Krags Keys: Mundy, Schmitt

Louisville head coach Steve Kragthrope thinks there are two underlying keys to the Cardinals' game at West Virginia on Thursday: the play of Ryan Mundy and Owen Schmitt.

The senior free safety, a transfer from Michigan, has allowed No. 7 WVU to line up properly, according to the UL first-year head coach, and added a dose of ability and experience to the Mountaineers' new two-deep look. That will better challenge Louisville's vaunted passing attack, and has allowed the odd stack set to become more multiple in terms of alignments and coverages, but seemingly detracted from its pressure at times.

"They are mixing it more," Kragthorpe said. "They are more multiple on defense than they have been in the past, though there is not quite as much pressure as we have seen. (The two-deep is) sort of an anomaly in the odd stack defense with the added element of playing with two safeties. I think there is no question, they have a guy back there directing traffic and he has brought a lot of experience, big game experience, to the secondary. That's the key to a defense, a free safety that can line everybody up. When we were good on defense, that's something we have had."

Mundy is major part of a stop corps that ranks 15th in pass efficiency (105.21 yards per game) and fourth in total defense (262.13). West Virginia is sixth in scoring defense, allowing little more than two touchdowns per game. Mundy has 39 tackles and a team-best three interceptions, including key ones against South Florida and Rutgers. Louisville is throwing for 360.9 yards per outing and averaging 37 points; it has tossed four or more touchdowns in four games. WVU has yet to allow any more than 24 points this season, that coming in the season opener against Western Michigan. No BCS foe has scored more than 14 offensive points.

"They are a very good football team, no doubt," said Kragthorpe, who last coached in Morgantown in 1996, when he was on the Boston College staff. "We have a huge challenge on our hands. I think Rich (Rodriguez, WVU's head coach) has his most complete team, and I have watched him for awhile having been on (former WVU coordinator) Todd Graham's staff at Tulsa. That odd stack with the two-deep, and Pat (White) and Steve (Slaton) being so dynamic with the ball in their hands. And, you know, they get the ball to Darius (Reynaud) and the rest."

But what really elevates the offense, according to Kragthorpe, is Schmitt. The fullback and come-lately tight end allows WVU to align in a variety of formations while keeping the same 11 players on the field, negating opposing substitutions. The Mountaineers can play power-I sets, then put Schmitt at tight end and Slaton in the slot in an empty backfield look. It can allow Schmitt to be a lead blocker, or a decoy, then slide him out into the flats as a safety valve on a pass play. That aspect hurt UL in 2005, when the then-sophomore ran over multiple weary defenders on several overtime plays to move the ball inside the five-yard line.

Schmitt will play a major role again, especially against a run defense that has been ripped by lesser teams at times. Middle Tennessee State gashed Louisville for 265 yards and four scores on 19 carries. Utah used routine gains of three, five and eight yards to tally 260 rushing yards and five touchdowns. And UConn ran for 175 yards in its upset win. The Cardinals have, however, slowed most of their other foes, only to see the pass defense give way. In a five-game stretch (Kentucky, Syracuse, NC State, Utah and Cincinnati) no team threw for fewer than 249 yards. UK and Syracuse had four passing TDs, and the Orange totaled a season-best 423 passing yards in by far Louisville's worst overall performance of the season.

Since that game, the Cards have lined up better, according to Kragthrorpe, and several Mountaineer players have noted the strides made in tackling. UL is wrapping up players better, and getting more bodies to the football, a key when facing players such as White, Slaton and Schmitt, who could see his most plays since he tallied 40-plus at Syracuse this season.

"I think we really are doing a better job lining up and tackling. But, shoot, you say that and you go into a game with these guys – they are unbelievable," Kragthrope said. "Watching film, they are as good as anybody I have seen in the country in avoiding tackles and breaking tackles. It's the old, triple-option offense where you have a guy on the pitch man and the option and these guys make you miss. … With Pat's ability to run, what's a lost storyline is his ability to throw. He has a quick release and they really have made people expand on the bubble screen. That creates seams in the running game."

Kragthorpe is well aware of the rumored atmosphere at West Virginia during a night game. The Mountaineers (7-1, 2-1) are undefeated at home at night under Rodriguez, one of the marquee wins being the triple overtime victory against Louisville (5-4, 2-2) in 2005, along with wins over top 25 Pitt and No. 3 Virginia Tech in 2003.

"The team is hot right now," the Montana native said. "They are playing as well as anybody in the country. We treat every game the same, trying to come in and prepare hard and run the game plan. Playing on Thursday is one of the most difficult things to do in football, but each team has had essentially 12 days for this. That heals up the bumps and bruises a bit. Certainly it will be a great environment in Morgantown on Thursday night. I know they got the ‘Gold Rush' campaign going. It will be a great atmosphere, no doubt. … At the end of the season we will roll'em up and see where we are. Who knows what will happen down the stretch in this crazy college football season we are having."

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