The Chalkboard: Previewing The West Virginia - Liberty Game

Welcome to our new feature: The Chalkboard. In each week's edition, we'll provide a final round-up preview of the weekend's football game, and provide some interesting fare for you to share and chew over in the hours preceeding kickoff.

West Virginia's pass defense didn't get strained much last week, but were it not for a too-flat throw that was batted away by a leaping K.J. Dillon, the Mountaineers wouldn't have had the shutout they earned. This week things will be more stressful for the corners and other downfield coverage players in the defense. Liberty wide receiver Darrin Peterson will test Terrell Chestnut, Daryl Worley and the rest of the secondary, so this is definitely something to keep an eye on. Will WVU still go with predominantly man-to-man coverage, or will there be more zone mixed in? Will WVU shade a safety to Peterson's side of the field, and perhaps play zone on his side and man on the other? While Liberty isn't Baylor, this should be a good stress test for the Mountaineer pass coverage unit.

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Shutouts aren't easy. Even as dominating as West Virginia was against Georgia Southern last week, the Eagles had a couple of real chances to score that they didn't capitalize on. This isn't meant to downgrade WVU's defensive effort at all -- only to point out that if Liberty puts some points on the board, that doesn't meant that the Mountaineer defense automatically had a bad week. There are good players out there on every team, and it only takes one win in a match-up or one mistake on the other side to create a big play.

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Would a Liberty win be as big of an upset as Roberta Vinci's win over Serena Williams yesterday? After all, the Mountaineers haven't lost to an FCS team in 15 meetings. Ok, maybe that's an overstatement. But there's no denying it would be a big win for the Flames, and a serious setback for the Mountaineers. Liberty is ranked #15 in this week's FCS poll.

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The success of head coach Turner Gill at Liberty (14-14 overall, 13-3 in the Big South), following on the heels of a 5-19/ 1-16 showing at Kansas, raises some interesting questions. Did Gill improve as a head coach that dramatically between jobs? How much did player talent account for the differences? Do we overrate the effects of coaching on games? There are a lot of different angles to pursue in this topic, but one thing it points out is that the quick judgements often made on the men in these positions don't take into account all of the factors that can affect a program and job performance. in Gill's case at Kansas, there was no way he, or anyone, was going to turn around that team in two years. Perhaps other factors were at play in that dismissal, but when you are coming from rock (chalk, Jayhawk) bottom, you aren't going to climb up the ladder quickly.

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WVU head coach Dana Holgorsen didn't want to discuss redshirt freshman offensive tackle Yodny Cajuste's performance in the opener, but a video review seemed to indicate a very good showing for a guy making his first collegiate appearance. It figures he will be strenuously tested by Liberty defensive end Chima Uzowihe this week, which will give Holgorsen more data points upone which to comment -- or not. Uzowhie, who is the Big South defensive player of the week, needs 1.5 sacks to break the conference record for QB takedowns, making this a match-up to watch. Take several plays to study Cajuste, who shows very good footwork and balance, as he battles Uzowihe. The latter will use his own quick moves to try to get Cjuste lunging and out of position, from where he can attack.

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On the flip side of the line battles, I'm watching WVU's defensive front against Liberty's running game. Last week, WVU had either a linebacker or safety lined up on the offense line on a majority of snaps, and emphasized stuffing the A and B gaps (center/guard and guard/tackle) to prevent the dive play from yielding productive yards. With a much better passing attack facing it this week, can the Mountaineers sell out against the run so much? The answer there is likely "no" so keep an eye on West Virginia's defensive formations, which often morph from week to week. And while we're at it, after a game of a self-enforced "no blitzing" rule, how many times will bulldog-aggressive defensive coordinator Tony Gibson unleash more than four rushers? That'd be an interesting over and under bet.

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Liberty has played four games in its history on Sept. 12, and all four have come under different head coaches. Today's game will continue that streak, with Gill adding his name to a list of Flame coaches including Tom Dowling, Morgan Hout, Sam Rutigliano and Danny Rocco who oversaw a game on 9/12. Liberty is 2-2 in those games.


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