Inside the Stats

Reading West Virginia-Louisville likens itself to a Stephen Hawking offering. There are stats and stars, but none provides succinct insight into a game as unpredictable as any WVU has ever played.

Both teams are polar opposites. The Cardinals average 317 passing yards per game to West Virginia's 221 rushing yards. This battle of wills is quickly turning into a war of attrition. WVU will be minus third down stud Jason Gwaltney (MCL sprain) and nose guard Ernest Hunter (ankle) while Anthony Mims (hamstring) and Vaughn Rivers (ankle) are day to day.

Louisville could be minus reserve running backs Kolby Smith and George Stripling. And with the Cardinals dominating foes at home, averaging 64 points, but being outscored 35-23 on the road, any musings or ruminations become increasingly difficult.

Consider: Thirty points, normally the benchmark for a WVU win, might not be enough. West Virginia has won 31 straight games when scoring 30 or more points and is 110-6-1 when doing so dating to 1980.

U of L improved to 18-0 when scoring over 40 points under coach Bob Petrino with its win over UNC. The Cardinals have scored more than 50 points on 10 occasions in Petrino's three seasons. The Cardinals have scored more then 40 points in 13 of the last 19 games.

So for those laying odds, playing the spread, taking the points or pondering the under/over, here's a look inside the stats -- some normal and abnormal -- and a mite of insight to the border battle.

The Cardinal defense doesn't run as well as WVU's, but they won't need to do so. Louisville need only match the Mountaineers' physicality and brute ability in the trenches. West Virginia, however, will need to halt U of L's big-play capability with a depleted secondary.

Louisville ripped Oregon State on passes of 22, 28, 34 and 69 yards in tallying 21 and 28 points, respectively, in the third and fourth quarters. But the Beaver defense isn't designed to snuff the big play like West Virginia's. If the Cardinals have enough restraint to throw short passes and mix in only the occasional deep pass, it can move the ball successfully despite averaging just 2.4 yards per rush.

The Cards will not score 50-plus points. It remains to be seen if its pass-happy, quick-strike attack has the discipline not to try the big play too often.

West Virginia's problems are the opposite. It takes quality drives to score each time because of its grind-it-out style. The Mountaineers have tallied 10 touchdown drives of 68-plus yards and had 10 scoring drives that lasted 10 or more plays.

Thus, the team that can impose its will upon the other without turning the ball over will win the offensive scrap. Louisville can undoubtedly throw on WVU. If its wideouts correctly find the hole in West Virginia's zone, it will be fine. If it tries unsuccessfully to throw deep often while ignoring any other openings, like short dump passes to tailbacks and slip screens on five-man blitzes, or if quarterback Brian Brohm is confused by WVU's late movement, the Mountaineers should show solid field position and better scoring chances.

WVU, meanwhile, must throw deep on occasion. It worked on that this week in practice, and while the plays have been in the arsenal, they haven't yet been utilized. Any offensive handcuffing stops this week, and WVU unloads anything it has.

Don't look for time of possession to be a decisive factor. Louisville has won four games while holding the ball five-plus fewer minutes. Oregon State had the ball 40 minutes to U of L's 22. But the Cards got into third down situations only four times and scored quickly. North Carolina also lost three of four fumbles, and the Cardinals turned two turnovers into immediate scores with returns.

Against UNC the Louisville defense scored two defensive touchdowns, put U of L in position for two field goals, forced four fumbles, intercepted one pass and had four sacks. So though a short game will favor West Virginia, the shortness cannot come in the form of swift drives, especially in shortened field due to turnovers.

Louisville makes few mistakes. It has fumbled just twice, losing both, while forcing 17 fumbles and recovering 10 -- two for scores. Some of that is due to U of L's penchant for the pass. But through five games Brohm, who has three 300-yard games, has been intercepted just three times.

All that equates to not just turnovers, but seven lost plays when foes must abandon any attempt at a gain to recover the ball.

One should note, too, that WVU will pressure Brohm more than it did Marcus Vick. Brohm does not run anywhere near as well as Vick, so the Mountaineers need not worry about escapability and the big play coming from the broken one. Look for additional blitzes to try and pressure the quarterback before he can release the ball.

Another advantage for WVU is U of L's special teams. Punter Todd Flannery -- one of 18 Louisville natives on the Cardinals roster -- has had one punt blocked and has not been especially impressive. Foes average 22.7 yards per return average kickoffs to Louisville's 18.5, and though that's just four yards difference, any help is welcome.

Also on the individual note, WVU must be aware of Elvis Dumvervil. He has 15 sacks this season, tied for second best all-time, and 27 for his career, tied for fourth all-time at Louisville.

Dumervil also has forced seven fumbles this season, which is one behind the national record of eight set by both Dwight Freeney of Syracuse and Quintin Mikell of Boise State. WVU had success against Freeney, and Grafton native Travis Garrett can do the same.

With all that, the game likely comes down to the following keys.

For West Virginia:

1. No turnovers
2. Limit big plays to one or none
3. Force the Cardinals into lengthy drives
4. Control the ball with successful running

For Louisville:

1. Challenge WVU?s secondary deep
2. Control WVU?s rushing attack
3. No turnovers
4. No special teams breakdowns

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