West Virginia - Eastern Washington Matchups

A pair of different defensive alignments will make Saturday's West Virginia – Eastern Washington game an interesting one to watch from a strategic standpoint.


WVU 3-3 defensive front vs. EWU offensive guard Matt Alfred

Alfred is a polished performer that has earned 1-AA All-America honors, and is certainly not the image many fans call up when picturing the average lineman at that level. At six feet, three inches and 300 pounds, the Gig Harbor, Wash. native would certainly be a good player in 1-A as well.

The challenge Alfred faces against West Virginia is identifying and locating the players he must block. WVU's defensive scheme is designed to hide linebackers and make it difficult for opposing blockers to get to them, thus freeing them to run to the ball and make plays. The angles at which offensive players must take on those defenders also add to the difficulty in executing good blocks.

With redshirt freshman Matt Nichols at the helm of the Eagle offense, it's expected that EWU will try to establish a running game at all costs. Much of that will depend on Alfred and his teammates up front, and how quickly they are able to adjust to West Virginia's odd stack look.

WVU quarterbacks vs. EWU 4-2-5 defense

The Eagles won't be the only one facing a different defensive look. Eastern Washington's 4-2-5 alignment features only two true linebackers. Rover Brandon Keeler and Whip Nick Denbeigh can line up in different positions and disguise coverages a la WVU's spur and bandit, but it will be more likely to see Keeler in run support than Denbeigh.

West Virginia's quarterbacks will key on the positioning and actions of these two players as they come to the line, and will be looking to head coach Rich Rodriguez for adjustments as those two players take their spots. While WVU will, in all likelihood, gain a good bit of rushing yardage no matter what the pair does, they could cause trouble for the Mountaineers' still developing quarterback corps. Patrick White's recognition and reading of the Marshall defense was near perfect in the opener, and this game will give him a chance to test those skills again against a different look. And for backups Jarrett Brown and Nate Sowers, it could, assuming West Virginia builds a lead, provide a great measuring stick to see how far they have progressed.

WVU Head Coach Rich Rodriguez vs. WVU Head Coach Rich Rodriguez

No, WVU's sixth-year head coach hasn't been cloned. But he will be fighting a battle with himself in this game over playing time. On one side will be his self-described paranoia over losing leads, which leads to playing his starters and key reserves well past the point where most consider the game to be in hand. On the other side is the knowledge that several key players are dinged up, and that some of his youngsters need game action in order to prepare themselves for the tougher battles to come.

Rich Rodriguez
Will Coach Rod overcome his natural caution and substitute early and often? Or will that worry reassert itself and lead to another 25-carry day for Steve Slaton and fourth quarter appearances by many of his first stringers? That's tough to call, because Rodriguez has never managed to do it before, despite repeated comments that he should. The hope here is that the starters play the first 15-20 minutes, build a nice lead, and then give way in shifts to the backups and youngsters. It would certainly be beneficial for those players to play alongside the veterans for a while, and that would be an excellent way to gain experience. Then in the second half, with the game hopefully in hand, the starters and walking wounded can take their places on the sidelines to cheer on their younger counterpart.

All of this, of course, is predicated on Eastern Washington's cooperation. They certainly aren't going to come into Milan Puskar Stadium and roll over. A couple of early turnovers would certainly help, but if the Eagles hang on to the ball and play a low-risk, no-reward style like Marshall, they could keep the score close enough to plant those seeds of doubt in Rodriguez' mind.


With Brandon Myles questionable for the game due to a concussion, WVU's wide receiver rotation will certainly be affected. Rayshawn Bolden, Tito Gonzales, Darius Reynaud and Jeremy Bruce figure to be the starters, but this is the chance for Dorrell Jalloh, who is returning to full health, and true freshman Wes Lyons to make their marks. It will be interesting to see which players get the bulk of the playing time, especially early in the game.

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With Eastern Washington's defensive ends checking in at 240 and 230 pounds, West Virginia should be able to establish blocks on the corner. The Mountaineers easily outsprinted Marshall defenders to the edge and then down the field in their 42-10 win, and figure to attack the perimeter again until EWU shows it can slow that assault.

The first few times WVU runs its stretch play or sweep, keep an eye on EWU's ends. Are they able to move down the line to help string the play out, or are West Virginia's tackles and tight ends able to move them out of the way. Are they getting any penetration upfield, or are they being blocked laterally out of the play? In order to slow West Virginia's running game, the Eagle ends will have to defeat blocks and keep Steve Slaton from making the one-cut-and-go runs that yield so much yardage for the Mountaineer offense.

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West Virginia's team demeanor and approach to games has been very good for the last couple of seasons. The Mountaineers have disposed of most lesser-talented foes, and even in games where the score has been closer than expected, no signs of panic have emerged.

It's not reasonable to expect a breathing fire and spitting smoke effort from WVU for this game, but a desultory effort without any enthusiasm is unacceptable, too. Rodriguez will likely be watching and gauging his team's effort and emotional state early on, and that's a good item for Mountaineer fans to latch onto. Keep in mind, of course, that if WVU isn't up 28-0 at halftime, it doesn't mean the team isn't playing with the "hard edge" that Rodriguez emphasizes. Many factors can combine to keep the score down.

So as you watch, try to note as much as you can about the attitude being projected from the field. Are the players paying attention on the sideline? Hustling on and off the field? Are there a lot of silly mental mistakes? These things should be able to help anyone judge just how much WVU is "into the game" – and should also provide a good idea of how the Mountaineers truly approached the contest.

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