"One of the keys to the game on both sides is to tackle well in space," West Virginia head coach Rich Rodriguez said. "We have to try to get our offensive skill players and special teams players to break a few tackles. Teams that did well against us tackled well."
Among those was East Carolina, which limited tailback Steve Slaton and quarterback Patrick White, only to be put away on a wideout screen to Darius Reynaud. Rodriguez said he would not be surprised if the Cardinals put a man on Slaton and even White, forcing West Virginia to additionally utilize their other skill players, including Reynaud, fullback Owen Schmitt and wideouts Brandon Myles and Rayshawn Bolden.
"In last year's game we had Darius Reynaud do some things, Owen Schmitt made plays. Myles and Bolden and other skill guys have to make plays to win this game or any game," Rodriguez said. "(Slaton and White) are just two out of 11. One of keys is to get a hat on hat and make sure we block the right people."
Louisville excels at causing confusion up front for offenses by bringing various blitz schemes. They are a pressure-oriented team that was one of the few which stayed with its game plan against the Mountaineers. Many teams will change what they do defensively to compensate for a lack of speed or other poor match-ups against WVU, or to limit Slaton. Connecticut did, bringing its safeties up and moving them outside, as ECU did. That seems to slow Slaton, but it allows for cutbacks for White, who torched the Huskies. The difference with UL is that it has more athletic ability and a front seven that can move and slide well, covering gaps and holes for the Mountaineer backfield. That does open other possibilities, however, as no defense can blanket every aspect of play.
"The danger when you blitz is that you remove some of your second and third level defenders," Rodriguez said. "You get a fast guy into the second and third levels, and he can make a big play. You've got to get home in a hurry on the blitz."
That doesn't mean West Virginia will change much of what it does to challenge that part of Louisville's attack.
"You have to be careful that you don't go into a game with too many new plays that you can't execute," the sixth-year head coach said. "You have to be able to run what you have. Like the (Sugar) bowl game at the half, we did some different things we thought we could execute and we used that. You have to find new things and new wrinkles in a game like this, because you will probably need them. But it has to be things you can execute. I think there is always a guessing game, even if they do the same thing they have been doing. You call that play and they run that defense or call that defense and they run that play. It's supposedly an educated guess. Inevitably, there is always some luck involved in that approach.
"We have had games this year where we have had certain play calls and we have had the lead and we have bagged it because we did not need it. So you hope you can execute it because of practice. If you show it already in a game, then it's not as much of a surprise or a wrinkle. I said the other day, ‘This will be the last time we run this in practice. Hope it works. If it doesn't, it's in a game now.'" Everybody plays us differently, so we have to have answers to it. We are constantly working on the answer sheet."
West Virginia plans to take a slightly more extensive walk-through for this game because it is at night. Rodriguez usually has a very basic session on the opposing turf prior to the game, sometimes just having players get a feel for the surface and the stadium. This time the Mountaineers will field some kicks and throw longer passes to get a feel for the lighting.
"It's kind of neat to go in there and see it so you are a little familiar," Rodriguez said. "You can loose sight on the ball on certain deep balls or kicks. UConn's lights were lower, so we'll do that."
The Mountaineers are fairly healthy except along the defensive front. Nose guard Pat Liebig and tackle Doug Slavonic will play (ankle injuries sustained more than a week ago), but could be limited. Rusher Johnny Dingle will also be somewhat limited. Rodriguez said they all will play, but probably could not be in the game for seven to eight consecutive plays, so look for additional substitutions. Bandit safety Ridwan Malik (hip) is also not 100 percent. He will be further evaluated today as far as his movement and ability to run.
The lone new injury is to backup center Mike Dent, who sprained a knee. Rodriguez said Dent "should be able to do what he needs to. Other than that, we are pretty fortunate to be healthy at this point."