups and tactics in Saturday's game.

MATCH-UPS, MUSINGS AND MORE

Towson's running back might not have the same level of talent as those of Alabama, but the combination of starting tailback Darius Victor and quaterback Connor Frazier could test the Mountaineer defense.

Victor, who took over the starting job after Terrance West departed for the NFL, tallied 105 rushing yards a week ago against Central Connecticut State, averaging 5.5 yards per carry. Frazier jumped in with 80 yards of his own (he gained 103 while having his total degraded by 13 yards in sacks), giving the Tigers a solid rushing option. West Virginia, conversely, gave up 280 yards on the ground to Alabama, putting it 103rd in the nation in rushing defense heading into the game.

Obviously, this matchup is a bit of an apples and oranges item, as the Tide's offensive line is one of the best in the nation. However, the idea that the Tigers might be able to run the ball effectively can't be dismissed out of hand. There's not much doubt that TU will try to control the ball and the tempo by running against the West Virginia front, and its not as if they have to display the across the line dominance that the Crimson Tide did in order to move the ball. If they can execute at the point of attack, or if WVU isn't sound in its principles, the Tigers could do some damage on the ground.

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For West Virginia, a couple of things need to improve. First, its discipline in maintaining assignments must get better. Overruns and wrong gap coverage resulted in more than a couple of big gains for the Tide, and when assignments are blown, anyone can reel off a big play. Second, WVU needs to put Towson behind the chains on second and third down. Even when Alabama wasn't getting big runs, it was getting three or four yards on first and second down, setting up makeable third down situations. The failure of WVU to get off the field in third and long situations was certainly a problem in the opener, but so too were the number of times Alabama had third and two or third and three situations.

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West Virginia's passing game showed new life last week, but it must be even more efficient to give the Mountaineers a chance to keep pace in the aerial circus of the Big 12. Dropped passes have been discussed ad infinitum over the past few days, but there's also the matter of hitting big plays and making the right reads (both QB and receiver). Neither of these items were bad against 'Bama, but they must be better.

Two things to file away and keep an eye on when WVU drops to pass:
1) Towson yielded 22 completions in 29 attempts a week ago, with two of those going for scores.
2) Despite good returns in most aspects when throwing the ball, WVU was just 5-14 on third down conversions. Not terrible, but again, something that needs to improve.


WHERE'D THAT MASCOT COME FROM?

Sharing one of the most popular mascots in the nation, Towson still boasts some interesting points of origin for its Tiger. After winning student government approval in 1962, Lou Winklemen sported a rented Tiger costume (which looked more like an acid-tripped interpretation of stripes) in the school's 1963 homecoming parade. In 2003, the much-better costumed mascot was named "Doc" in honor of Donald "Doc" Minnegan, who was involved in Towson athletics as both a coach and athletic director for more than 40 years. Kudos to Towson for the tribute, and bonus points for avoiding the obvious "Tony" as a sobriquet.

The Tiger was just the latest incarnation of a widely-varying mascot history at the Baltimore area school. Previous teams were referred to as the Knights, while individual squads self-adopted monikers such as the Teachers and the Indians.


ITEMS TO WATCH

West Virginia's use of substitutions didn't match it's depth chart coming into the game. That's not a complaint, just an observation -- but one that's important for those who like to track who's playing and who isn't. For example, Shaq Riddick was listed as the starter at defensive tackle (and is listed as an "OR" this week) but expect Noble Nwachukwu to again get the start. Defensive line coach Tom Bradley noted the need to get Riddick more involved this week, but questions still remain as to his ability to defend against the run. He also wasn't able to get much pressure on the QB against the Crimson Tide.

Another example: Dreamius Smith is still listed as the top "A" back, but there's nothing to indicate that Rushel Shell won't be the first guy out of the gate again. Add in Wendell Smallwood's use, and Smith is probably #3 at best at this point.

None of this is to complain about the lack of depth chart veracity. Instead, it's just a prompt to watch substitutions and see if the depth that was discussed a good deal is actually coming into play. If it's not, that shows that some of the players whose names have been bandied about as contributors may not be ready to play just yet. This week could be a proving ground for players such as Riddick, Eric Kinsey, Shelton Gibson, Devonte Mathis and others. It can be tough to keep track of the subs, especially in defensive passing situations when the Mountaineers replace as many as four defenders, but it provides valuable insight as to just who is being counted on to produce.

Questions about the efficiency of West Virginia's running game were immediately popping up after the final total of 28 rushing yards in the opener jumped off the stat sheet. While coaches can't concern themselves with what fans or media pundits with axes to grind have to say, there's no doubt that an effort will be made to ramp things up with the run this week.

That said, don't necessarily look for a lot of power running sets in an attempt to grind Towson down. That's not the way the Mountaineers will win Big 12 games this year, so departing from its normal sets and methods of operation wouldn't make much sense. Instead, watch for runs out of many of the same two-back looks that were shown against Alabama, with an emphasis on sticking with it throughout the game.


SOMETHING YOU NEED TO KNOW

WVU used a good bit of motion against Alabama, but it was a bit different than the standard use of the tactic. The Mountaineers often motioned a single wide receiver across the formation, but snapped the ball before the receiver crossed the face of the quarterback. That's normal when WVU motions a slot receiver, because it presents the threat of the jet sweep, but there were some instances involving the wideouts.

The first reason for motion is to help expose the defense and make it indicate whether it is in zone or man coverage. A veteran D can sometimes disguise its coverage even in the face of motion, but many times the adjustments, or lack thereof, to motion signal the basic defensive coverage. WVU also threw a couple of passes to the side receivers who motioned across the formation -- another tactic that should be watched for in the coming weeks. The motioning receiver can often get matched up against an outside backer or a strong safety in that short passing zone, and if the timing and accuracy of the pass are good, a short dumpoff that hits him in stride can result in a long gain.


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