In The Bag

Connecticut came out with an aggressive defensive plan to combat West Virginia's rushing game, and the Huskies did quite well in slowing down some of WVU's pet plays. Did the Mountaineers hide any possible counters to UConn's tactics in anticipation of next week's game against Louisville?

First off, the Huskies deserve some credit for trying something a bit different against WVU. UConn played its safeties close to the line, but, like East Carolina, moved them outside the tackles to help defend against West Virginia's outside zone plays. It also had its cornerbacks crashing down hard at the first sign of run action. As a result, there were simply too many defenders to account for on many plays.

"They have some really good coaches over there, and they have some schemes that were working for them and stopping us from doing certain things," offensive guard Jeremy Sheffey said. "We'd adjust to that and have a good drive, then they would adjust again and catch back up. We were playing this game where we were going back and forth. They did well and did some good things to stop us."

To combat this, West Virginia ran the ball inside with the belly series, with quarterback Patrick White highlighting the attack. WVU managed to pop its sophomore quarterback free on a few occasions, most notably on his 45-yard sprint up the middle for a touchdown, but it chose to keep fullback Owen Schmitt (three carries) under wraps for the most part.

"Their guys are smart too," Sheffey commented. "Their players had heard our plays a few times, and they'd call out when they'd hear certain things, so when we'd come over to the sideline we'd have to say, "Coach, we can't do that'. We went to the belly a few times and that worked out for us."

Another possible counter that has received little use has been play action passes – or at least what passes for those in WVU's offense. The Mountaineers did show such a play one time in the third quarter, when both Patrick White and Steve Slaton moved right out of the backfield off the snap. As usual, UConn's corners angled down on the play, and as a result Rayshawn Bolden was wide open behind the Husky defense. The resulting touchdown was an easy one for the Mountaineers, and one they seemingly could have duplicated several times on the evening.

When asked about UConn's defensive strategy after the game, head coach Rich Rodriguez noted that he probably should have called more passes early in the game. And when a follow up came a couple of days later, Rodriguez testily replied that he didn't need to call more passes because he didn't need to, as the Mountaineers were in control of the game.

Ignore the fact, for the moment, that West Virginia didn't have a big lead against either Syracuse or Connecticut in the early going. Rodriguez obviously believed that his team was in control of the game, and thus didn't need to risk throwing the ball. However, that begs the question – will WVU be ready to throw the ball when it has to?

Rodriguez has wearily answered variations on the question many times, noting that his team works diligently on the passing game during practice. And undoubtedly, they do. However, throwing the ball around on Tuesday and Wednesday isn't the same thing as doing it under fire under the lights on ESPN – something WVU has yet to do this year.

Therefore, the question remains. Is West Virginia keeping several plays under wraps for the Cardinals? The answer to that would seem to be yes. The real question is, does the WVU coaching staff have the confidence to call them? That's one that won't be answered until Nov. 2.

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