WVU rushing offense vs. FSU rushing defense
It's the key of all keys - the linchpin, the master lock, the Arkenstone - of this game. Will West Virginia, ranked sixth in the nation in rushing, be able to penetrate Florida State's top-ranked run defense?
The blueprint for success is there. WVU has run the ball on stingy defenses before, and actually faces a pretty good run defense in practice (WVU finished the regular season 28th in the nation.) The Mountaineers have moved the ball on the ground against the speed of Miami and the strength of Virginia Tech in previous seasons, so this isn't a hopeless case.
If, however, the Seminoles continue their dominance and shut down West Virginia on the ground, the key may be how quickly the WVU coaching staff is able to adjust. Granted, there aren't dozens of other options in the Mountaineer attack, so it's not as if Rich Rodriguez can just press a different PlayStation button and go with a totally different offense. However, West Virginia does have a couple of different methods by which it can attack the Seminole defense. The factor to watch will be to see how long the Mountaineers stick to Plan A if it is unsuccessful.
Part of that decision will no doubt be based on the score. If WVU trails by seven points or fewer, don't look for any drastic changes, even if the offense isn't doing much, as the Mountaineers will try to avoid the big mistake that would give the Noles a dominating lead.
WVU cornerback Adam Jones vs. FSU wide receivers Chauncey Stovall and Craphonso Thorpe
Has there ever been more pressure on a Mountaineer defender in a bowl game? If so, it probably hasn't been since about the 1949 Sun Bowl.
That's not all of it, however. Somehow, Jones was the Mountaineers' leading tackler in 2004, so he will also be counted on to diagnose running plays quickly and provide extra support from his short corner position. Part of the reason for Jones' position atop that category is his blinding speed, which allowed him to get to ball carriers and receivers ahead of his teammates. He'll need every bit of that to hold his own and keep WVU in the game.
FSU's big receivers, both of whom are north of 6-2 and 200 pounds, use their height and strength advantage to catch passes above the reach of shorter defenders. Mountaineer fans familiar with the "throw it up and let him get it" tactic employed by Rasheed Marshall and Chris Henry will likely get to see it from the reverse angle, as the Seminoles will likely attack WVU downfield several times in the game.
WVU kickers Brad Cooper and Andy Good vs. FSU kicker Xavier Beitia
If the Mountaineers can keep the game close, it may well come down to a final kick. And what could be more appropriate for two teams that didn't meet their goals than to have their bowl fate decided by one of the positions that also fell short of expectations.
|Sat 1/1 12:30 pm|
|Series: FSU leads 1-0|
|Line: FSU -8|
|Stats & Trends|
As for Good, he has the consistency that Cooper sometimes lacks, but can he hit a 47-yarder off the grass in the closing seconds? He did come off the bench to nail a big kick against Pitt, but will he be able to do so with the game on the line?
Beitia has likewise had problems this year after contributing yet another infamous miss to FSU's collection of last-second field goal failures. While he has regained the starting job, there's no doubt that a 13-22 season performance on field goals, including two blocks, weigh a bit on his mind.
So, while neither player will be competing directly with the other, a mental battle of sorts could well unfold. If one kicker gets off to an early good start, it could put pressure on the other to match him - and that's something that no kicker form either team has demonstrated the ability to do yet.
THINGS TO WATCH
While conventional wisdom has it that WVU will try to negate FSU's speed by running right at the defense, there will also be some things the Mountaineers might try to use that attribute against the Noles.
With its spread offense, West Virginia is well equipped to try things like naked bootlegs and the odd reverse. The hope is that the FSU defense will overpursue the action on such plays and get caught up in the wash as they try to get back to the ball carrier.
WVU isn't going to make a living on such plays, of course. The Seminole defense is far too good to be fooled often. But if the Mountaineers can pop a couple of these for big gains, it could well pay dividends throughout the contest.
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Another item that bears watching is the big play contest. FSU's offense depends on the quick strike and the big gainer - it hasn't shown the ability to consistently march the ball down the field. West Virginia's defense is set to stop the big play - keep receivers in front of the DBs, make sure tackles, then live to fight another day.
With all the advantages FSU has, this is one battle that WVU has to win, and win decisively, in order to come home with a long awaited Gator Bowl triumph. The Mountaineers simply cannot allow 60-yard TD passes or 45-yard scoring jaunts, because points are probably going to be hard to come by for the offense. If the Seminoles score, or set up scores, with more than a couple of these types of plays, it's probably going to be another long day in Alltel Stadium for the Gold and Blue.
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West Virginia has a couple of surprises in store for the Seminole defense in this game as well. Of course, we're not going to spill the beans about them, and they aren't going to be anything exotic (you can rule out the triple reverse option pass), but suffice it to say that WVU has been working on a few things to stress Nole defenders.
Of course, there's no magic bullet. Even if WVU's tweaks work better than expected, the Mountaineers are still going to have to control the ball and gain some yardage on "conventional" plays in order to have a chance.