WVU Rover Angel Estrada and Whip Shawn Hackett vs. Virginia Tech Running Backs Keith Burnell and Kevin Jones
Both Estrada and Hackett have played solidly so far this year, but their level of play must increase if the Mountaineers are to slow down the Hokies' punishing ground game.
In particular, Estrada and Hackett must make good reads, take proper pursuit angles, and produce crisp tackles. Failure in any of those three areas will likely lead to another 200 yard rushing day and a further sinking down the NCAA defensive rankings for the Mountaineer defense, not to mention another loss.
Estrada and Hackett are keys for WVU to provide a consistent defensive performance for sixty minutes, and not the up and down play that has characterized WVU so far in 2001. If they can produce their best performance of the season, West Virginia will have a chance to be in the game.
WVU free safety Rick Sherrod vs. Virginia Tech quarterback Grant Noel
This might seem like a strange confrontation at first glance, because Sherrod and Noel aren't likely to cross paths much in terms of physical confrontations on Saturday. Instead, this will be a battle of fakes and wits, as Noel attempts to keep Sherrod guessing.
Much of the battle will come on Virginia Tech's play action passes, around which most of their passing game revolves. Tech's offense is built on establishing the run, pulling the safeties in, and getting single coverage on their talented wideouts.
To keep a rain of sixty yard touchdown passes from falling, Sherrod must not get caught up by Noel's ball fakes and play action looks. If he does, WVU's corners will be faced with matchups they can't win, and receivers like Andre Harrison will pad their receiving totals. Sherrod must make the right reads, even at the expense of giving up some run support, in order to provide deep help in the secondary.
Lake Shows Pain
Late in the Maryland game, WVU defensive lineman Antwan Lake came off the field grimacing in pain from a back spasm. That problem, which went unnoticed during WVU's rallying efforts, could play a big part in Saturday's game.
If Lake is limited, backup Sedrick Lewis will be called upon to carry the load in blunting Tech's powerful rushing game. He'll probably get help from Jason Davis rotating down from defensive end if need be, but Lewis will have to provide consistent run stuffing and penetration for the Mountaineers to have a chance.
Lewis, who came to WVU as a highly touted Florida prep player, has been adequate, but not spectacular, during his WVU career. Saturday could be his chance to shine.
THINGS TO WATCH:
An interesting contrast will be Virginia Tech's version of the eight man front versus WVU's. Tech's rover will crowd the line and rush the passer more the the Mountaineers'. Why? It's a two way street.
First, Tech's corners have the ability to stay with receivers one on one. Second, their pass rush gets to the quarterback quicker. Put those two factors together, and the picutre of the Hokies' dominating defense becomes clear.
We'd also recommend keeping an eye out for some different play calls in the red zone, should WVU venture there consistently. WVU head coach Rich Rodriguez noted that there were some calls he'd like to have back from the Maryland game, so we think some different looks might be in order.
Although his running ability is much maligned, we wouldn't be surprised to see a quarterback run or two from Brad Lewis. A delayed quarterback draw, off a fake to Avon Cobourne, might work wonders in distracting the aggressive Tech defense.
WVU might also try to use Tech's speed and pursuit against them - we've always liked a reverse around the twenty yard line. The defense is spread out just enough to open some running lanes, and the Hokies are sure to be keying on Avon Cobourne in close.
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