MATCHUPS AND STORYLINES
WVU "under" vs. UL wide receivers
Obviously, the matchup between West Virginia's nationally-ranked defense and the still-potent Louisville passing game will be critical, but a zoom-in to one area of that battle reveals the crucial element that will play a huge part in the outcome. That will come in the mid-range passing area, where WVU's linebackers, spur and bandit will confront the Cards' crossing routes.
Certainly, Louisville can throw the ball down the field on vertical routes. But the Cards' passing game really clicks when wideouts like Harry Douglas, Mario Urrutia and Scott Long run across the defensive coverage and catch the ball in stride. When they find the horizontal space in which to do so, UofL racks up points like few teams can. The key for West Virginia will be to close down those zones in the 10-20 yard range, and force the Cardinals to look elsewhere for their yardage.
In that attempt, WVU will try to follow the model that Connecticut unveiled. The Huskies were able to drop deeply enough to force Louisville to dump the ball off on short routes time and again. And although they were able to complete a number of those passes, the Cards never were able to rip off the huge gains that are the hallmark of their offense. UConn forced them to complete ten- or 12-play drives in order to score, and Louisville wasn't efficient enough to put together a sufficient number of those sorts of series to win the game.
For West Virginia, the key will be to get its "underneath" coverage deep enough to keep those crossing routes from being an option. Of course, the Mountaineers will need to come up and tackle efficiently when it does force the short pass, but that's a much better option than having Douglas on the run with only a safety or one corner between him and the goal line.
This matchup won't occur on every play, but when these two powerhouses do collide, the sparks should fly.
Schmitt's blocking is even more important this year to the Mountaineer rushing game, which hasn't been quite as explosive as it has been over the past two seasons. From either a spot in the backfield or from tight end, the all-purpose throwback has helped steady a sometimes struggling offensive line, and his contributions should be magnified in this game. He will be a key cog in WVU's running success, even if he never touches the ball (which almost certainly won't be the case).
Myles has ranged from very good to outstanding this year, racking up 22 tackles in the loss to Kentucky and never failing to make fewer than five stops in any one contest. He utilizes both strength and speed to get the job done, and has been one of the few players to perform consistently on defense all season, and has sparked the resurgence of the Louisville defense, which has played well in its last two outings. If he can avoid Schmitt's forays and fill holes between the tackles, West Virginia could have a tough time moving the ball consistently on the ground.
THINGS TO WATCH
West Virginia had problems on third and short yardage situations against Rutgers, which is something of a surprise given the presence of Schmitt. However, the Mountaineer offensive line hasn't excelled in blowing defenders off the ball this year, thus short yardage conversions have been more difficult that expected. WVU has resorted to keeping White in the shotgun on third and short, and counting on him to make a defender miss and pick up a couple of yards.
While that tactic has worked, it's probably not the one of choice. It exposes White to much more battering, and limits West Virginia to its choice of play calls. Look for WVU to go to the perimeter, and perhaps even toss a pass, as it tries to find ways to take the heat off White in these situations. While running wide against a defense that is charging upfield isn't the best choice on short yardage plays, perhaps a slant or swing pass might be an option.
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When you think of the Cards' passing game, you think of Douglas and Urrutia, but they are only part of the UL equation. Louisville has sixteen different players that have caught passes, and nine of those have recorded at least one score. Of course, a couple of blowout wins and injuries have allowed more players than normal to get time on the field, but those numbers still point out something to watch: every UL eligible receiver is a threat.
How will West Virginia combat that threat? Its new back end look, with more two-deep safety looks, will give UL a different challenge than what it has seen in the past from WVU, but it's certainly not anything the Cards haven't seen before. It's also been demonstrated that the best way to slow Brohm is to get pressure and force the ball out of his hands early. In doing so, however, will West Virginia open passing lanes for potential big gains? It's a game of cat and mouse that bears a lot of attention.
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The revenge/retribution factor can often be overplayed (and it certainly didn't help WVU this year against USF), but with what promises to be a wild game night scene, there's probably no way that the Mountaineers won't be fired up for this contest. There's some motivation on the other side too, as the Cardinals will be looking to show that WVU's triple overtime win two years ago was an aberration and not a sign of Big East dominance. Whatever the perspective, the team that is best able to fuel its play with those emotions could get an early advantage.