Simple Gifts

Most of us have finished giving and opening our Christmas gifts, but there's one group of people that is looking for a few more presents to open one week from today. So, in the spirit of the season, here are five things that West Virginia's football team needs to knock off Georgia in the Sugar Bowl.

1) At least one hundred seventy-five yards rushing

While a lot of noise has been generated about the Mountaineers having to throw the ball to be successful against the Bulldogs, the surer path to victory is a continuation of WVU's season-long dominance on the ground. WVU is averaging 262 yards per game in that play phase, and it can't simply switch gears and abandon its strength. At this level of competition, winning is as much about imposing your will on your opponent as it is about adjustments, and West Virginia will have to do so in order to win this game. The Bulldogs yield just 124 yards per game on the ground, and the Mountaineers will have to exceed that total in order to come home with a win.

2) At least two big plays

We're not talking fifteen yarders here. WVU needs two at least two BIG plays – fifty or sixty-yard jobs that turn the field around or flip the scoreboard. Of course, that's easier said than done against an excellent Georgia defense. The Dawgs' excellent speed across the board on that side of the ball makes breaking off big plays extremely difficult, because they usually have waves of defenders running to the ball.

Two places this could occur are on special teams and in the inside running game. West Virginia has enough speed in its kick return game to exploit any cracks in UGA's kick coverage, and if Georgia brings its safeties too far down toward the line of scrimmage, the Mountaineers might be able to pop a quick inside run into the secondary and get away from the pursuit before it can get up to speed. West Virginia has broken several long runs in this manner.

3) Avoid the tourist factor

In past big bowls, it seemed as if West Virginia was just happy to be there. And while the Mountaineers certainly should take some time to enjoy the spoils of their excellent season, they also have to keep their concentration on the task at hand – and that's not the easiest task in the world to accomplish.

The days before a bowl game are a bit like Mardi Gras for Mountaineer fans, and they, quite understandably, want to share their good spirits with the team. Players that appear in public are usually awash in good wishes from the fans – again, a natural reaction. However, the players have to avoid being caught up in all of that and thinking that they have achieved everything they can in this season. It's a mental thing that certainly has an effect on their approach to the game, and WVU has to, in the words of the Captain from Cool Hand Luke, ‘get their minds right'.

4) Win the field position battle

Several factors go into this, which might be the most important item on this list. The Mountaineer simply cannot give the Dawgs a short field, because that kills WVU's defensive strategy.

All year, WVU has had success when it forces its foes to drive 70 or 80 yards to score. It's when the Mountaineers give up the ball in their own half of the field that it gets into trouble. If Georgia gets three or four possessions starting out in WVU territory, it will be a long night for the Mountaineers in the dome.

In order to keep the Dawgs penned up, West Virginia must protect the football and get a good night of kicking and special teams coverage. The quickest way to change field position is obviously by giving the ball away via turnover, and that's something WVU has to avoid at all costs. Both teams are strongly on the plus side in turnover ratio, and both are used to generating scoring chances from good starting points. The team that is able to continue that practice will have a huge leg up in the game.

Field position is also generated by the punt, kickoff and coverage teams, and this is an area in which the Mountaineers must excel. WVU will likely still employ the "roll" punt to keep the ball away from Georgia return men, but that doesn't mean the coverage team can relax. Likewise, the kickoff coverage team must have a good night, as the Mountaineers can't afford to give up 30 and 40-yard returns.

5) Catch Georgia by surprise

WVU must have a couple of surprises for the Dawgs – things that they aren't prepared for that will give the Mountaineers a tactical advantage. They don't have to necessarily be trick plays, either, although those are the first things that leap to mind when talking about catching an opponent unprepared.

It might be something as simple as a different defensive stunt or blitz pattern, or a modified run outside of WVU's bread and butter zone plays. It could be a reverse or other gadget designed to use the Bulldogs' speed against them, or a totally unexpected call, like Louisville's fake punt on its opening drive against WVU earlier this year. Whatever it is, West Virginia needs to keep the Bulldogs off balance, and nothing would be more effective in that arena than a couple of plays that have them scratching their heads.

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