Washington has the difficult assignment of not only defending against the Hokies' power running game, but also of squaring off against Randall in both the run and pass play phases.
Washington, in his standard role in run support, will be called upon to combat Tech's big backs, who average more than 230 pounds. But, he'll also have to occasionally drop into pass coverage, and also keep an eye on Randall, who is a major threat to run with the ball.
At any time, Randall might keep the ball off a run fake or tuck it under and take off upfield when a pass breaks down, and Washington will be one of the first defenders he's likely to face in those situations.
If that sounds easy, it's not. In the blink of an eye, Washington will have to adjust from being a run plugger taking on big blockers and big backs to an open field tackler that uses his speed and quickness to keep the excellent Hokie quarterback from breaking off a big gain.
WVU defensive tackle Ben Lynch vs. VT center Jake Grove Grove is one of the best center's in the nation, and a quick visual inspection reveals one of the reasons. He has the wide franke and thick lower body to generate leverage and power, and he uses those attributes to their fullest in moveing opposing noes guards and tackles out of the way.
For Lynch's part, he's looking to bounce back from an admitted subpar performance against Rutgers. He will need to summon some of the best play of his career in order to combat Grove and help slow down the Tech running game. WVU's defensive strategy is to outnumber their opponents at the line of scrimmage, but it also needs strong play from the nose tackle in order to succeed.
This one is pretty easy to observe. If Lynch stands his ground and forces Grove to get help, he will have won much of the battle. But if Grove is able to turn him or block him without assistance, Kevin Jones is going to have a good night running the ball.
Rodriguez, along with special teams coordinator Bill Stewart, has some decisions to make. Does WVU punt the ball to Hall, who is the finest return man in the conference? Do they employ a mix of punting styles? Or do they just accept a net 30-35 yard gain and kick it out of bounds?
If they do elect to kick the ball to Hall, West Virginia will likely use both the standard and rugby punt styles they have employed all year. You can bet, however, that Tech has been using the extra preparation time available for this game to devise a method of pressuring the rugby punt with their excellent kick blocking unit. Miami nearly blocked one of WVU's rugby punts, and there's no dobut that the Tech staff has worn a hole in that bit of videotape.
In the end, the safest strategy may be just to boot the ball out of bounds. WVU will be giving up a few yards, but that is better than giving up a quick six points.
THINGS TO WATCH
West Virginia sorely needs to improve their third down efficiency, and not just in converting those thirds to firsts. The Mountaineers are averaging only 4.7 yards per third down play.
Of course, a number of different factors go into this average, including the fact that many short yardage plays on third down pull down that average. However, there haven't been many big plays on third down this year, with Quincy Wilson's screen pass reception at Miami being the best of an otherwise nondescript lot. That needs to change.
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WVU has been rotating a few more players in on defense to give the frontliners a rest. Nose tackle Craig Wilson, defensive end Jason Hardee and linebacker Kevin McLee have been getting increased minutes, and a few other players might join that list. Keep an eye on the defensive roster on each series, and note when the subs are on the field. Their performance, as compared with the starters', could be a key compononet to this contest.
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Tech's emphasis on special teams makes them a focal point every time the Mountaineers and Hokies face off, but WVU's Brad Cooper might end up providing the difference in this game.
Every point will be valuable in this contest, and Cooper, who has yet to make a field goal from 40 yards or longer, could play a big part. WVU will have to play aggressively when they get in scoring range, but in this case "aggressive" might mean a 52 yard field goal try. Cooper, who has the leg and the accuracy to make kicks of that length, will need to be on his game in order for West Virginia to maximize their chances to score points.