WVU – UConn Matchups

Battles in the running game highlight this week's matchups as WVU finally gets back on the field against UConn on Wednesday

MATCHUPS AND STORYLINES

WVU bandit Mike Lorello vs. Connecticut running back Terry Caulley

After two games against prominent passers, the Mountaineer defense will have to revert its focus to the run game. Caulley, along with backup Cornell Brockington, is the linchpin of the UConn offense, which rushes the ball 63% of the time. Among those charged with stopping that attack will be Lorello, who we tend to overlook at times, because he makes the spectacular seem routine.

UConn will attempt to use West Virginia's aggressive pursuit speed against it, and try to crease the Mountaineer defense by sealing off overpursuing WVU defenders. That hasn't been a huge problem for West Virginia this year, as the Mountaineers have been solid, for the most part, in maintaining their assignments and staying under control as they run to the ball. One of the best practitioners of those arts has been Lorello, whose intelligence and understanding of the defensive scheme make him lethal to opposing rushing attacks. Coupled with his underrated speed and picture perfect tackling techniques, Lorello is one of the biggest reasons for West Virginia's defensive success.

Quite smartly, WVU defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel creates many of his schemes to keep Lorello unblocked and get him to the point of attack as quickly as possible, and the senior leader usually responds by making the play. He is second on the team in tackles, tied for first in sacks, interceptions and pass breakups, and is tied for second in tackles for losses. Those numbers, which cover the board in terms of defensive statistics, show how valuable he is in all phases of the game.

During the UConn game, watch Lorello and how the Huskies attack him with their blocking schemes. The outcome of those battles will have a big effect on UConn's offensive success.

WVU passing attack vs. Connecticut secondary

West Virginia's isn't going to suddenly begin gunning the ball all over the field, but this game could mark another step in the progression of the passing offense.

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Game Info
WVU 6-1, 3-0
UC 4-3, 1-1
Wed 11/2/05 7:30 p.m.
Mountaineer Field at
Milan Puskar Stadium
Series: WVU 1-0
TV: ESPN2
BCS: WVU-16 UC-84
Line: WVU -14
Stats & Trends

UConn's young secondary, featuring two freshmen and two sophomore starters, might find themselves struggling against West Virginia's two-pronged receiver attack. The Mountaineer wideouts, led by the blocking of freshman Dorrell Jalloh, has the ability to put defensive backs on their heels at times. That could, once the coaches begin to show more confidence in the passing game, give WVU's receivers a slight advantage in the passing game. DBs that are worried about fending off blocks can be a bit hesitant in executing physical pass coverage schemes, and this might be the game when West Virginia begins to exploit that advantage.

On the Mountaineers' side, wide receiver Darius Reynaud has shown the ability to make plays in the passing game over the past couple of games, and West Virginia's coaching staff needs to give him more opportunities to do so. Reynaud combines excellent speed with an aggressive nose for the football, and it's time to use those qualities more than two or three times a game. Although Reynaud and Jalloh are, like their UConn counterparts, relative youngsters, they are playing with the confidence of more seasoned veterans.

In this game, WVU should have the chance to throw a handful more of the short slants and intermediate routes that it used effectively against Louisville, and make the next stage of improvement in the maturation of the passing attack.

While it's true that UConn's defense still ranks among the top ten nationally in several areas, including pass defense and pass efficiency defense, it's also true that the Huskies haven't faced an offense or running attack like the Mountaineers'. Only an overrated Georgia Tech squad and Rutgers posed any sort of offensive threat to the Connecticut defense thus far.

WVU lead blockers vs. Connecticut linebacker James Hargrave

The Mountaineers will obviously test the Husky ground defenses early in the contest, and one of the matchups to keep an eye on will be Hargrave and the Mountaineer assigned to him on WVU's varied running plays. Whether its tight end Mike Villagrana or running back Owen Schmitt or swingman Brad Palmer, West Virginia will have to block the talented UConn senior in order to make the running game go.

From his strongside linebacker position, Hargrave has nine tackles behind the line of scrimmage, and is without question the emotional leader of the Connecticut defense. In addition to his tackle and sack totals, he is also a disruptive force that funnels tackles to his teammates.

When West Virginia goes with two backs or a tight end, there will often be a block on Hargrave that is crucial to the outcome of the play. Keep an eye on number 32 for the Huskies as they line up – if West Virginia believes it can have success in running right at the UConn defense, there will be a great deal of action around Hargrave's position.


THINGS TO WATCH

One interesting dynamic on the UConn offense is the shared role of starter Terry Caulley and backup Cornell Brockington. Like WVU's quarterback situation, head coach Randy Edsall lists the talented pair as co-starters, and downplays any suggestion of controversy between the two players.

So far, Edsall has favored Caulley, giving him 113 carries as opposed to just 58 for Brockington. Caulley also sees far more action in the passing game, having caught 16 balls to just one for Brockington.

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West Virginia must be aware of that pass catching role, especially with UConn's injury situation at quarterback. With starter Matt Bonislawski still out, WVU will expect the Huskies to use a lot of short, controlled passes to augment their running game.

* * *

While the difficulties of playing on the road can sometimes be overstated, it will be interesting to watch UConn's reaction to their first tip to Mountaineer Field at Milan Puskar Stadium, because several factors will be in play.

The first is that the Huskies haven't exactly experienced a tough road environment yet. Their road games so far (Georgia Tech, Army and Cincinnati) aren't noted for being particularly tough venues. They'll be playing in front of their largest crowd of the season, and it's not going to be a supportive one.

Senior leadership can often help combat the problems of playing on the road, but UConn's graduation losses from a year ago, combined with their nasty run of luck in the injury department, means a lot of youngsters will be on the AstroPlay surface for kickoff. If West Virginia can jump on the visitors early and put up a couple of scores, it could be a long night for Edsall's crew.

The final item for consideration here is the wide disparity in UConn's home and road record. Over the last two seasons, they are 9-2 at home, but just 2-5 on the road. Part of that, of course, is due to the fact that UConn's home games haven't exactly featured a murderer's row of opponents, but keep in mind that the Huskies did dismantle a powerful Toledo team at a neutral site in a bowl game last year.

* * *

With many eyes focused on WVU running back Steve Slaton after his awesome performance against Louisville, it stands to reason that Connecticut will chart its defensive game plan to slow down the emerging West Virginia star. Slaton will still get his carries, of course, but it also wouldn't surprise to see a few more Mountaineer offensive plays that use the superback as a decoy.

There haven't been a great number of reverses, ends around or naked boots in WVU's game plan the past couple of outings. Part of the reason for that was due to the way in which the defensive ends of WVU's opponents played, but it's also part of the natural ebb and flow of offensive playcalling. After running something for three or four weeks, foes get enough film of it to devise ways to stop it, so offenses have to move on to something else. After seeing some power running plays, along with stretch plays that have the tight end sealing the back side of the play, it wouldn't be a surprise to see some calls designed to catch that defensive end cheating inside.


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