Bits and Bytes - Rutgers

Rushing, passing and turnover tidbits help set the stage for the Rutgers game






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Series: 26-4-2 WVU
Sat 10/08/05, Noon.
Piscataway, NJ

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Record: 4-1
Poll Rank: NR
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VT 17-34 L

Rtn Lettermen: 41
Rtn Starters: 17
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Record: 3-1
Poll Rank: NR
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Pitt 37-29 W
Rtn Lettermen: 43
Rtn Starters: 17
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First Meeting: 1916
Last Meeting: 2004
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PLAYING TIGHT

While West Virginia was worried about the abilities of Maryland tight end Vernon Davis, who torched WVU for 158 yards and a touchdown, there hasn't been much said about Rutgers tight end Clark Harris. And that's a bit odd, because Harris is one of the finest pass-catching tight ends in the country. In fact, a year ago, he was second in the nation in both catches and receiving yards by a tight end.

Ahead of more widely known names such as David Thomas of Texas and Charles Davis of Purdue, Harris hauled in 53 balls for 725 yards and five scores in 2004. And although he's not quite on that pace this year, the NFL-bound Harris has 14 catches for 179 yards and a touchdown so far.

Maryland and Virginia Tech both demonstrated how to attack WVU's 3-3-5 zone defense with the tight end, and there's no reason to think that Rutgers hasn't been digesting a lot of that game film.

LEADING THE PACK

West Virginia has seen a different player top the stat book in rushing in each of its first five games this year.

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Game Info
WVU 4-1, 1-0
RU 3-1, 1-0
Sat 10/08/05 Noon
Rutgers Stadium
Series: 26-4-2 WVU
TV: ESPN Regional
BCS: WVU 33: RU: 73
Line: WVU -3
Stats & Trends
Adam Bednarik started off the parade with a team-best 72 yards on the ground against Syracuse. He was followed by Pat White (Wofford-107), Owen Schmitt (Maryland-80), Pernell Williams (East Carolina-57) and Steve Slaton (Virginia Tech-90). The guess is that the streak will end this week against Rutgers, unless Jason Gwaltney gets a hot hand. My bet is on Slaton.

However, if the backs continue to see limited carries, one big run could vault any rusher to the top of the game stats. Pernell Williams, with 17 carries against East Carolina, has the most carries in any one game for a Mountaineer this year. No one else has more than 12 in any one contest, which makes it difficult to pile up big numbers.

HARDENED PROTECTION

Despite attempting 118 passes through four games this year, Rutgers quarterback Ryan Hart has been sacked just four times so far. That speaks not only to the excellent protection the Scarlet Knight signalcaller has received from his front line, but also to the increased maturity and confidence displayed by the Scarlet Knight senion.

Hart, who displays a veteran's poise in reading defenses and deciding where to go with the football, is making his choices comfortably and getting rid of the rock in a timely fashion. He also picks up blitzes well and has been finding his hot receivers, which has made it difficult for blitzers to reach him.

Another factor that plays into the low sack total is Rutgers' overall improved play. As they have owned the lead in every game they have played this year, the Scarlet Knights haven't been forced to pass to catch up, and as a result opposing defenses can't tee off on a sitting duck that they know will be throwing the ball. In three of Rutgers' four games this year, Hart has thrown fewer than 30 passes. In 2004, the Scarlet Knights were never below that number.

BOUNCE OF THE BALL

West Virginia's negative turnover ratio has been discussed a few times this season, but there is one interesting fact behind the raw stats that may have escaped notice.

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While the Mountaineers have put the ball on the ground 14 times in 2005 (losing eight), the WVU defense has actually forced more bobbles than the offense has committed. Led by Mike Lorello, who has stripped opponents of the ball three times, the Mountaineers have caused 17 fumbles through the first five games. Amazingly, however, West Virginia defenders have only been able to recover four of those loose balls.

I'm not sure what the national average is for recovering fumbles, but I'm willing to bet it's way higher that WVU's 23.5%. If WVU had just been able to pounce on half of those miscues, they would be on the positive side of the turnover ratio scale right now.

Of course, coming up with fumbles is, in at least some degree, a question of luck. The ball can take some funny bounces, but so far this year, the Mountaineer defense hasn't been laughing.

GAME SPEED

Conventional wisdom says that WVU middle linebacker Marc Magro is a step short of the ideal speed needed at middle linebacker, but you certainly couldn't prove that by his play. Despite seeing limited action in a couple of WVU's games this year, the University High graduate has already racked up 22 tackles, which ties him for the fifth-best mark on the team.

While Magro is never going to be confused for Lawrence Taylor, the fact is that he gets to the ball and makes plays, which is far more important than his forty-yard dash or three-cone drill times. WVU's all-time leading tackler, Grant Wiley, wasn't blessed with blazing speed either, but his knowledge of the game allowed him to rack up more tackles than any other Mountaineer in history. And while Magro isn't quite in Wiley's league, he does display some of those same abilities.

MAKING STATEMENTS

Just as Steve Slaton broke out last week for a career-high rushing performance against Virginia Tech, so to did Rutgers true freshman Ray Rice. The speedy Rice had 114 yards on 15 carries against Pitt, and had two runs of more than 30 yards in the game.

Cynics may point out that Rice achieved the feat against a weak Panther rushing defense, while Slaton achieved his feat against the much stiffer challenged of Virginia Tech. I would be one of them.


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