WVU cornerbacks Antonio Lewis, Dee McCann and Anthony Mims vs. ECU wide receiver Aundrae Allison
This one's so easy, it almost explains itself, but if it were left out, we'd get a bunch of emails complaining about its omission. So, here goes.
It's not as if the Mountaineers haven't faced speedy wideouts before. McCann and Mims have squared off against fast pass catchers a number of times in their careers. The troubling thing in this matchup is the fact that WVU's corners occasionally seem to suffer big lapses that lead to wide-open receivers behind the secondary.
Of course, every cornerback gets beaten and gives up a play on occasion, just like every other member of the defense. But it seems, at least so far, that when a receiver gets open deep, he really gets open. Those are the kinds of plays that can turn games, and are the ones that WVU's cornerbacks must avoid.
Allison is a talented player who is going to catch some passes. The key for the Mountaineer defense is to continue the sure tackling they've shown through the first quarter of the season and get him on the ground before he has a chance to tack yardage onto the end of the play. And also, not to allow him unfettered access to the deep thirds of the field.
WVU free safety Jahmile Addae vs. ECU quarterback James Pinkney
Pinkney has quietly become an efficient quarterback. He has recorded a 143.13 pass efficient rating through ECU's first two games, a number based largely on the fact that he has yet to suffer an interception. In Skip Holtz' passing attack, Pinkney seems much more comfortable than he did in previous seasons, and the results are plain to see on the field. Despite missing the spring semester at East Carolina, the junior has picked up the offense very quickly, and is now a threat to be reckoned with in the Pirate attack.
ECU 1-1, 0-0
|Sat 9/24/05 Noon|
|Series: WVU 14-2|
|TV: Big East|
|BCS: WVU-23 ECU-98|
|Line: WVU -21|
|Stats & Trends|
There's a flip side to that, of course. Pinkney is also a threat to run (he has 19 carries in ECU's two games), so West Virginia can't view him as a one-dimensional threat. When he does tuck the ball and run, Addae has to be ready to provide support, because the ECU signalcaller has the speed to get away from linebackers and make big plays in the open field.
For Addae, it's a case of balance and discipline. He has to make sure Pirate running backs have the ball before committing to the run. He has to coordinate the coverage and make sure no ECU receivers get behind him. Yet, he also has to come up aggressively to support the run and help contain scrambles. It's a difficult task, but one that the experienced Floridian is usually able to handle.
WVU reverse game vs. ECU linebacker Richard Koonce
Koonce is a three-year starter for the Pirates who has recorded 21 tackles for loss during his career. He'll likely be looking to make some big plays early against the Mountaineer offense in an attempt to grab some momentum for the visitors. For East Carolina to spring the upset, Koonce and his teammates on the second level must make plays at or near the line of scrimmage to hold WVU's running game in check, so it won't be surprising to see the Pirates playing very aggressively early on. If ECU sits in a base defense, the Mountaineers would likely be able to power rush the ball up and down the field, so that's probably not in the game plan.
Should ECU make some early inroads on that front, look for WVU to use that aggressiveness against the Pirates by running a couple of reverses, end arounds, or other "against-the-flow" type plays. If East Carolina emphasizes quick and aggressive pursuit against the Mountaineers, West Virginia should be able to pop a big play or two by getting the defense headed in the wrong direction.
WVU can also gash an overpursuing defense by running stretch plays, then cutting back behind a walled off front seven for solid gains to the backside of the play. These sorts of tactics are the Mountaineers' bread and butter, and Saturday's game could provide a textbook example of how to execute them.
THINGS TO WATCH
First off, this isn't last year's ECU team. Now, I'm not saying that the Pirates have suddenly morphed in USC east, but Skip Holtz has done a solid job of restructuring the players on hand into something approaching a respectable team during his first year on the job.
One thing that has helped Holtz is the fact that he had a few players to build around on offense – players that fit his scheme. Remember last year when John Thompson tried to put a power running team on the field? It was woefully mismatched with the personnel on hand, and as a result ECU ranged from bad to hideous. Holtz has done a much better job matching scheme to personnel, and though there's still a lot of work to do, it certainly seems as if he is on the right track.
Watch Holtz' offense – you'll see similarities between the Pirates' attack and West Virginia's. See how he uses running back Chris Johnson in the passing game to make up for depth at the wide receiver spot. Look at the different ways he will scheme to get the ball in Allison's hands. Given enough time, Holtz could build another winner in Greenville.
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One player to watch this week on the Mountaineer defense is bandit Mike Lorello. Not that he doesn't bear watching each week, or that I expect him to have a 20-tackle game against the Pirates, but simply for the way in which the WVU scheme gets him in an alley with the ball.
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Take a few plays during this game and watch how WVU's defense controls gaps and allows Lorello to roam to the ball. Of course, it doesn't always happen, but when it does, there's a certain symmetry to the way the scheme (along with solid execution by his teammates) allows him to get into the backfield or go one-on-one with the ballcarrier.
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"Get off the field" has become a battle cry of sorts for defenses across the country, but it's not an earth-shattering new idea. It's simply a different way of staying "Hold that line!" or "Get a stop!" All of those expressions mean the same thing – stop the opposing offense on third down and force a punt. In this week's game, it could be the key item to watch.
West Virginia has thus far been excellent on third down, yielding just eight first downs in 42 tries by the opposition. The success rate of just 19.1% is good for fifth place in the NCAA rankings this week.
East Carolina, on the other hand, yields a first down on 48.6% of its opponents' third down plays. Part of the reason for that high statistic is the fact that ECU's foes have had 12 plays of either third-and–one or third-and-two, and have met with success on nine of them. The Pirates, who have trouble stopping the run, will have to keep West Virginia out of those situations, or it will be a long afternoon for them on their visit to the Mountain State.