Finishing Up

West Virginia was excruciatingly close last week to not needing to even worry about some passes being zipped 30 yards downfield to wideouts. The 44 points allowed proved close, however, doesn't mean much.

The No. 10 (7-1, 2-1 Big East) Mountaineers did force Louisville quarterback Brian Brohm to slide in the pocket. It provided enough heat, both in his face and coming from the backside, so the quarterback could feel it. But it was only enough for just that, and so it was West Virginia that got burned, and not the now-No. 3 Cards.

WVU did manage two sacks, part of four tackles for loss. It also had numerous hurries and a few knockdowns. But with a quarterback like Brohm, one possessing innate abilities to slide a step here or there, to move within the pocket while still seeing the progressing play downfield, finishing sacks and all-game physical punishment goes a long way to slowing successful plays. West Virginia, reading the blocking scheme and beating it, often got good pressure on the quarterback. But it flew past three separate times, and often broke what looked to be the wrong way, as Brohm going inside when WVU went out, or vice versa. Some was excellent offensive play; some was simply not getting home on blitzes.

"I think we made a couple mistakes on some of our blitzes that we do every day in practice," said safety Eric Wicks, one player who ran past Brohm. " I feel like if we get those right and a couple more things we will be okay."

Those couple more things might include a better pass coverage, from both the safeties and cornerbacks, and not blowing assignments or appearing confused by what they had seen on film. Against UL, it was the first down prepackaged play actions, complete with the dreaded crossing patterns, something for which head coach Rich Rodriguez said West Virginia was prepared.

"We looked surprised by some of what they did, and I don't know why," Rodriguez said. "We expected that. We had seen it on film."

What they had not seen, and this is the gist of the continuing enigma, is how Louisville planned to execute its plan against West Virginia. What often gets lost is that, because of the differences in the 3-3-5 odd stack style, teams will play and attack the Mountaineers differently than any other foe. That extends into everything, including the blocking scheme to pick up the blitz, forcing WVU to bring a few early to see exactly how teams plan to stop it. That's not necessarily a lost snap, because programs do it all the time on both sides of the ball, a sort of early feeling out time that leads to later success. But it's increasingly needed because of the unique set-up, which, like any other defense, offers positives and negatives.

"It's a little bit of technique and being a playmaker, getting around the block," corner Vaughn Rivers said. "It's not easy. It did seem like we were close numerous times, but he stepped up in the pocket and completed some passes. I don't think we will see anybody as comfortable in the pocket as Brohm. But coach Rod always says that we have to do more than the average football player. We have to prove we are exceptional, are top 10 players. We have to make plays others cannot."

That could be more difficult in one respect this week, when Cincinnati quarterback Dustin Grutza replaces Brohm. Grutza, who has completed 117 of 190 passes (61.6 percent) for 1,423 yards, is more mobile than Brohm and quicker to escape the pocket. In his last outing, an Oct. 28 17-13 home win over Syracuse, he showed solid patience in hitting 13 of 18 passes for one touchdown and two interceptions in being named the Big East Offensive Player of the Week. In all, his pass efficiency rating is an exceptional 127.86. The 6-2, 212-pound sophomore doesn't possess Brohn's vision or feel, which often causes him to turn to the run rather than stay in the pocket. That's both a positive and a negative for the Mountaineers.

"He moves well," linebacker Jay Henry said. "There were a couple times we had him last year and he escaped and was able to get out and get a first down. He doesn't go down easy, either. He runs hard when he does run. I am sure there has been quite a bit of improvement from his freshman year."

Which could lead to longer coverage times if West Virginia can't pressure the pocket. It will be increasingly imperative this week to ensure that players break down when they do get to Grutza so that he does not escape the pocket and run. The challenge isn't that of McNabb or Vick, but it is a good test against a run-based offense that uses play action to see if West Virginia can finish pressure in the limited times it might bring it.

"You have to keep pushing," said defensive lineman Keilen Dykes, who might vacate his tackle position to man the nose spot again this week if Pat Leibig cannot play because of injuries. "We got a couple, but there's room for more. Cincinnati will play basic football and try to run the ball at us." Said Henry: "It's knowing what to expect and how you are going to get blocked. Timing it up."

"There are guys out there that are good, and we have to find a way to stop them," Williams said. "There are guys like (Pitt quarterback Tyler) Palko. We made too many mistakes last week. We have to swarm to the ball and play our defense. We do that, and we'll win."

Note: An obvious additional dissatisfaction for any defense, according to secondary coach Tony Gibson, is when a foe can find what the set is allowing it and continue to exploit it. The Mountaineers, he said, allowed Brohm – who went 19 of 26 (73 percent) for 354 yards – a certain set of things (barring the breakdowns in execution) and he found them often enough to hurt the defense. Most signal callers might not have discovered it, and the tempting thing to do is look at the secondary first.

"Yeah, that's frustrating. It's frustrating for the players and it's frustrating for us as coaches," Gibson said. "It's not like we are telling them ‘Throw it over here, we'll let you catch it.' They find things, and Brohm's pretty good."

"As a competitor," Rivers said, "you don't want them to catch anything. Sometimes you have to take the blows as they come and give those short routes in order not to give up the big play. That was something I felt we didn't do against Louisville. We gave up the big play instead of settling for the short play."


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