WVU wide receiver Miquelle Henderson vs. Expectations
While Henderson will have a JMU cornerback lined up opposite him on Saturday, his biggest battle might be with the expectations that have flowed him ever since he broke into the Mountaineer receiving rotation as a true freshman.
A big target with strength to break tackles and enough speed to command respect, Henderson appeared to be an excellent receiver for the Mountaineer attack. However, a series of injuries, along with some less-than-diligent rehabilitation, has left Henderson's name preceded with phrases like "could have been" and "should have been".
This season appeared to be more of the same, as Henderson hobbled through fall camp with a variety of ailments. However, just when it appeared that the senior was going to close his career with a whimper, he came off the bench to make a pair of clutch catches and block like a demon in WVU's 19-16 overtime win against Maryland. For his efforts, Henderson earned WVU's offensive champion award and one more chance to live up to his potential. This week against the Dukes would be a good place to start.
WVU defensive back Anthony Mims vs. JMU wide receiver D. D. Boxley
Again, not so much of a one-on-one battle, but one that could set the tone at this position for the remainder of the season.
Mims, who has been troubled by injury throughout his Mountaineer career, certainly has the ability to cover the field at wide corner. What he needs, for his confidence as much as anything, is a solid performance against the Dukes to set himself up for the sterner tests sure to come. Holding Boxley in check would be a good place to start.
WVU head coach Rich Rodriguez vs. the depth chart
Should West Virginia get a lead (say, 21 points), Coach Rod must get over his phobia of playing subs with the game still in doubt. To give him credit, the fourth-year WVU head coach has been honest when asked about this trait, noting that he is always nervous about the outcome of the game, even when the Mountaineers have a commanding lead.
While that's admirable, it doesn't solve the root problem, which is the fact that there are young players on the team that would benefit from some playing time, even if for no other reason than morale boosting purposes.
That's not the only reason, however. Despite Rodriguez' dismissive nature of experience ("when a player is ready, he's ready"), there's no denying the fact that a veteran, or someone who has been on the field before, is more likely to be more relaxed and confident when called upon to play.
So, why not kill both those birds with one stone and get the young guys on the field? If the Mountaineers are up 28-3, they aren't going to blow the game. Get the second team in there and let them do what they've been working on all year.
THINGS TO WATCH
While the talent level will obviously be different, James Madison runs an eight-man front that is similar to the defense operated by Virginia Tech. And while the Mountaineers certainly won't be emptying the playbook against the Dukes, there will likely be more than a few sets that you'll see again next week against the Hokies. Keep an eye on the formations and especially the base running plays, because you are going to see them again.
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In the last two games, WVU has come out of the locker room for the second half flatter than a road kill possum on I-79. For some reason, the Mountaineers seemed almost disinterested in Orlando, and Maryland put together two good drives to start the third quarter, which led directly to WVU's offensive doldrums.
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One thing you probably won't see on Saturday (so I won't tell you to watch for it) is any sign of anxiety or trepidation on the part of the Dukes. James Madison has played at South Florida and Virginia Tech in recent seasons, so they don't figure to be intimidated by what figures to be a laid back West Virginia crowd.
One thing you should watch for, though, is how the Dukes scheme against the Mountaineer running game. JMU's 4-2-5 alignment does many of the same things West Virginia's does against the run in terms of brining more defenders than can be blocked, but with one difference. None of JMU's safeties weigh in at 175, 190 and 195 pounds, while West Virginia's go 200, 205 and 205. That might not sound like a big difference, but when those players are fending off blocks from pulling linemen and free-running fullbacks, the extra weight can make a big difference.
Will the Dukes crowd the line and try to snuff things out there? Or, fearing a breakthrough and long Mountaineer runs, will they back their safeties and linebackers out? It should be an interesting strategic matchup.