Last week, it was a matchup for spur Mike Lorello against the opposing tight end that drew our attention, mostly for the battle that played out in the rushing game. This week, it's the pass catching skills of Johnson against the senior Audena under the microscope.
Johnson recorded several good catches against Wisconsin in the Golden Knights' loss last week, and with an inexperienced sophomore quarterback at the controls, WVU can expect a steady diet of controlled passes to one of their primary pass catching threats.
For the Mountaineers, Audena must not lose track of the big junior, who can also get downfield as well as set up in the short and intermediate passing zones. Johnson, at 6-5 and 245 pounds, will have a pronounced size advantage over Audena or any other defender the Mountaineers throw at him, and he will try to exploit that differential much as a post player in basketball does against a smaller opponent.
Audena had six tackles last week against East Carolina, and will likely have at least that many this week against an offense that will probably be throwing the ball a great deal in his coverage area.
With only three men on the line of scrimmage, WVU depends on a number of blitzes, twists and stunts to get to the quarterback. Lynch and Lehnortt are often involved in those games, and figure to use every trick in the book to confuse their younger opponents. Sitton and Ignelzi will be facing this type of defense for the first time in their careers, and must be patient, stay at home, and communicate with their teammates to successfully battle the Mountaineers' tactics.
Watch for Lynch and Lehnortt to loop, stem and blitz early to try and disrupt the Golden Knights' offense and get them out of their comfort zone. If WVU can achieve that goal, it could be a long day for the UCF offense. Building the level of knowledge, trust and communication required for effective line play takes time, and with just one week of game experience under their belts, the young Central Florida tandem might not be ready for the challenge posed by the wily Mountaineer seniors.
This battle is the reverse of the previous one – in this instance, it's Capers holding the huge edge in experience. And while Williams may not get the start, his solid performance against East Carolina means that he'll get additional playing time against UCF, and at some point he'll come up against the Golden Knights' most dangerous receiver.
Williams came up with his first career interception against the Pirates, executing a beautiful crossover to get underneath an ECU receiver on a post pattern and making the pick on the goal line. He'll need moves like that just to stay with the speedy Capers, who figures to test Williams deep when the opportunity arises.
Williams has one big advantage – size and strength – in his battle against Capers, and he must use it, otherwise he'll be watching Capers' back. The WVU sophomore must be physical with Capers and not allow him to run unmolested routes against the still-growing West Virginia defense.
THINGS TO WATCH
Central Florida was unable to get its rushing game untracked against Wisconsin, averaging just 1.5 yards per attempt. The Golden Knights possess a talented back in senior Alex Haynes, but the Badgers proved simply to strong for the youthful UCF front line, which starts three sophomores in addition to the freshman guard duo.
Will the same scenario play out against WVU? Overall, the Mountaineer defense isn't as big as the Badgers', but that deficiency is more than compensated for with excellent speed and depth, which allows defensive line coach Bill Kirelawich to overwhelm opponents with waves of fresh defenders.
For UCF to spring the upset, they must be able to move the ball on the ground to the tune of, say, 130 yards. A repeat of last year's performance, when UCF managed only 44 yards on 20 attempts, will lead to a 2-0 record for the Mountaineers.
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How good is WVU offensive line coach Rick Trickett? There's probably not a better one in the country – that's how good. How ridiculous is it that Trickett, a week before the season, demotes his Rimington candidate center to second team, moves tackle Tim Brown over to that spot, elevates Garin Justice to fill the tackle position, and then proceeds to roll up 478 rushing yards?
Of course, credit also has to go to the players themselves. They adapted to the changes without missing a beat, and despite some worries (from me, I'll admit) about chemistry and communication, ran through the Pirates like a combine in a wheat field.
If you get the chance, watch Trickett during the game. He'll be down the sideline, away from the other coaches and players, trying to find the best angle from which to see all five of his players at once. And somehow, despite the jumble of bodies and general confusion involved in watching football from the field level, he'll always be able to pick out flaws in the Mountaineers' performance, and correct them the next time he meets with his unit on the sidelines.
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Are the Mountaineers ever again going to head into a game with an advantage, or at least even odds, in the kicking department? That's a bit of an exaggeration, but it certainly doesn't seem that way. There's a distinct lack of confidence in West Virginia's kickers this year, but for the life of me I can't figure out why. Both Brad Cooper and Phil Brady boomed the ball during fall camp. Cooper has the leg to hit from fifty yards with ease, and Brady combined hang time and distance time and again during the preseason.
Head coach Rich Rodriguez is just as puzzled, and mentioned both astrology and psychology in his comments about the kickers. And although he said it jokingly, I think he's on to something. Watch the kickers on the sidelines, and you'll see that they just don't seem as loose as their teammates. Kickers often do have different temperaments, but most of the time they tend toward the zany side (think Paul Woodside or Todd Sauerbrun).
So, not that they need my advice, but I hope the trip to Florida allows Cooper, Brady or whoever ends up kicking the ball, to have some fun and nail a couple of fifty-yarders. They've worked hard, and I think that just a bit of success will allow them to put the problems of the ECU game behind them.
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UCF was one of the most undisciplined teams to ever visit Mountaineer Field, but that characteristic won't be repeated this week in Orlando. George O'Leary is a noted disciplinarian, and the Golden Knights won't repeat the trash-talking, penalty-filled performance of a year ago. Whether that's enough to grab an upset win remains to be seen, but there's no doubt that the Mountaineers will have to earn this win.