WVU - Syracuse Matchups

While some aspects of WVU's offense and Syracuse's defense aren't setting the world on fire, they do offer some key battles that should have a big effect on this week's game.


WVU wide receiver Miquelle Henderson vs. Syracuse cornerback Latroy Oliver

After a quick start, Henderson has gained only 46 yards on 11 receptions in the last three games. That could change on Saturday, as West Virginia figures to try to get the ball downfield against Oliver, who stands only 5-7. (That a program would admit a defensive back is that short says something about Syracuse's honesty in giving out heights and weights. Or maybe he's even shorter, and 5-7 is as much as they feel they can get away with.)

Rutgers never tried to exploit their height advantage at wide receiver against West Virginia last week. Hopefully WVU won't do the same and miss what could be an opportunity to jumpstart the passing game with a big play.

Oliver was suspended for last week's game against Temple, but is expected to play against WVU.

WVU guards Jeff Berk and Ken Sandor vs. Syracuse defensive tackle Louis Gachelin

OK, so it's almost becoming trite now to say that controlling the interior linemen is the key to the running game. But this week's matchup of West Virginia's interior line against the outstanding Gachelin is too good to pass over.

Gachelin excels at eating up blockers to keep middle linebacker Clifton Smith free to roam. But don't get the idea that he's merely a placeholder. The talented junior has 25 tackles of his own this year, including eight behind the line of scrimmage, and five sacks. He's a penetrator and a disruptor, and much of his work directly reflects on the number of tackles that Smith makes.

As the play starts, watch Gachelin, and see how much penetration he's able to achieve, and whether WVU is able to control him. That will be the first indicator as to how successful the West Virginia running attack will be.

WVU defensive ends Kevin Freeman and David Upchurch vs. Syracuse quarterback R. J. Anderson

Freeman, who has quietly played very well this season, and Upchurch will be faced with a difficult task this week. They must try to keep Anderson in the pocket, sometimes while rushing with only one teammate.

David Upchurch
WVU has picked up the frequency of bringing an additional linebacker or safety up to the line for rush purposes, but with a mobile QB like Anderson, the pressure will still be on the Mountaineer ends to keep him in the pocket.

The West Virginia defense has been very good against the run this year, but defending against a scrambling QB is different than stopping the isolation or a toss sweep.

WVU didn't allow Wisconsin quarterback Brooks Bollinger much running room, but that came at the expense of letting him stand freely in the pocket for five, six and even seven seconds against a three man rush. The Mountaineers must figure out a way to keep the pressure on Anderson without allowing him too many creases to run in.


Syracuse's Jamel Riddle isn't listed as a primary matchup, mostly because he's been mentioned in our other previews. That doesn't mean he can be overlooked. He's speedy, small and shifty -- just the type of kick returner that has given WVU problems over the past two years.

WVU should not give Riddle a chance to ignite the Orangemen's offense. Kick it out of bounds.

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Another thing to keep an eye on is West Virginia's wide receiver and defensive back rotation. The coaching staff is obviously not yet comfortable with the receivers, spurs and bandits, because players seem to pop in and out of the lineup on a weekly basis.

For example, last week at Rutgers, Mike Lorello got a great deal of time, when he hardly saw the field in the previous couple of weeks. Ditto for Jermaine Thaxton, who lost his starting job, but ended up splitting time with Angel Estrada against the Knights. And Lawrence Audena, after making a bit of a splash in fall camp, ahs been relegated mostly to special teams duty.

WVU has been making some situational substitutions, like bringing linebacker Scott Gyorko in on passing situations, but some of these moves appear to change from game to game.

Watch the starting lineup on Saturday, and don't be surprised if there's yet another change or two in evidence.

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