Bursting Bubbles

If nothing else about Friday night's game between West Virginia and South Florida can be guaranteed, know this: there should be plenty of bubble screens.

Both schools use horizontal passing early and often in their versions of the spread offense. The Mountaineers went to the bubble screen more than any other route in last weekend's 48-7 win over East Carolina, with both Pat White to Darius Reynaud touchdown passes coming on bubble routes to the far sideline at Mountaineer Field.

When USF came to Morgantown last November, Matt Grothe's lone touchdown pass of the game came on -- you guessed it -- a bubble screen to Ean Randolph.

For the Mountaineer defense to have success against Grothe and the rest of the South Florida passing attack, they will have to remain alert on the horizontal passing routes. Of course given that they see similar plays in practice on a daily basis from Pat White and the Mountaineer offense, they should have a pretty good idea of how to defend it.

"It's just like playing against our offense," said Mountaineer spur safety Ridwan Malik. "It's the same thing we do in practice a lot against our offense. The difference from other teams that run it is (USF) has a cross block in there and you can get crackbacked by the outside receiver. You have to be alert."

OK, so technically, the bubble screen USF uses is just a little bit different then what West Virginia unveils in its dangerous offensive attack. At the end of the day, though, it comes down to making a play in space against the talented and speedy Bulls receivers.

"I don't think it changes our assignments because we get coached against that every day and every week," noted sophomore safety Quinton Andrews. "We didn't change, we just had to make a few adjustments to how they play their bubble screens."

Another similarity between the two teams is the fact that both have dual threats at quarterback. Grothe, last season's Big East Rookie of the Year, has beaten teams in the past with both his arm and his legs. And if the bubble route is not open, don't be surprised to see the sophomore tuck the pigskin, lower his head, and pick up yards on the ground.

"When he's looking to throw down the field, if he can't find anything then he'll decide to run," said senior bandit Eric Wicks. "That's one of the dangerous parts about the way he plays. When you blitz everybody, he'll flush it out but roll out deep enough that he still has three or four seconds to read the receivers. When he does that, it's pretty hard to cover back in the secondary.

"I think it's pretty hard to cover, but you just have to sit and read it out at first," continued the veteran. "The bubble sets up off of the QB run. It's kind of a read; he's doing both in one."

In order for West Virginia to come away with the big road victory, Grothe and the horizontal passing game must be contained in space. If they are not, then the Mountaineers' ultimate goal for 2007 could burst like a bubble.


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