This battle of youngsters on the edge will play a large role in West Virginia's passing efforts. Selvie, a freshman with 8.5 tackles for losses and five sacks on the year, uses speed and quick moves to get off the corner and into the backfield. Stanchek, although more experienced, is still just a sophomore, and relies on his toughness and smarts to keep opposing edge rushers in check.
This won't be the typical battle of the behemoths. Selvie checks in at just 255 pounds, and while Stanchek is listed at 295, he's probably playing 10-15 pounds lighter. This sets up an interesting battle of speed, technique and quickness on the outside that should be fun to watch. Two items could tip the battle WVU's way. Selvie is used to rushing the passer from the blind side, but that gets reversed against West Virginia, since White is left-handed. Stanchek also has a nastiness that can elevate blockers from very good to great – an attribute that Selvie might find difficult to overcome.
WVU pass rush vs. USF quarterback Matt Grothe
After West Virginia's assault on Tyler Palko in the second half of the Pitt game, Mountaineer fans will be expecting more of the same against Grothe. That might not be the wisest choice of options, however.
To prevent that, West Virginia must be disciplined in its pass rush, and not allow big seams, especially inside, that will allow Grothe to run. WVU's looping stunts and twists can leave such holes if assignments aren't executed precisely, so the Mountaineer front three, in combination with the blitzing players from the second level of the defense, must not freelance and leave gaps to be exploited.
Of course, the flip side to this is that the Mountaineers can't return to the passive play that characterized much of their defensive season. Corners must still break on the ball aggressively and contest passes, tackles need to be crisp and fierce, and pass rushers can't be content to just stay in their gaps and occupy space. WVU must play with the hard edge that Rodriguez preaches – something that the defense has not done consistently this year. They can't confuse "discipline" with "unaggressive", or think that shadowing the quarterback is just as good as getting pressure on him. West Virginia must continue the level of effort and sharpness – that hard edge – that it showed in the second half of the Pitt game. Otherwise, Grothe might put on a decent impersonation of White.
Last year, the Bull linebacking corps keyed on Slaton, holding him to his third-lowest rushing as a starter (86) and his lowest yards per carry average of his career (3.1). USF's backers flowed to Slaton on every movement of the backfield, and combined with a slanting scheme from the front line kept the speedy Mountaineer in check.
This year, West Virginia has seen similar schemes from Connecticut, East Carolina, Southern Mississippi and Pitt, with varying degrees of success. WVU has found ways to block those defenses, but has also take to putting Slaton out wide as a pass receiver to get him the ball. The wheel routes, which being with Slaton in the backfield, have also certainly been effective.
On West Virginia's first couple of offensive series, watch the Bull linebackers at the snap. See how they react to WVU's movement in the backfield, and if they are mirroring Slaton's movements. If so, West Virginia will likely counter with some of the quarterback runs seen in the Syracuse game, as well as by putting Slaton into the passing game again. If Owen Schmitt is healthy, he could also see some inside counters after fakes to Slaton as well.
THINGS TO WATCH
While USF's passing game will again be the focus of attention for most, the success of WVU's stifling run defense will tell the story of the game. If USF can't run the ball, it's not going to win, no matter how many yards Grothe throws for.
West Virginia's rush defense totals are certainly helped a bit by the fact that its pass defense is shaky – foes are willing to try a few more tosses against the Mountaineer back eight. However, don't think that teams, even passing teams, wouldn't run it if they could. USF will certainly try a few runs early in the game to see if it has identified any weaknesses in WVU's front wall, or if its offensive line can have success in creating some creases. If it can't (as Pitt could not), then it will become one-dimensional, which, as we all should know by now, is one of the main goals of the WVU defense (no, it's not bend but don't break, as many mischaracterize).
USF will try to counter with a multi-faceted running game. Like the Mountaineers, the Bulls will run the quarterback, running backs and wide receivers in an effort to make their foe defend the entire field. That strategy shouldn't be unfamiliar to West Virginia's defense, which sees very similar items during practice each wee.
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John Bradshaw replaced Greg Isdaner at guard for a large part of the second half at Pitt, so the lineup for South Florida will be something to keep an eye on. Although WVU's depth chart for the game shows Isdaner as the starter, that is certainly not a definitive script from which to work. Head coach Rich Rodriguez has been known to play games with his listed starters – partly to confuse the opposition, and partly, we suspect, to mess with the media. (That last is a joke. We think.)
Either way, take a few moments at the start of each series to check out the numbers of the offensive linemen heading onto the field. Offensive line coach Rick Trickett doesn't play his backups liberally (the starting offensive line has remained in the game at the end of many blowouts), so when he does sub someone in, it's time to sit up and take notice. If nothing else, Bradshaw's play shows that he has been making progress, and is good enough to play if needed.
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The other lineup item to watch is cornerback, where Guesly Dervil's one game starting assignment against Cincinnati was ballyhooed as the turning point for the West Virginia defense. However, Dervil did not start against Pitt, and will likely be a backup again this Saturday against the Bulls.
The move of bigger significance was that of Larry Williams, who moved from field corner to boundary corner midway through the season. Although he still suffers from a lack of confidence on occasion, Williams has been steadier on the short side of the field, and has provided better run support as well.
After another tentative first half against Pitt, Williams and Vaughn Rivers played much better in the final thirty minutes, as did Antonio Lewis. Dervil also provided solid backup support, so expect to see those four players rotating at the two corner spots against the Bulls.