Rutgers' Front To Test WVU

West Virginia will face its most athletic defensive front this season. And coming off its poorest offensive line performance of the year, it must quickly return to better execution and the intensity badly lacking in the loss to South Florida.

Rutgers (10-1, 5-1 Big East) plays a traditional 4-3 set, made more effective by very good cornerback play. Derrick Roberson, Manny Collins and Jason McCourtney have flipped between the two corner slots all season, with Collins splitting starting time between both. The trio doesn't have dominating numbers, with a combined six tackles for loss, five interceptions and three pass breakups. But their ability to play straight man without help – RU ranks third in the nation in passing defense, allowing 144.6 yards per game, and 12th in pass efficiency – has freed up other defenders to make more plays, and has allowed additional blitzing players.

That has turned a four-man rush into a five or six player assault on the backfield and the running game. The No. 13 Knights have held foes to an average of 98.8 yards per game on the ground (2.9 per carry), ranking second in the Big East behind No. 15 WVU's (9-2, 4-2) odd stack set. RU is first in total defense in the league and third in the country at 243 yards per game. And it leads the entire country in scoring defense at 12.7 points per game.

"They are the most aggressive team as far as stunting and blitzing than anybody we have played all year." West Virginia head coach Rich Rodriguez said. "They all have great quickness and they move a lot. They have been the most dominating defense in our league, and the state bear that out. And they play a two deep and they have very good corners. That is big for them."

Rutgers seldom drops a down lineman into coverage. It is a pure defense as far as using a bull rush or base moves to defeat offensive lineman and get to ball carriers. It matches up best against straight ahead running teams, but, as shown against Louisville, can negate a foes downfield strength via smart blitzes and forcing teams to use two lineman to slow its front. Ends William Beckford and Jamaal Westerman are both 6-1 and 6-3 and weight 230 and 270 pounds, respectively. Beckford was recruited out of Glades Central High and, as a senior, is eighth on the team in tackles with 37. 7.5 of which have been for loss, with four sacks. Westerman, an Ontario native, has nine tackles for loss and toes for a team high with six sacks.

Their prescience on the edge will be key in keeping WVU tailback Steve Slaton inside and not allowing him to turn the corner. They are more mobile and have better speed than most ends Slaton has faced, and it will be up to the Mountaineer coaching staff to find other ways to run past than the zone read or stretch, if they again fail to work. Tackles Eric Foster (6-2, 260 lbs.) and Ramel Meekins (6-0, 275 lbs.) have combined for 22 tackles for loss and have both have six sacks. Their agility and strength allow them to plug holes or help the defense vertically, by getting into the gaps for pressure or to force designed interior runs to the outside.

That's a contrast to South Florida's style, which was to totally plug the middle and make WVU go outside. It seemed to welcome the stretch play or read, and its alignment and flow had quarterback Patrick White handing off more than keeping. The Bulls would then chase Slaton outside and take the back to the turf. USF also defended the wide receiver screen well, allowing the throw, then simply beating the offense play to the spot or angle desired. They did not allow themselves top get swept into the zone blocking flow, and so could limit, if not totally shut down, what West Virginia attempts to do.

"There were a lot of simple mistakes," WVU center Dan Mozes said of the South Florida defeat. "A left tackle hold, my offsides on procedure penalty on fourth down that meant we had to kick a field goal. We probably left 20-some points on the field. We had opportunities. (Rutgers is) a hungry team and they display that on the field and in the film. They are up and coming this year. They were good last year, and to beat Louisville and have just one loss shows how good they are this year."

Rutgers still lacks the overall speed of South Florida. The linebackers will not run to the ball as well, and their pass rush will be negated some by the fact that West Virginia throws the ball only an average of 17.1 times per contest. But they do play more physical football, and with a beat-up backfield, that could hinder the Mountaineers if they cannot control the front.

"South Florida runs probably better than anyone in our league as a team," Rutgers head coach Greg Schiano said. "There are some things that they do, that I'm not sure we can do, to be frank with you. I mean, we could do it, but can we be successful doing it? They were more one-dimensional. We'll do some of the things they did, but we'll mix it up. I say that one-dimensional because they came after them every play. We can't do that. We do think we have a pretty darn good nose tackle in Ramel Meekins, so that's going to be really a fine battle (with Mozes). People who like line players, it's going to be a fun one to watch. Basically, you have to run your defense and just know that there are sometimes when you think you'll be able to get there on a movement or you're going to be able to hold the point where you may have to say, ‘It's not a gimme.'

"(West Virginia) is option football, that's what it is. You have to have every phase accounted for. And it's option football with two tailbacks, so it's even harder than option football. It's an option football team with big offensive lineman, not 260 or 255-pound guys. There's a reason they're so highly-ranked in those offensive categories. They throw the ball on some quick, short bubble wraps and then they throw the ball deep, that's basically, what they do. They have some intermediate big routes, but they're going to run. There are some field zones and some areas distance-wise where they're close to 90% run. They don't care if you know. They're going to try and run it on you and they have the players to do it."

Rutgers has the players to stop it. But the Scarlet Knights will be hard-pressed to duplicate its efforts against Louisville because of the match-up variables. West Virginia should negate some of the pass rush, and it can run more effectively than the Cards if the zone blocking is better executed and White recovers in time to play at nearly 100 percent. Right now, the sophomore signal caller is day-to-day, but he said he should play. Rodriguez is not so sure. If he and Slaton are slowed, it would be a major coup for Rutgers, who could have an edge anyway with fullback Owen Schmitt limited. The Knights will attack with a great front and concentrate on the run while being able to cover West Virginia in man. It's a simple formula for the 4-3 that works with the right players. It remains to be seen if it can work against West Virginia, which is more used to seeing this style than that of USF.

This will be one of the best defenses we will play this year," Mozes said. "There was disappointment last week, and it is the job of the seniors and coaches to turn it around with morale."

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