WVU passing game vs. BC pass defense
While the Mountaineer ground game and the Eagle run defense knock heads, the winner of this faceoff could break the stalemate between those two units. Last year, WVU climbed back into the game with a long touchdown reception by Chris Henry, and the Mountaineers figure to need another play or two of that sort in order to offset what figures to be a crunching battle on the ground.
Unfortunately for WVU, the Mountaineers are still searching for a consistent complement to Henry. BC will pay more attention to Henry than flag-happy officials, and will also pay extra attention to defending deep. With Eddie Jackson out due to injury, a receiver such as Miquelle Henderson is going to have to make an impact in the game. Also, watch for WVU's running backs to get a few more passes, as the Mountaineers try to slow the zone blitzes of the Eagles and take advantage of some of the resulting gaps in short coverage.
BC also has some limitations, as both corners stand short of 5-10. Longtime starter Will Blackmon (6-0) has relinquished his starting spot to freshman DeJuan Tribble (5-9), which makes the Eagles very short on the corner. They will help with double coverage from the safeties and lots of zone, so WVU might be forced to look somewhere other than deep along the sidelines for big passing plays. Might this be the week we see a tight end or running back on a deep pattern down the hash?
WVU pass rush vs. BC quarterback Paul Peterson
Early in the year, WVU wasn't getting much of a pass rush, but opposing quarterbacks weren't exactly lighting the scoreboard up either. In the most recent games, however, the reverse has been true. While the Mountaineers have gotten some sacks, QBs have put up some big yardage totals in addition to points on the board.
Against BC, that strategy might need to change. West Virginia might be better served by rushing only four, or at the most five, defenders, and trying to keep Peterson in the pocket. That's not to suggest that Peterson isn't a good passing quarterback, or that he isn't capable of throwing for a lot of yards. However, he is at his most dangerous on the run. If West Virginia loses containment and lets him get to the corner, or allows big gaps inside, the Mountaineers are likely to get a dose of the medicine that Rasheed Marshall so commonly doles out to opponents.
It will be interesting to watch WVU's early defensive calls in passing situations. How many defenders cross the line of scrimmage? Are there lots of games being run up front, or is there more concentration on staying in basic rushing lanes, protecting gaps, and keeping the QB in the pocket? The one thing West Virginia needs for this battle is a strong "collapse the pocket" type of rush – but that's something that may not be in the arsenal.
WVU rushing defense vs. BC running game
The Eagles have employed as many running backs as there are lieutenants vying for Yasser Arafat's spot at the head of the PLO, but to this point none have separated themselves from the pack. The BC running game is averaging just 3.7 yards per carry, and has produced just seven scores on the ground.
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Of course, that's not to say that BC can't run the ball at all. The Eagles might well have watched the films from the Temple game and found the key to running the ball against the usually stingy Mountaineer defensive front. The suspicion is that the Eagles will try to run the ball early. The question is – how long will they stick with it if it's not successful?
THINGS TO WATCH
Boston College's zone blitzes are many and varied. Watch, and you will see ends and tackles dropping into pass coverage while linebackers and occasionally safeties rush the passer. The Eagles don't rack up a tremendous number of sacks, but they do apply pressure that forces opposing QBs to make quick decisions. Look for the Mountaineers to combat these strategies with some screen and swing passes in an attempt to create favorable matchups. For example, if the Mountaineers could get Kay Jay Harris matched up against a linebacker or defensive end dropped into coverage (think the wheel route), WVU could make the Eagles pay for their blitzing ways.
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There might not be a matchup of two better kick return men in the nation this year than the one at Mountaineer Field on Saturday. BC's Will Blackmon and WVU's Adam Jones are both threats to turn the game around on any given kick. Even if they don't return one for a score, they often change the game with a thirty- or forty-yard yard return that switches field position and gives their offense a big boost. BC averages 28.7 yards per kickoff return and 9.8 per punt runback, while WVU counters with figures of 22.4 and 15.2.
The scoreboard often shows rushing and passing yardage totals, but for this contest it probably should concentrate on kick return yardage. If the game is closely contested, the team that piles up the most return yardage will most likely be the winner.
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While this game figures to come down to the final minutes, the opening period might be the most critical quarter of the contest. Both teams excel at getting on the board early and putting their opponents in the hole.
Boston College has outscored its foes 47-33 in the first quarter, and, more importantly, holds a 20-3 won/loss record over the past four seasons when it leads at the end of the first fifteen minutes. WVU has a whopping 80-16 scoring advantage in the first period as it has put opponents in the hole early and often. And while stats such as these are sometimes more coincidence that solid indicators, consider that WVU's only loss came in a game in which it did not score first.