WVU Spur Jermaine Thaxton and Bandit Angel Estrada vs. UW tight ends Bob Docherty and Tony Paciotti
This isn't a passing matchup, although it looks like one at first glance. Mountaineer fans would do well to watch the blocking of the UW tight ends, especially as the WVU strong safeties creep toward the line of scrimmage.
The Badgers use two, and sometimes three, tight ends to open lanes for their rushing game, and they do it well. Watch for Wisconsin to put their tight ends in motion to create favorable blocking angles on linebackers, spurs and bandits, while WVU counters with lots of motion and position changing.
This battle is pretty simple. If UW's tight ends get locked up on Mountaineer defenders, Anthony Davis is going to put up big numbers. If WVU's defense is able to stem and shift their way around those blocks, then West Virginia has a chance to put the Badger offense in an unfavorable position.
WVU cornerbacks Lance Frazier, Lew Daniels and Brian King vs. UW Quarterbacks Brooks Bollinger and Jim Sorgi
West Virginia's corners were barely tested against UTC. They were also not strenuously exercised during the 2001 season, as opponents didn't need to pass in many instances.
WVU's primarily zone defensive scheme will allow the cornerbacks to see the quarterback better, but they have to avoid the temptation of peeking in the backfield too much. If they do, a couple of long pass plays will result.
The Mountaineer corners are veterans, so hopefully they will be able to meet this challenge.
WVU guards Jeff Berk and Ken Sandor vs. UW defensive tackles Anttaj Hawthorne and Jason Jefferson
West Virginia will be facing a pair of 300 pound sophomore monsters in this matchup, and the odds are stacked against the Mountaineers.
While WVU's tackles played well last week, their interior line play was spotty at best. Missed assignments and sloppy execution held WVU's rushing game in check until the Mocs wore down physically, and that's not likely to happen in this game.
WVU will have to be technically proficient this week. They have to get on the correct shoulder, they have to hold their blocks, and they have to move UW's behemoths in order to make room for Avon to make his calls.
THINGS TO WATCH:
We've already mentioned this above, but watch for Wisconsin's two and three tight end sets. They've run the ball most effectively when tailback Anthony Davis is in the backfield alone behind a loaded offensive line with Docherty, Paciotti and Mark Bell on the field in a three tight end set.
Wisconsin also brings its tight ends in motion effectively, much as WVU did with Lovett Purnell during his career at WVU. The difference, of course, is that WVU used it to set Purnell free in pass patterns, while the Badgers use motion to create favorable blocking angles for what amounts to extra offensive linemen.
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Look for WVU to try to stretch Wisconsin both vertically and horizontally in the early going. The Mountaineers will likely throw deep downfield a couple of times in the first quarter. They'll also probably roll out a few more options, naked bootlegs and waggles to try to get the Badger defense out of the box and create running room for Avon Cobourne.
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Keep an eye on the "flow" of Wisconsin's offensive playcalling. That may be a nebulous concept, but the Badgers never seemed to get into a good rhythm during their wins over Fresno State or UNLV. (Of course, you can make the argument that a win is a win, and things like "flow" and "rhythm" don't belong in football. But, we digress.)
Wisconsin never seemed to be able to make up their minds if they wanted to run the ball with power, be a downfield throwing team, or be a spread offense. It is all the rage to be "multiple" in offensive sets and formations, but the Badgers are probably still at their best when they give the ball to Davis 25 times, then run play action off an established rushing game. The other bells and whistles seem to distract Wisconsin from their offensive strength.