WVU strategy vs. Louisville passing offense
I know you're probably thinking, ‘this angle has been beaten to death already', but hear me out. We're going to go past the obvious ‘WVU has to stop the Cardinal passing game' and explore the options the Mountaineers have to achieve that task. It certainly won't be easy, but it can be done.
First, WVU won't stop UL's offense. A more reasonable goal is to slow it down and not allow the quick strikes that are the hallmark of the Cardinal attack. How might the Mountaineers go about doing that?
The first option, and one advocated by many who think that real football is like PlayStation, is to blitz repeatedly. Put pressure on the quarterback, the theory goes, and he won't have the time to hurl the ball downfield. The only problem with that tactic, however, is the fact that Brian Brohm isn't likely to get rattled. He can dump the ball off to his backs when necessary, and the UL line is good at picking up blitzes. And it's not like the Cards haven't seen this tactic before.
|WVU 5-1, 2-0
UL 4-1, 0-1
|Sat 10/15/05 3:30 p.m|
|Series: 5-1 WVU|
|BCS: WVU-25 UL-19|
|Line: WVU +7|
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The counterpoint to that strategy is to lie back with seven and eight players in coverage, keep the receivers in front of the defense, and force Louisville to march the field with extended drives. With an accurate passer like Brohm, that tactic might not work either. Although Louisville is the poster child of the quick-strike score, it also has the ability to make sustained drives. Keep in mind, though, that teams don't typically win shootouts with the Cardinals, so keeping the scores and number of possessions down would be a worthy goal.
On to other areas of interest. There hasn't been much attention paid to the UL running game, and that would be a mistake for WVU to ignore. I'm sure the Mountaineer coaching staff isn't overlooking the fact that the Cardinals average 181.6 yards per game on the ground, even though a number of West Virginia fans might be.
‘What's that have to do with defending the pass?', I hear you asking. Easy. It means that West Virginia can't sell out to stop the pass. When, and if, WVU blitzes, it can't do so without at least some concern for the resulting gaps in rushing lanes. And if the Mountaineers lie back, they can't drop so deep that they can't get back to rushers before they get four or five yards downfield. If Louisville gets a bunch of second down and four situations, they are going to light up the scoreboard, because there's no defense on earth that can stop them in when they have that sort of advantage.
The theory has also been advanced that West Virginia has to control the ball and limit Louisville's possessions. While that sounds good on the surface, it ignores the fact that the Cardinals don't typically need a long time to score when they do get the ball. West Virginia has to not only keep the ball, but also get points from the majority of its possessions to have any chance to win the game. It won't just take possessions, but productive possessions, for WVU to come out on top in this battle.
If there's one thing West Virginia must do to win this game, it's tackle crisply. Whether the Mountaineers are rushing eight or dropping eight, they have to bring receivers down on the first try. That might sound oversimplified, but when faced with tough situations, a return to the basics is always the key, and there's no bigger one in this game than WVU's execution of the most basic defensive skill of all.
Passing yardage, sacks and interceptions could be big in this contest, but the most important stat is likely to be the yardage Louisville gains after pass receptions. If West Virginia's defenders can get the Cardinal receivers on the ground quickly and limit their runs after receptions, the home team will have a much better chance of sending the crowd home happy.
THINGS TO WATCH
Is there any doubt that the player to watch on the Cardinal defense is Elvis Dumervil? Keep an eye on the UL defender and watch how he creates his awesome numbers.
First, Dumervil has a great "get-off". When the ball is snapped, he's into his rush and first move much faster than most ends. Look for WVU to try to alter its cadence and snap counts to keep him hesitant and out of rhythm, but that's not going to hold him down on every play.
WVU had good success against former Syracuse star Dwight Freeney, and offensive line coach Rick Trickett has likely been working overtime to figure out ways to slow down the rampaging Cardinal defender. Keep an eye out for different formations designed to put multiple blockers on Dumervil, such as a tight end, running back or wingback. Conventional wisdom says the way to attack speed rushers is to run right at them, or entice them upfield and run inside them, but Dumervil isn't a one-trick pony. He rushes the inside lanes as well as he does the corner, and is typically very solid in covering his area of assignment in the running game.
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While many people will be watching WVU's defensive backs as they battle Louisville's talented receivers, it will also be interesting to keep an eye on the player rotation there.
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Mims' status will determine, in some degree, who plays where in the secondary. With Larry Williams struggling a bit at wide corner, Antonio Lewis has gotten reps and work on the island, with Dee McCann holding down the short corner spot. West Virginia desperately needs solid play from all of its corners in the game, and can't afford to have Mims hobbling in and out, Williams laying off receivers, or Lewis missing tackles. If any of these players have a bad series or two early on, there will likely be some shuffling between the cornerback spots.
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WVU has to gain yardage any way it can on Saturday, and one area where it can improve is in the punt return game. Although the Mountaineers are doing just fine in running the ball back when they catch it, the problem has been catching the ball in the first place.
Despite putting two return men on the field at the same time in some situations this year, the Mountaineers have let far too many punts bounce down the field instead of making the catch. And with each bounce, precious yardage slips away. Opponents are averaging 35.2 net yards per punt against WVU – that number would be around 33 if West Virginia were more consistent in making a play on the ball.
Watch WVU's punt return unit, and see if the Mountaineers use the two-returner approach again. If so, keep an eye on how they line up, and what kind of jump they get on the ball. All of those factors are critical in getting the to ball and making the catch, and it's something West Virginia must execute more consistently.