It might appear to be a bit obvious to choose this as a matchup, given Hart's passing stats and WVU's seeming vulnerability to the aerial. However, there are some interesting subtexts in this battle, which will be one of the key factors in the contest.
While it's true that the Mountaineers do yield the short pass, it's also instructive to note that the Mountaineers are giving up just 195 yard per game through the air. And while that's not a stellar number, it's a solid one. WVU is first in the Big East conference in pass efficiency defense as well, with a rating of 102.0. Those numbers might seem to fly in the face of last week's game, when Syracuse completed a number of short passes, but the fact remains that the Orange were unable to produce many points, despite the yardage they piled up.
Hart, on the other hand, is a solid passer, but he has shown a propensity to force the ball into coverage, and as a result has suffered 12 interceptions to go along with his 283.6 yards per game average.
The heart of the matchup comes down to this: Will Hart be patient enough to take the underneath throws when WVU sits back to guard against the deep ball? Is Rutgers capable of sustaining four 10- or 12-play drives without making a series-ending mistake? WVU isn't going to make wholesale changes to its defense at this point, so it seems likely that the Mountaineers will again drop their spurs and bandits into coverage and force the Scarlet Knights to take the underneath route in search of a win.
Those that believe this strategy isn't a good one might look at the Mountaineers' success against Connecticut's Dan Orlovsky, who had just 100 passing yards through three quarters in WVU's win over the Huskies.
Green, an experienced senior, will look to exploit the youth of Dykes, who has recently supplanted Ernest Hunter in the starting lineup.
It's not going to be a romp around the corner for the young Ohio native in this game, however. Green is a veteran that uses his size (6-6, 305 lbs.) to excellent advantage. He often envelops opposing rushers with his big frame, and is simply a tough opponent to get by for a sack.
One of Dykes' strengths is his repertoire of moves. Watch him a few plays in a row, and it's rare to see the same move twice. However, he's going to have to dig deeply in his bag of moves, and rev up his motor to its highest output, in order to make an impact against his senior opponent.
Will Rutgers load up against the run? Yes. Will WVU try to run the ball anyway? You bet. And when the pigskin is in Rasheed Marshall's hands, it will often be that eighth man in the box that he has to defeat in order to get the Mountaineer rushing game in gear.
|WVU 6-1, 2-0
RU 4-3, 1-2
|Sat 10/30 Noon|
|Series: WVU 25-4-2|
|TV: BE Game of Week|
|BCS: WVU-18 RU-74|
|Line: WVU -14.5|
|Stats & Trends|
WVU can partially combat this with formations. By putting three or four receivers on the field, the Mountaineers can try to force the eighth defender out of the box, but that's not something that has been successful 100% of the time. Teams have often ignored WVU's slot receiver, or played two defenders against three wideouts on one side of the field, and dared West Virginia to throw it.
Marshall must be able to exploit these defenses, and much of it will start by locating Johnson. Is he crowding the line? Is he edging off a slot receiver to force the run, or is he backing off to help in pass coverage? It's a battle that's played out almost every week, but it's one that is magnified this week. If Marshall makes the right decisions, especially on those plays that are run/pass options, then the Mountaineers will be rolling home with their seventh win of the season.
THINGS TO WATCH
How long will the Mountaineers stay with the running game if it's not working? Rutgers has a good defensive front line, and those players, combined with an aggressive run-stopping strategy, are yielding just 3.6 yards per rush. The Mountaineers haven't had to throw the ball in their last two games, and have uncorked just 32 passes in their last two wins.
The Knights seem to offer the chance to put the ball up, as they are yielding 270 yards per contest through the air, as well as allowing a tied for the league-worst 13 touchdown passes.
In order to take advantage of that, however, WVU has to get receivers open. Take the time to watch the receivers, rather than the quarterback, on a few of WVU's pass plays. Are the Mountaineer pass catchers getting separation? Are they presenting a target to Marshall? And if they do, is it in time to get a pass thrown before the pressure collapses the pocket? Remember that Rutgers has 27 sacks this year, far and away the best in the league.
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As a follow up to the preceding item, an eye on West Virginia's wide receiver rotation might yield some interesting observations. The Mountaineers have been using receivers to ferry plays to Marshall in some instances, and figure to continue with that practice this weekend.
However, it's not that practice that causes so many different players to appear at the wideout spots. The only thing outnumbering the total of WVU receivers to play in a game this year is political attack ads, and that deficit might be shrinking. Players have appeared and disappeared from the rotation like David Copperfield, and there doesn't appear to be much solidity to the corps at all.
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A final item to keep an eye on is the mood and emotional state of the home crowd. On past visits to Rutgers the crowd has quickly either lapsed into indifference or turned on the home team, with often predictable results. Uglier utterances than have ever been directed at visitors to Mountaineer Field have been heard coming from the home stands at Rutgers Stadium, and many times they weren't directed at the visiting team.
One of Rutgers' head coach Greg Schiano's biggest challenges has been overcoming the negativity surrounding the Scarlet Knight program. A key component of that is keeping the home crowd from turning on the team when things go wrong. Has Rutgers passed that milestone yet? It would be interesting to see what happens if West Virginia is able to put up a couple of quick scores on the home team.