WVU-Temple Matchups

Quarterbacks and punters are in the spotlight as West Virginia goes for its fourth conference win on Saturday against Temple.

KEY BATTLES:

WVU linebacker Adam Lehnortt vs. Temple quarterback Walter Washington

Against many teams with running quarterbacks, the mike linebacker might be assigned as a spy to follow the QB all over the field. This matchup doesn't involve that, but there's no doubt that Lenhortt and Washington will be butting heads a number of times this weekend.

Instead of chasing Washington down on the perimeter, Lehnortt will more likely be meeting Washington in holes and gaps between the tackles. Temple runs quarterback isolation plays much like other teams run the iso for their tailbacks, and it will be up to Lehnortt to get off the lead block and put Washington on the ground.

Of course, that's a little easier said than done. Washington outweighs Lehnortt by several pounds, and probably is close in size to most of the defensive linemen that the Mountaineers will put on the field. Lehnortt will have to hit hard and make sure that he wraps Washington up, because no other technique is going to slow down the hard running Temple quarterback.

Lehnortt is also going to have to defeat blockers that have him as their primary assignment. Again, that's not an easy chore. With a running back often leading the way for Temple's rushes, Lehnortt will have to use all his ability to scrape by other blockers and get into the hole before the lead blocker can clear him out of the way. It should be an entertaining battle, and one that is right up the physical Lehnortt's alley.

WVU running back Jason Colson vs. Temple's 4-2-5 defense

Of course, Colson will be facing off against the Owl defense, but there's one part of his game that might be tested more than others against the Owls' front seven (or eight).



Jason Colson
In this case, it's Colson's patience. Temple's defense, like West Virginia's, is designed to shut down the run first. Colson is likely to see some stacked lines and crowded running lanes, especially early in the game, and it will be interesting to see how he responds.

There's no doubt that Colson has learned and matured a great deal this year. He is much better at letting plays develop, and he's also learning to put his pads down and take the three- or four-yard gain rather than always trying to bounce plays outside or make too many moves in search of the big plays. As a result, Colson has put up three consecutive 100-plus yard rushing games, and has become the most reliable back in the Mountaineers' stable.

The Owls will look to put a chink in Colson's armor, though. Watch for the Owls to bring the linebackers in to close the gaps in the interior running game and try to force WVU to bounce everything outside, where the safeties can chase ballcarriers down. Colson, when faced with these tactics, will have to be patient, let his blockers do their work, and most importantly, realize when the three- or four-yard gain is the best a play has to offer.

WVU punter Phil Brady vs. Temple punter Mike McLaughlin

OK, so the two punters aren't going to be standing side-by-side and matching boots. However, the yardage these two inconsistent punters produce will have a great effect on field position, and ultimately, the game.

Brady, while producing a respectable 38.8 yards per kick average, has gotten off some booming kicks at critical times, but has also had several kicks in the 25- to 30-yard range. On the plus side, however, he has only kicked two punts into the end zone for touchbacks, and has put seven kicks inside the 20.

Hendy, on the other hand, averages just 37.7 yards per kick, and while he is less likely to get off a bomb, he also is not as likely to produce the 20-yard shank. Only one of his punts have resulted in a fair catch, so WVU is likely anticipating the opportunity to run back some kicks, whether it be with Adam Jones or Vaughn Rivers.

As the game progresses, keep on eye on which punter is producing more net yardage for his team. That stat will have a big effect on field position, which will be a key in this final battle between the schools as Big East members.


THINGS TO WATCH

The tendency for Mountaineer fans is to write this game off. "Ah, it's Temple," they say. And while the Owls are 1-7, they do have the ability to move the ball. Temple is averaging 376 yards per game, and can move it both on the ground and through the air. The also protect the ball well (just four interceptions and ten lost fumbles on the year), and don't give opposing teams a lot of additional chances with the football.

Obviously, the Owl defense isn't overly strong, and they have to take chances in order to slow down opposing attacks. However, that strategy has worked reasonably well, and kept them in games against Pitt and Rutgers.

The key, for about the fifth time this year, is one of focus and continuous effort. If WVU slacks off, as it has in past games, the Owls are fully capable of chewing up the clock, scoring a couple of times and making a game of it.

If WVU can, for once, jump out early and put their collective feet on the throats of their opponents, then fans might finally get treated to that elusive "A" game. A performance like that would be of great benefit as the Mountaineers prepare for their final two conference games.

* * *

WVU's defense is rightly characterized as a 3-3 stack, but the Mountaineers are slowly bringing more looks, especially up front, into their defensive packages. Against Rutgers, West Virginia probably showed more four-man fronts than in any other game this year. That's not to indicate that West Virginia is becoming a dominant even-front team, but there is no doubt that some progress is being made in showing more fronts and being more difficult to scheme against.

Against Temple which balances out fairly well between the run and the pass, keep track of the number of times West Virginia is in an odd (three or five man front, with a nose tackle over the center) or an even (four man front with the center uncovered). Also, note the situations in which WVU shows those different looks. It's an interesting facet of the game, and one that can provide insight into how the Mountaineer coaching staff defends in different situations.

* * *

While reading the preview of this week's game, you might have noticed the phrase "junior college transfer" a number of times when describing Temple players. That's because the Owls have focused almost exclusively on juco players during their last two recruiting classes. While the reason for that (conference uncertainty) appears sound, it might have been better for the Owls to take more four-year players, even if some of those might have been less heralded. A look at Temple's depth chart from the spring reveals seven players that were expected to play major roles in 2004 that are currently not eligible or available for play.

It's always dangerous to generalize, but a wise man once said "Most junior college players are there for a reason." Often, that reason is academics, and with those losses the Owls have found themselves again in a crunch in terms of available numbers of players.

Just for fun, look down Temple's stat sheet after the game and add up the contributions by juco players as opposed to the four-year variety. Then consider how many of those players won't be around next year – and keep in mind that in 2006, none of them will be on the roster.


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