Rushing Ruse

When West Virginia's odd stack lines up opposite Louisville quarterback Brian Brohm, the masquerade over – and around – the ball will be in full display.

The No. 7 Mountaineers just hope the senior doesn't recognize it. Brohm, a surefire NFL selection, is among the finest quarterbacks in the nation in terms of reading defenses. There's no coverage, alignment or shifts he hasn't seen. West Virginia (7-1, 2-1 Big East) knows that. It also knows there are variations on all that, when coupled and timed correctly, can have success against any passer. That's the backbone of the designed slowdown of Louisville's offense, the one averaging 37 points per game and 361 yards passing (fourth in the NCAA) per outing. The one that ranks in the NCAA top 10 in three major categories and has put up tallies of 73, 58, 35, 35 and 34 points, the latter threesome in losses. And the lone one viewed as able to match WVU's offensive arsenal.

Brohm is a classic drop back, pocket passer. Get him to move and, unlike South Florida's Matt Grothe, the arm and accuracy unravels as does the protection. A team doesn't necessarily have to hit Brohm, though a physical pounding for 60 minutes never hurts the defense. What is must do if force foot movement. There can be no stand-and-deliver, no reading of the zone defense and allowance for development of crossing routes and patterns in the flat and seams to the tight ends. Louisville's receivers – Mario Urrutia and Harry Douglas, a YAC machine if ever there was one – and tight end Gary Barnidge (41 catches, 505 yards) have the ability to turn a five-yard route into a 20-yard gain. West Virginia will counter that with its new two-deep look with a pair of safeties, giving the corners more security.

Last season, Brohm was able to read the safety location and find the open receiver on one-on-one coverage. Because of the lone help over the top on longer patterns, WVU's corners often played seven-to-10 yards off the line of scrimmage. It was a read-and-check by Brohm. Line up tight, and the pattern went longer. Line up far, and a quick slant worked. If the linebackers were flared out in pass coverage, a draw or inside run sufficed, and if they were floating in zone, which was what happened the majority of time, a cross pattern along the face of the trio worked well because of the difficulty reaccelerating and catching a speedy wideout over the middle. That's a gross oversimplification, obviously, but it does highlight the myriad of options Brohm possesses.

Those will be more limited by the aforementioned two-deep, which allows the corners to play at a more comfortable spacing and positioning. UL head coach Steve Kragthorpe noted the change, saying West Virginia had many more options with its current setup than it did last season in the 44-34 loss. Those coverage disguising abilities combined with a better pass rush and the angles of rush the 3-3-5 allows should help offset Brohm's ability to read what he sees. Reacting to it, in terms of running, is a different matter. The senior isn't fleet afoot, and he struggles with any throws on the run. West Virginia's idea is to make him be more Steve Young and less Peyton Manning.

"It's a key to the game," defensive lineman Keilen Dykes said. "We are going to have to get after the quarterback and get back there and ride him, make him move his feet just a little bit. He is an NFL quarterback, so this will be a difficult test. I think as a lineman you like a guy who stays in the pocket rather than a guy you have to chase around. He moves up in the pocket when he needs to and sidesteps when he needs to. He moves some. He is very accurate."

That's easier to plan than execute, however, especially with a fine offensive front. Louisville (5-4, 2-2) will be minus former starting guard Mike Donoghue, however, who was diagnosed with congenital spinal stenosis after UL's win over Cincinnati. His spinal cord has tightened and there is no fluid in one area to protect it from further injury, so his career is over.

"That's probably going to be the toughest challenge, to get pressure," said nose tackle Chris Neild, who could work against a new right guard as UL continues to shuffle players into the vacated slot. "(Brohm) is so quick with his release. That will be everything. I think we will pressure him really well. I think he will be pressured the most he has ever been pressured. We are working on that really hard. We have top be quick at all times. It will be a challenge with him because he has seen so much. He reads everything so well. Fooling him will be tough."

If one can't do that, getting to a quarterback quickly is the nest option, especially as the Cardinals' downfield game has begun to find its rhythm again. Urrutia finally returned Oct. 27 against Pittsburgh after missing the previous three contests. Add in a third wideout threat in 6-3 Scott Long, who caught five passes for 75 yards against Cincinnati and is having a career year at 21 receptions for 308 yards, and UL has an assortment of options, something Brohm excels at exploiting. Corner Vaughn Rivers said the right-hander might have two players open on any play, but manages to make the correct read and get the ball to the one for the biggest gain. Another thing film work has discovered is that, despite all his strengths, Brohm does throw the ball on a low trajectory. He has a slight dropdown motion, sometimes to three-quarters, which will make passes more susceptible to being batted down at the line.

Combine getting pressure from a variety of angles with faster linebackers, a more solidified secondary and the potential for some batted balls, and it would appear, at least on paper, that West Virginia has a better chance to slow down the Cardinals than it did last season, when UL threw for 354 yards on a 19 of 26 effort by Brohm. Its offense did score 30 points, but the game wasn't totally won by that side. Special teams and the UL defense combined for 14 points on a punt return and Steve Slaton's fumble that was brought back for a touchdown.

"We are executing better this year and we have our confidence," said linebacker Mortty Ivy, who will be a key cog at his weakside spot. "It has carried over to games. We are doing our assignments and making adjustments on the sideline when something goes wrong. It plays a major role in stopping the big play. It's not a quick touchdown. You make the offense move the ball. It's three downs and making them drive."

Louisville will dink and dump, and be content to do that. But it's not as solid executing under those circumstances than it is simply hitting the big play. Kentucky forced much of the routes underneath, and Brohm took what was given. But, against a faster defense with better players this year, can UL do it enough times to outscore West Virginia if the Mountaineers don't self destruct – and do hit Brohm with multiple coverage packages and blitzes, mixing and matching to find that right concoction?

"We'll need some sacks," Rivers said. "But it's more than that. I think it's a bit of everything. It's getting pressure and covering well. He has not been knocked out of a game yet. I think that's big. If we get him out of the game, it's big."

Look for a varied approach early, as West Virginia does a combination of what it thinks its players can do best and what will best work against Louisville. As the game wanes into the second and third quarters, the defensive plan will emerge. Keep an eye on third downs and how many players drop versus rush. See where the blitzes are originating from, and if they are getting to Brohm. And check out the corner locations to see how they are playing. All this will add to the called coverages on each play, designed to maximize the Mountaineers' abilties and minimize what Brohm and Louisville can decipher and dissect.

It's essentially the same plan every game, but with an offense this varied and talented and WVU's game experience, this will be arguably the best pure chess match of the season, a battle of both wills and beliefs in how to win.

BlueGoldNews Top Stories