WVU safeties vs. USF receiver Tarus Johnson
Johnson, who checks in at 205 pounds, will likely attack West Virginia's middle-of-the-field pass defense as well as on mirror image bubble screens. The Bulls used a conservative passing attack last year to upset the Mountaineers, so it won't be a surprise to see them test those plays again early, but Johnson, with his physical frame, will likely get some passes directed his way between the hashmarks as well. West Virginia's early attention will likely be focused on slowing the screen passes, and if the Mountaineers go flying out too rapidly, there could be some seams to exploit in the middle.
Like West Virginia, South Florida preaches turnover avoidance, so there probably won't be many risky throws uncorked by quarterback Matt Groethe. A deep pass or two will certainly be tried, but look for the Bulls, again like the Mountaineers, to work horizontally rather than vertically in its passing game. WVU's spurs and bandits will have to have their best game of the season in order to keep USF's passing game in check, as it will have to cover the entire width of the field. Chasing down wide receivers at the sideline and then getting into correct drops to cover crossing patterns is a difficult chore to successfully execute time after time, so look for the Bulls to continually stress WVU's safeties with routes and passes that utilize every inch of the short and medium passing ranges. Johnson, lining up in the slot, is expected to be a key component of that game plan.
This could be one of the best head-to-head matchups in the trenches you will see this year. Selvie, who combines power and strength into a Reggie White-like package, can bullrush or run around blockers. He is a playmaker on the defensive front, and has the ability to force negative yardage and turnovers on the defensive front.
Selvie, who leads the nation in sacks, will unleash a variety of moves to try to keep Stanchek from getting a read on him – an important part of an offensive lineman's skill set. If Stanchek can get into a rhythm against Selvie, WVU will certainly have the edge on that side. But if Selvie can play his normal disruptive game, West Virginia could be in the same sort of trouble it found a year ago in Morgantown.
There is always the possibility, however, that the two might not meet as much as anticipated. USF could flip Selvie to the other side of the line so that he operates on quarterback Patrick White's blind side (as he typically does against right handed QBs from the right end position). It could also try to keep him away from the tight end to give him one-on-one matchups. Just as West Virginia does with Steve Slaton, it would not be a surprise to see the Bulls move Selvie around to take advantage of what it perceives to be advantageous matchups.
THINGS TO WATCH
West Virginia was very familiar with playing the underdog role, but the past couple of editions of the Mountaineer football team have also grow accustomed to going on the road in the favorites' role. Many of those games took place in half-empty stadiums, with WVU fans sometimes providing the bulk of the noise. Although West Virginia's current players have visited in some snakepits over the past two years, it will be facing its biggest challenge of the season in that regard. (Those who think Marshall was a hostile atmosphere are simply trying to create something that doesn't exist.) WVU shouldn't be fazed but what will likely be a sell-out crowd in Tampa, but every team is different, and you never know how a group will respond until it's put to the test.
USF, on the other hand, must avoid getting too fired up. That can happen in situations like this, and overexcitement can be just as deadly to execution as a lack of emotion. Bot teams will have challenges in dealing with the hype and the crowd, and the one that does a better job will certainly have an advantage, especially early in the game.
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USF quarterback Matt Groethe is a sneaky runner – and that's meant in the most complimentary manner possible. He doesn't jump out to the observer, but when he gets the ball in his hands, he is quite dangerous. Grothe is able to feel pressure, and doesn't have to look at oncoming rushers to know when he is in trouble. He has that sense, that some special players do, that allows them to avoid a rusher or tackler and make a move for extra yardage, or a bit of extra time that means the difference between a 15-yard gain and an incompletion.
When Groethe runs, it doesn't look as if he is burning up the field, but he always seems to make one or two potential tacklers miss, and by the time he's finished his carry, he always seems to have picked up a few extra yards. His rushing average isn't huge (2.3) yards per carry) but at least a couple of times per game he will turn a desperate situation into a first down, which is a huge boost for his team. West Virginia must be disciplined in its pass rush and not allow gaps for Groethe to run through, but maintaining that control in the heat of battle can be a difficult thing to do.
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Most of the attention for this game has focused on the Mountaineer offense against the Bull defense, but it might just be the inverse matchup that determines the game. West Virginia's steadily improving defense will have its toughest test of the season in Groethe (see above), a solid group of wideouts and a strong runner in Mike Ford, who leads the team in rushing despite inexplicably yielding carries to Benjamin Williams, Aston Samuels and Jamar Taylor. Ford is a workhorse that can pop a big run through the interior, and that's the place where USF is expected to test the strong Mountaineer rushing defense. West Virginia might be too quick to the corner for the Bulls to make much rushing yardage there, but a balance of those every-present wide receiver screens with some power runs inside could again yield the ball-control ticket that USF hopes to get punched. If USF runs Ford inside at least 10-15 times, and has some success, it will have good hope of springing the upset.