Brohm-ing With Talent

When Louisville has the ball on Friday night, a barrage of passing is expected. As well it should be, given quarterback Brian Brohm's NFL-ready ability.

Of course the fact that the Cardinals will put the ball in the air is no secret in Morgantown or any other Big East locale. Even with the departure of former head coach Bobby Petrino to the NFL and subsequent arrival of Steve Kragthorpe from Tulsa, the steady constant has been Brohm, the 2005 Big East Player of the Year and likely first round draft pick this coming April.

Entering the season, the Cardinals were supposed to be right there with West Virginia and others in the national championship picture. After passing up the pros to return to U of L for one more season, Brohm was expected to compete for the Heisman Trophy. For his part, the Louisville native has continued to star for his hometown team, though his team has been bitten by inconsistency on defense and injuries all-around in a surprising 5-4 beginning to 2007. Brohm has amassed 3,229 yards and 23 touchdowns this season, and will once again be the focal point of West Virginia's defense when the conference rivals square off at Mountaineer Field on Thursday night.

"He is pretty good," said West Virginia defensive backs coach Tony Gibson. "He sees the field, has a great arm, has great awareness in the pocket. He knows where everybody is going to be. They have a great system for him. If he is not the best, he is right up there."

"He has seen pretty much everything you can throw at him," added veteran cornerback Vaughn Rivers. "You try to do things he is not used to seeing. He is going to (play in the NFL). His accuracy is great and he knows what he wants and how to move the offense."

When breaking down Brohm's strengths, it's difficult to find a starting place. Whereas some quarterbacks do a little bit of everything well but seldom do one thing outstanding, Brohm's abilities are off the charts all around. Looking for accuracy? In his four-year career, Brohm has completed nearly 67 percent of his passes. Yards? he has plenty of those, too, standing in second place on the NCAA's active passing yardage list to Hawaii gunslinger Colt Brennan.

Perhaps the most impressive number when reviewing Brohm's career is 19, as in the number of interceptions he has thrown in 41 career games leading up to Thursday night. Divide his 1,080 career attempts by those 19 interceptions, and you come up with a pick roughly once in every 56 tries. It's not as if he doesn't take any chances, rather he is blessed with an innate ability to fit the ball into the most minute of spaces, even when the play is seemingly covered from all angles. Think Tom Brady, or Peyton Manning, only at the collegiate level.

"That man puts the ball on the money," said linebacker Mortty Ivy. "He is able to audible out there and do some things other quarterbacks can't do. He puts the ball in tight spaces where most defenders can't get to the ball."

Like every great quarterback, Brohm has a plethora of weapons at his disposal. Receivers Harry Douglas and Mario Urrutia are among the nation's best downfield tandems. Urrutia's 6'6" frame and jaw-dropping potential make him one of the Big East's most difficult match-ups. However his lack of consistency -- maddening at times for U of L fans -- combined with recent injuries have made his junior season somewhat underwhelming. Picking up the slack has been Douglas, the Big East's leader in receiving yards and Brohm's go-to guy for 2007. Tight end Gary Barnidge has also been a factor in the passing game, and Georgia Tech transfer Patrick Carter looks to be gaining more confidence each week.

Last year in Louisville's 44-34 win over the Mountaineers, Brohm turned in a magnificent 19-26 performance that accounted for 354 yards and a touchdown to Urrutia. Of course that game took place more than 12 months ago, and to say West Virginia's secondary has come a long way since that game would not be doing Gibson's secondary enough justice. After finishing the 2006 campaign ranked 109 out of 119 Division I-A teams in pass defense, the Mountaineer defensive backfield has turned a complete 180 in 2007. Currently, they lead the Big East in pass defense, and rank fourth in the nation through eight games.

When we last saw West Virginia's defense, they were rattling Rutgers quarterback Mike Teel into his worst performance of the season last Saturday in Piscataway. The key to slowing down Teel, ranked second only to Brohm in Big East passing yards, was hurrying his throws and changing coverages. To contain Louisville and Brohm, similar results are a must.

"We have to get to him and pressure him and make certain adjustments in coverage, show certain things," Ivy said. "If we can do that, we should be ok."

"We have to play hard and try to confuse him a little bit," senior safety Eric Wicks added. "That will be hard, but we want to a little."

One way the Mountaineers will attempt to do so is by using more two-deep coverage. Doing so has been an integral part to West Virginia's secondary success in recent weeks, according to Gibson.

"You have less area to cover and can play closer," Gibson explained. "Last year we played almost all cover three against them. This year we will go through a lot more different coverages and be able to scramble things up. It helps the defense overall a lot."

Another big addition has been senior free safety Ryan Mundy. The Michigan transfer not only leads the team in interceptions, but has also provided steady leadership and keen decision-making at the back of West Virginia's 3-3-5.

"You have somebody back there who has played," Ivy said of the three-year Wolverine standout. "A lot of people are not trying us deep with (Mundy) back there."

Needless to say, Brohm will present the secondary's stiffest challenge to date. To do their part, completely shutting down Brohm is not required. Not letting the veteran dictate the game, however, will go a long way for a Mountaineer squad looking to pick up another important conference victory in it's quest to reclaim what it surrendered a year ago in Louisville.

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