WVU linebacker Jeff Noechel vs. Syracuse running back Damien Rhodes
The question here is one of speed. Will Noechel, a heady, physical player, be able to stay wide and keep Rhodes from turning the corner on running plays, or, as expected, catching swing passes with open field in front of him?
Noechel, of course will have to fight off blocks before trying to contain Rhodes in the running game. He'll have help from his friends up front, but playing on the strong side means he will often be facing a tight end in addition to the linemen coming out on him with bad intentions. There's no questioning his heart and toughness. If he can help keep Rhodes bottled up, it would go a long way to holding down the Syracuse attack.
One other thing to watch will be his ability to play in space against the passing game. With the Orange expected to throw a number of short passes in some version of the West Coast offense, Noechel and his running mates at linebacker may find themselves covering a lot of short zones on Sunday afternoon.
WVU offensive tackle Travis Garrett vs. Syracuse defensive end Ryan LaCasse
This battle is intriguing not only because it will figure prominently in WVU's attempts to run the ball, but also because both players are moving into starting jobs in similar situations.
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Syracuse leads 30-22
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This faceoff features two seniors who will be looking to make the most of his final season. The player that comes out on top could give his team the edge.
Syracuse Coaching Staff
There's no question that the new Orange staff has talent. But as head coach Rich Rodriguez and his staff discovered in their inaugural season, a collection of talent doesn't always immediately translate into success on the field.
Assembling a staff is one thing -- but putting it together into a smoothly working unit is another. And once that's accomplished, getting the program structured, organized and flowing down to the team is another great challenge that doesn't come quickly.
How will that affect their performance on Sunday? It's hard to say. However, being the head man, with the final responsibility for all decisions, can be much different than being an assistant - even a coordinator. The way in which Robinson and his staff handle decisions and manage the game could have a great effect on the outcome.
THINGS TO WATCH
Despite Coach Rod's dire predictions of muggy temps in the Carrier Dome, it looks as if things will be pleasant. As of midweek, forecasts were calling for highs of 72 degress in Syracuse.
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I can't recall a time when it was really hot in the Dome, although I certainly can remember a number of basketball games played in sweltering conditions. And it was positively tropical in Madison when the Mountaineers took on Wisconsin in 2002. Perhaps Rodriguez was flashing back on that contest.
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While Syracuse will be displaying its new offense and defense for the first time, there are a couple of things that seem safe bets to see. The first will be an attacking defense, with blitzes from all angles. Keep an eye on the Orange linebackers -- that position is the heart of many of Robinson's schemes, and he likes aggressive playmakers who pursue relentlessly. WVU might well try to take advantage of that trait in its offensive attack.
Flip sides of the ball, and the picture isn't as clear. The Orange is expected to feature a short, controlled passing attack with West Coast elements, but a lot of that depends on the accuracy of quarterback Perry Patterson. Watch the big junior closely -- is he hitting those receivers in stride, or are they having to break their rhythm to make catches? Hitting receivers on the move so they can catch the ball and keep running is a key to the short passing game. It's a skill WVU's QBs have never fully mastered under Rodriguez. Has Patterson done so in his short time in this offense?
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Finally, just how loud will it be in the Carrier Dome? If the Cuse doesn't get on the stick with ticket sales, it might not be a huge factor. It hasn't been overwhelmingly loud on WVU's last two trips to upstate New York, and with an estimated 2-3,000 Mountaineer fans set to make the trek this year, the teflon temple might not feature the ear-numbing noise it has on past visits.