Schemes And Themes

Have some defensive coordinators started to figure out West Virginia's spread rushing attack? East Carolina held the Mountaineers to 153 yards on the ground, and South Florida stymied an admittedly banged up Mountaineer backfield as well, yielding just 132 yards on 37 carries. Might the same fate be in the offing from a stout Georgia Tech rushing defense?

Of course, the rushing totals West Virginia recorded against the Pirates and Bulls aren't terrible by any stretch of the imagination. It's simply that when stacked up against WVU's average output of more than 300 yards per game, it looks as if a couple of foes have found, if not the secret, at least a few methods of slowing the Mountaineer juggernaut. East Carolina crashed its cornerbacks down from the outside to slow down West Virginia's outside zone plays, while USF deployed its strong and speedy linebacking corps to prevent WVU from running outside. And when the Mountaineers refused to adjust and run right at the Bulls, as they did in past seasons against fast defenses such as Miami, rushing yards became much more difficult to come by.

However, West Virginia's inability to run the ball in those games was, at least according to one upclose observer, more a failing on its own part than anything the opponent did.

"I think it was mainly [lack] of execution on our part," sophomore tackle Ryan Stanchek noted. "We didn't perform up to the level we had been playing at. We didn't grade out as well as we had."

Opposing schemes can, in some instances, make it well-nigh impossible to run certain plays, and it's at those times that Stanchek doesn't mind to see the Mountaineers switch gears.

"Somketimes if they have eight or nine guys in the box it can be tough to run, but that's what we do. We run the football," he said with a chuckle. "With Pat, we're tough to contain. If they stack ‘em in there we can throw the ball, but we should be able to run the ball."

That attitude is certainly a reflection of offensive line coach Rick Trickett, who hasn't seen a defense that he doesn't think can be run on. In his view, teams that crowd the outside can be made susceptible to inside runs out of power sets, while those that try to clog the middle or overload gaps can be walled off to form rushing lanes. In other words, there's a counter for anything the defense can do. Given the success West Virginia has had rushing the football, it's hard to argue with that viewpoint. Will WVU be able to make the necessary adjustments against Georgia Tech's pressure scheme?

Against the Yellow Jackets, the Mountaineers will face a different sort of defense. Tech's predilection for blitzing has been well-documented to this point, and it won't be a surprise for the Mountaineer offense. In fact, Stanchek doesn't see a whole lot of difference in the way WVU will prepare for the Gator Bowl.

"Honestly, it's not really different from any other game," he said. "You just have to be prepared and read the defense just like we always do. Obviously they bring a lot more pressure, so we just have to make our reads and be prepared for it."

Given West Virginia's speed, however, the blitz can be a double-edged sword. If Tech gets defenders into the backfield to keep Steve Slaton and White from getting up to speed, the Yellow Jackets could hold WVU's yardage down. However, if Stanchek and company can create creases to get Mountaineer backs through the line, there might not be a whole lot of opposition between West Virginia runners and the goal line.

One other possibility remains – a change in tactics by the Georgia Tech defense. Might the Yellow Jackets, watching film of the ECU game, play a more controlling scheme to wall off cutback lanes and prevent seams from developing? While possible, that doesn't seem likely. As noted by West Virginia head coach Rich Rodriguez, teams really don't have a month for bowl preparation. By the time final exams, time off for Christmas and travel days are factored in, bowl preparation is really more the length of spring practice than a solid month of work. Given those time constraints, its tough to put in more than a few additional wrinkles.

So, in the end, the question likely comes back to one of execution. WVU, though not intimately familiar with Tech's scheme, will have tactics in the game plan to counter blitzes. The Jackets, facing a spread of WVU's level of effectiveness, will have to remain disciplined in its blitz packages to keep the Mountaineer backfield from breaking free. And in the end, the team that runs its system the best will likely come away with the win.

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