It's all reminiscent of last year, when injuries to Adam Bednarik and Jason Gwaltney opened the door for Patrick White and Steve Slaton. Again, I would never say that injuries are a good thing. But it certainly is strange how, for the second year in a row, injuries haven't turned out to be overall negatives for the WVU program. Of course, that doesn't make them a good thing, and it casts something of a pall over the whole situation when remembering the guys that went down.
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It hasn't been a big issue yet, but there are definitely differences in WVU's punt game this year. First, and most importantly, the roll punt has been modified, and now isn't as much of an all out sprint to the side as it was in previous seasons. Prior to this year, West Virginia punters went full speed three or four steps to the right and kicked the ball on the run. This year, the roll is much less pronounced, with punter Scott Kozlowski kicking the ball at more of a three-quarters pace than on a full run.
Maryland came close to blocking one of WVU's roll punts, which is a cause for a bit of concern. Look for West Virginia to come back with a counter to the Terps' move, which was to simply rush to the spot where the roll punt ends up, rather than rushing for the punter himself. One thing WVU can do is play games with its punt formation, which it did a bit against the Terps. On one punt, WVU went from the spread punt formation it used several times against Georgia back to its conventional lineup. At some point, WVU might do the opposite, and could be in position to run another fake if the defense doesn't adjust correctly.
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I know there's a lot of concern about West Virginia's defense giving up some passing yards in the middle of the field. And certainly, I would love to have a defense that shut down every single play. But some of the angst being displayed over the Mountaineers' supposedly leaky pass defense is a bit overwrought.
While Maryland did complete 24 passes for 211 yards, you have to look at the numbers in the overall context of the game. The Terps averaged just 4.7 yards per pass attempt – hardly staggering numbers. (By comparison, WVU averaged 7.9 yards per rushing attempt!) And while Maryland did manage to pile up 24 first downs using that strategy, they weren't going to win the game with it. The only way a short, controlled passing attack will beat West Virginia is if the defense can hold the Mountaineers to no more than 20 or so points. And Maryland doesn't possess such a weapon.
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Another reason Rutgers has finally turned the corner:
Against Ohio University on Sept. 16, the Scarlet Knights opened the game by tossing an interception. The Bobcats immediately capitalized on the miscue by scoring a touchdown for an early 7-0 road lead. Past Rutgers teams would likely have collapsed at this point, and suffered an embarrassing loss. However, the 2006 edition responded calmly, executing its offensive game plan and generally treating the mistake for what it was – one booboo that shouldn't be the determining factor in the game. By halftime, the Scarlet Knights led 24-7, and cruised home with a win.
Yes, I know the OU in question was Ohio, not Oklahoma. And I know that Rutgers has to come to WVU. However, don't expect a cakewalk for the Mountaineers in this game. This is certainly not your father's Rutgers team. They are capable of beating anyone in the league, and that includes West Virginia and Louisville.
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Do you ever wonder it Tom Hammond and Pat Haden tire of being paid shills for Notre Dame football? They are probably forced too, because if they ever lose their jobs on NBC's Notre Dame broadcasts, they'll probably have trouble getting football announcing jobs anywhere else. Of course, Hammond can always fall back on his ice skating commentary career.
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The new timing rules, which have certainly shortened games, means blowouts must now be judged accordingly. Scoring 45-50 points is now equivalent to scoring in the high 50s or low 60s. The reduced number of plays means that scores are likely going to be correspondingly lower.
For example, WVU piled up its 45 points against Maryland on just 52 plays. Granted, the Mountaineers were aided by Reynaud's kickoff return and a short field on its second touchdown drive, but that's still an awfully low number of chances. And remember, that number includes eight plays in the end of the game when West Virginia's sole intention was to run out the clock.
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As a side note, I was listening to one of the endless stream of ESPN bobbleheads (this time it was Rod Gilmore) talking about the new timing rules, and noting that coaches shouldn't have any complaints about them because "they are successful – they are shortening the games". What Gilmore and all the other announcers fail to talk about is that there is a better way to shorten games – by shortening media timeouts for commercials. Of course, every one of them is too hypocritical to note that, because they are the cause of it.
Here's an idea – why not move some of those ads to "in-game" spots – that is, ads that run while the game is underway? NASCAR does it, and the boys from the south are some of the best marketers on the planet. I'd much rather have those missing plays restored to the game, even if it means that kickoffs are reduced to a smaller screen with an ad frame around it, or with a crawling ad across the bottom of the screen. ABC is already doing something similar by promoting many of its primetime television shows on the crawl.
Of course, my idea will never fly, because it makes too much sense.