Matchups: West Virginia vs. Cincinnati

The matchups are "back to the basics" for West Virginia as they host the Bearcats of Cincinnati.


WVU guards Greg Isdaner and Jeremy Sheffey vs. UC defensive tackle Curtis Young

Cincinnati's interior defensive linemen will have to hold their ground in order to slow West Virginia's running game, and Young could have problems against WVU's finely choreographed blocking schemes.

Sheffey, a skilled veteran, and Isdaner, a fast-learning redshirt freshman, will be looking to pave the way for Mountaineer rushers against Young, who checks in at a mere 235 pounds. While the West Virginia attack isn't predicated on power, there is certainly plenty of room for aggressiveness and physical play when the line fires out. Can Young, one of the smallest interior linemen in the Big East, stand up to the double-teams and relentless pressure to be applied by WVU's line? He will likely get some help from backup Thomas Claggett, a 280-pounder who doesn't move quite as well, but can likely stand up to the pounding a bit more.

Although the Bearcats have played well against the run this year, they haven't seen a running attack quite like West Virginia's. Young, who uses quickness and technique to make plays from his spot, will often find his moves turned against him by the zone blocking of WVU's offensive front. If he is able to knife through combination blocks and get into the backfield, he could help UC slow the Mountaineer rushing onslaught. He will have to do so on more than one occasion, however – otherwise another big day on the ground will be in the offing for West Virginia.

WVU cornerback Franchot Allen vs. UC wide receiver Derrick Stewart

All eyes will be on Allen and some of the other new starters on the West Virginia defense – assuming that head coach Rich Rodriguez wasn't just blowing smoke about the competition at several spots on that side of the ball. The attention, and the resulting credit or blame, depending on how Allen plays, probably will be overblown, but the key to this matchup is watching how the players respond to the challenge.

Boogie Allen
Allen, who has gotten some special teams snaps and a handful of plays at corner, does provide a bigger, more physical presence on pass defense. But can he find the ball in the air? Can he stay with speedy receivers such as Stewart, who are sure to test the Mountaineers with the same sort of routes that burned them at Louisville?

The coaches certainly hoped to bring some of the younger players along more slowly. However, Allen is being thrust into the spotlight – one that gets more attention than any other spot on the defense. And rightly or wrongly, he'll be singled out if things again go wrong in the WVU secondary. How he handles that will have a great deal of impact on the rest of his career – or at least on his playing time the rest of this season. Some youngsters who haven't played at their peak the first time out have never recovered mentally – thus never reaching their full potential. Allen has to show, right off the bat, that he can forget the last play and move on to the next one, and not get his head down due to one or two mistakes.

WVU linebackers vs. UC tight end Brent Celek

Cincinnati will scheme to get Celek isolated on West Virginia's linebackers by putting slot receivers to one side to attract the spur or bandit in short coverage. It will then try to get Celek downfield behind the backers (his speed is certainly sufficient to do so) or run him across the faces of the linebackers on drag patterns. Provided the offensive line gives him enough time, UC quarterback Dustin Grutza will run several of these slow-developing plays in order to get Celek lost in the shuffle of pass coverage, only to pick him out when he finds an open spot in the defense.

To combat this, West Virginia must do several things. It must jam Celek off the line on occasion to prevent clean releases. And it must get pressure on Grutza and force him to release the ball before the slower-developing routes can take shape.

Doing the latter is easier said than done. It's not just a matter of sending the blitz, but of getting the players to execute them correctly by running them to the proper gaps and attacking the blocking scheme at its weak points. Those are things that WVU rarely succeeded at against the Cardinals, and that it must improve upon in order to become a better team against the pass.


Just how many of the putative changes in the lineup will take place? Has Johnny Dingle again flip-flopped with James Ingram? Will the Reed Williams/Bobby Hathaway change really result in a difference in the number of snaps for each, as both were splitting time anyway? Will Ridwan Malik be able to repeat his solid play from the Mississippi State game? (That might be the biggest move of all to watch.)

Most importantly, will these moves contribute any to the cohesiveness that is so important for effective defensive play? It's not that West Virginia's defenders are bad teammates or don't communicate, but there's just not a lot of flow to WVU's defensive drops and pass coverage. Players seem to be working in their own little worlds, rather than functioning as a unit. Most of the time, those qualities aren't seen until players get the chance to work together for an extended period of time. Will there be enough time to forge those links for the Cincinnati game?

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Not only is Cincinnati's rushing defense solid, but the Bearcats also feature a very good pass rush. The Ohioans have 24 sacks on the season, with its ends accounting for eight of those takedowns. That indicates that UC is very good at containing quarterbacks in the pocket and making good tackles when it has the chance to do so.

Cincinnati has seen elusive quarterbacks this year, with Ohio State's Troy Smith topping the list. Although the Buckeye signalcaller doesn't have Patrick White's sheer speed and elusiveness, he's still one of the finest scrambling QBs in the country, so it's not like the Bearcats will be taken aback by White's ability.

Keep an eye on how UC rushes the pocket. Do they keep the ends out wide and fill the gaps with a linebacker or two? Do they employ a spy? (Not likely – no one player is going to corral White in the open field.) Do they run fewer twist and stunts as they try to control running lanes and keep White contained? Prepare for an interesting chess match in this regard.

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Much has been said about WVU "taking out its loss on the Bearcats" or "venting its frustration" or other sill nonsense. What the Mountaineers must do in this game is play with the same intensity that produced its lengthy winning streak. But it absolutely must not try to "make up" for last week's loss. Such self-imposed pressure often simply leads to more mistakes, which will do nothing to help West Virginia on the scoreboard. The team needs to forget about all the yakking that's been done the past week and play its own game. If it does, it will almost certainly result in a win.

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