WVU - UConn Matchups

West Virginia's attempts to muzzle the Huskies on Wednesday will depend on several important faceoffs.

KEY BATTLES:

WVU center Jeremy Hines vs. UConn defensive tackle Deon McPhee

Hines, who is expected to resume his starting role against the Huskies, will be under the gun to work with the suddenly-struggling Mountaineer offensive front while McPhee hopes to pick up some of the slack left by the absence of injured defensive end Tyler King.

West Virginia's rushing totals have declined each week since the start of the season, and part of the reason appears to have been a lack of communication and execution up front. Hines played the second half of the Virginia Tech game, which moved Tim Brown out to tackle, and although things were a bit improved, the Mountaineers still have a long way to go to reestablish their dominance in the trenches. Can Hines function as the linchpin to get the offensive line back on track?

On the other side, McPhee, a solid player, becomes the leader of the defensive line after the loss of King. Although King played on the edge and McPhee is inside, he may be the key to holding the rebuilt Husky defensive line in place. Keep an eye on Hines as he makes calls for blocking assignments this week. Does it appear his calls are swift and precise? Will he be able to fend off what figures to be a fired up Husky front four that wants to show observers they weren't a one-man unit? As usual, the battles inside will determine much of West Virginia's offensive success.

WVU free safety Jahmile Addae vs. UConn quarterback Dan Orlovsky

Last week, WVU let several receivers get open downfield, and only poor throws from Tech's Bryan Randall prevented a couple of long gains, if not touchdowns.



Jahmile Addae
This week, that can't happen, or UConn will get their second straight home win. In addition to the cornerbacks, there will be a good bit of pressure on Addae to make the correct reads and not get sucked in on play action fakes.

The problem for Addae is that UConn's attack is multifaceted. The Huskies can run the ball effectively, and they use all their receivers in the passing game. Addae can't automatically leap to a deep outer third of the field to provide double team help, because he might leave a tight end or slot receiver open on a deep seam route. And while consciousness of the passing game will hinder his ability to provide run support, job one for the Floridian this week will be to prevent big plays in the passing game. WVU is likely to give up a lot of passing yards this week. The key will be to make the Huskies gain those in small bites, not big chunks. If the Mountaineers can force UConn to mount 14 or 16 play drives in order to score, they have a much better chance of forcing a mistake somewhere along the line to blunt a drive.

Orlovsky, of course, has seen a number of different defensive looks. It's not likely that much the Mountaineers will throw at him will confuse him much, even given WVU's 3-3-5 alignment. Orlovsky has seen nickel and dime packages throughout his career. What the Mountaineers must do is force him to throw the ball short, or perhaps frustrate him and generate a deeper throw into coverage.

WVU punt returner Adam Jones vs. UConn punter Shane Hussar

Jones is seventh in the nation in punt returns, with an average of just over 19 yards per return. Hussar, who averages only 35.7 yards per kick, has allowed just eight of his punts to be returned for a paltry 3.4 yards per try. This sets up a great battle of hidden yardage in Wednesday night's contest.

Jones' return average gives the Mountaineers the equivalent of almost two first downs every time WVU forces a punt. That's awesome, and it's yardage that the WVU offense desperately needs. And while Hussar may be about five yards below what most consider an acceptable punting average, his placement and the UConn coverage teams have kept opponents from gaining yardage in the punt game. Will Hussar kick to Jones? Will WVU be able to hold UConn and force punts from, say, the UConn 25, that will almost force the Huskies to try to kick the ball deep rather than place it or kick it out of bounds?

Pac Man is a weapon in the punt game. The buzz that he creates when he goes back to receive a punt is palpable. Everyone on the sidelines makes sure they have a vantage point. The case can probably be made that he's WVU's second- or third-best offensive weapon. How will the Huskies try to neutralize one of West Virginia's most explosive forces?


THINGS TO WATCH

UConn's game notes are pumping up (pun intended) the crowd noise at Rentschler Field, noting that the home fans caused problems for Duke and Pitt when they paid a visit to the new venue. While any road crowd can cause problems, WVU's experience at playing in such places as Virginia Tech and Syracuse should allow them to deal with that noise, even with the game being a sellout.

It is interesting, however, to watch the evolution of West Virginia's playcalling system. Will the Mountaineers continue to run plays in from the sideline and then deliver changes with hand signals? Or will WVU try to use its fastest pace on occasion, ignore substitutions, and try to wear the Huskies down?

* * *

There have been a few indications that West Virginia will throw the ball a bit more, especially if UConn comes out and loads up against the run. However, to have success, it's not a matter of WVU just throwing the ball. The situations, and types of passes thrown, are also important.

BlueGoldNews.com
Game Info
WVU 4-1, 0-0
UConn 4-1, 1-1
Wed 10/13 7:30 pm
Rentschler Field
Series: First Meeting
TV: ESPN
BCS: WVU-27 UC-61
Line: WVU -7
Stats & Trends
In my column last week in the Blue & Gold News, I made the case for throwing on first down, so I'm not going to repeat that argument. However, another thing I'm going to watch for this week is the location and types of passes thrown.

First, the 7-10 yard out pattern needs to be featured. Teams respect WVU's downfield speed, and this route is there for the taking. Another play that could be seen is the inside wide receiver screens, where the widest player catches the ball coming back toward the quarterback and cuts upfield behind blockers that have released from the line. And third, a few patterns between the hash marks, especially when linebackers and the strong safety are crowding the line, should be effective as well. This situation appears tailor made for a short slant from a wide receiver into the vacated zone.

Again, I don't expect the Mountaineers to come out and bomb away. I know that Rich Rodriguez hates interceptions, and thus doesn't throw the ball in the middle of the field often. But when those areas are open for exploitation, you have to take the associated risks in order to win the game, rather than simply try to not lose it.

* * *

With a passing quarterback that isn't the most mobile guy in the backfield, this game would seem to be an opportunity for the Mountaineers to get their pass rush into gear. Unfortunately, a couple of things are working against WVU here.

First, UConn's line blocks well, and Orlovsky excels at reading blitzes, feeling pressure, and getting the ball away. Orlovsky has just been sacked 16 times since the start of the 2003 season, which doesn't bode well for West Virginia's anemic pass rush. WVU's three-man defensive line does contribute to this problem, but so do poorly executed blitzes and the inability of Mountaineer defensive linemen to get off pass blocks. Watch WVU's blitz game to look for different tactics in getting to the quarterback, but fans shouldn't expect any miracles.


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