Balancing Act

Obviously, Rutgers presents several challenges for West Virginia in Saturday's showdown at The Birthplace of College Football.

For West Virginia's vastly improved defense, the Scarlet Knights offer perhaps the greatest test yet for a unit ranked first in the Big East and among the top ten in all of college football.

The Rutgers offense features several weapons, starting with running back Ray Rice. What the diminutive junior lacks in height, he makes up for in shiftiness, power, and speed. The blueprint to stopping RU's offense begins on the ground level with limiting the effectiveness of Rice, the nation's fourth leading rusher.

"They use him in third and short, first and long, it doesn't matter, man. The guy is a player," said West Virginia cornerback Antonio Lewis. "He finishes runs, so you've got to bring everything you've got. All of the coverage and hype that he's getting is right. The guy's good."

Part of slowing down Rice is tackling him with groups of three or more defenders. The well-built runner has a low center of gravity, and can easily shed would-be tacklers who refuse to wrap up or try to take him down one on one. Needless to say, the goal for Lewis and his running mates is to meet Rice as a group, not in open field scenarios involving just one player.

"With a guy like that, we've been doing a good job rallying to the ball," said the senior. "We can't have solo tackles on him. Nobody is going to tackle him by himself, so we've got to get there together."

If West Virginia plans to gang tackle Rice, it must make sure he has the ball. Certainly such a minute detail seems difficult to overlook, but the Scarlet Knights thrive on setting up the play-action pass off of Rice's runs. Quarterback Mike Teel has improved immensely from a season ago, and has several weapons in the passing game.

The primary benefactors of Teel's passes have been sophomore wideout Kenny Britt and junior Tiquan Underwood. Both players rank among the nation's leading receivers in yards per game, and amazingly are becoming more dangerous as the season progresses. Underwood in particular has caught the attention of Lewis.

"I was watching him at the beginning of the season," he recalled. "Don't get me wrong, there's talent at every college, but they weren't playing really any of the big names, and he had crazy numbers. But he kept those numbers up the whole time up until this point. The dude can play, man.

"I've watched his routes, and he runs good routes," Lewis continued. "Very precise. He's not just a fluke. It's not like he's just getting big plays here and there. He's a good wide receiver."

Add the presence of Britt on the opposite side of the field, and suddenly the Knights complement the league's leading rusher with a pair of game-breaking receivers.

"Those two wide receivers, man, might be the two best in our conference as a unit," said the Maryland native. "At quarterback, Teel puts the ball where it needs to be. You can't forget about him either. They have good plays, and of course with Rice, you never know. You just have to prepare well for everything."

Which is precisely what West Virginia is trying to do. Against an offense that averages close to 300 yards passing, and more than 180 yards rushing each time out, the Mountaineers must not worry too much about one facet of the RU attack or it may end up being burned by the other.

"They can throw. They've got big playmakers, and then they can grind it out (with the run), too," Lewis noted. "They can go play-action with the best of them. We've just got to figure out and prepare for both. We'll see what happens."

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