WVU - Virginia Tech Matchups

Just about every face-off in Saturday's border grudge match between West Virginia and Virginia Tech can be viewed at critical, but this trio stands out as we analyze the crucial strategies that should affect the outcome of the game.


WVU outside linebacker Kevin McLee vs. Virginia Tech quarterback Bryan Randall

Don't get the idea that this matchup means McLee will be spying on Randall, because that's not the case. The Mountaineer defensive scheme typically doesn't allow for that particular tactic, so McLee isn't likely to be shadowing Randall all over the field.

What will be interesting to watch in this battle, however, is how aggressive McLee can be in rushing Randall in the pocket, and if the Hokies will try to use the speedy sophomore's aggressiveness against him.

Just like Rasheed Marshall, one of Randall's chief weapons is running with the ball, and West Virginia must be disciplined as they attempt to put pressure on him in passing situations. The Mountaineers must keep containment on the underrated Tech senior, and not allow big running lanes to develop when Randall drops back to pass.

On the Tech side, it won't be surprising to see Frank Beamer run a few draws and screens on McLee's side of the field. Boo's strong point is the outside rush, and Tech, which excels at the draw play, can be expected to try and push McLee wide and run the ball inside him.

WVU guard Dan Mozes vs. Virginia Tech defensive tackle Jim Davis

Two of the most aggressive players on the field will square off on a number of plays, and the resulting collisions will sound like a pair of mastodons colliding.

Dan Mozes
Mozes' style is full speed ahead, western Pennsylvania toughness. He'll have his hands full against Davis, who excels in Tech's fire-first defense. Unlike many read and react schemes, the Hokie game plan calls for defensive linemen to seize the initiative, penetrate into the backfield, and create havoc for opposing offenses. It will be up to Mozes to limit that penetration and keep Davis under control.

That's easier said than done, of course. Tech theoretically runs a 4-3 alignment, but more often than not that morphs into an eight-man front, with blitzers and tacklers coming from all angles. Line calls and assignments are critical for the offense, and in the noisy atmosphere of Lane Stadium, keeping the lines of communications open may prove difficult.

In the end, however, it often comes down to physical performance. When Davis and Mozes lock horns (and butt heads), you'll be watching two excellent players engage in a test of strength and will. It's a matchup worth keeping an eye on.

WVU defensive tackle Ben Lynch vs. Virginia Tech center Will Montgomery

Last year, Lynch dominated All-American Jake Grove, laying such a thorough whipping on the outclassed Techster that the Hokies were unable to muster any sort of running game. Lynch's stellar performance was the main reason Tech could muster a meager 65 rushing yards on 29 carries, and if they Hokies can't run, they can't win.

A first-level examination would seem to indicate more of the same this year, but unfortunately for WVU that's not a foregone conclusion. Opponents have had success in blocking Mountaineer nose tackles in 2004, and have run the ball inside with some success.

There's no doubt that Lynch has been ailing, which has contributed to some of the rushing yards allowed by the WVU defense. His strength and health level this Saturday could be the critical difference in a game that figures to be another close, bitter battle.

As you watch this fight play out, watch where Lynch begins the play and where he ends up. Does Montgomery have success moving him? Or is Lynch able to stand his ground? Do the Hokies have to double-team him, or can they single block him and still get their desired results? The first couple series of this matchup figure to set the tone for the entire contest, so it's important for Lynch to get off to a good start. A nice pair of three and out series for the home team would fit the bill nicely.


WVU took to running plays onto the field against Maryland, largely out of fear that the Terps had stolen the Mountaineers' signals and were relaying defensive sets onto the field to combat them. And although no such fears have been expressed about the Hokies (not that they wouldn't stoop to such tactics in a microsecond), watch for West Virginia to continue that method of communication on Saturday.

Running the plays in with receivers, tight ends or running backs will also have the effect of negating a bit of the crowd noise advantage for the home team. With the plays being delivered directly to quarterback Rasheed Marshall, he won't have to block out the roar of the crowd and concentrate on signals after every play – instead, he'll be able to get the call directly.

That doesn't mean, however, that signaling will be tossed out in this game. Far from it. Rich Rodriguez will still signal in last second changes from the sideline, and Marshall will have to communicate those to his teammates.

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Most successful defenses have linebackers atop their tackling charts, while squads that see defensive backs at the top of those lists are usually not as successful. That's not the case so far this year for WVU, although there are some extenuating circumstances at play.

Bandit Lawrence Audena and cornerback Adam Jones are one and two on WVU's list so far this year, with 26 and 25 stops, respectively. Audena, whose bandit position is similar to that of a strong safety, does play closer to the line of scrimmage than most safeties, which accounts for part of his elevated tackle totals. Jones, however, has no such advantage – he's simply a player that seems to be near the ball, no matter where it winds up.

Add in the fact that Mike Lorello, another defensive back masquerading as a linebacker, is fourth on the team in stops, and WVU's tackle totals are definitely tilted toward the back of the defense. While that has worked so far, WVU definitely needs to get a bit of production out of its front three in this category. Starter Jason Hardee (11 tackles) and sub Keilen Dykes (nine), lead the men in the trenches, but just a bit more production, and the Mountaineer defense could be outstanding.

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Need some evidence to back that up? West Virginia is fifth in the Big East in rushing defense, giving up 122.2 yards per game. Although the Mountaineers are yielding just 3.1 yards per carry, opponents are still seemingly able to gain decent yardage on the ground, especially on first down. Some big yardage losses (such as the 30-yard loss on one play against JMU) are also conspiring to keep the overall rushing totals down. However, a look behind the numbers reveals a WVU defense that doesn't appear to be quite as strong against the run as it was a season ago. Both Central Florida and James Madison produced 100-yard rushers against the Mountaineer front seven.

So, what does all this mean? Watch for power football from Tech. I formation, fullback leads, lots of stuff inside. It could be the determining factor in the game.

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