Matchups: West Virginia - Connecticut

Battles in the trenches and on special teams highlight our matchups in the Connecticut - West Virginia game. Game Scorecard
Series: WVU 3-0-0
Sat 11/24/07 3:30 PM
Morgantown, WV

Milan Puskar Stadium
Record: 9-1
BCS: 3rd
Last Game
Rutgers W 31-3

Click for Piscataway, New Jersey Forecast
Record: 9-2
BCS : 20th
Last Game
Syracuse W 30-7
Rosters/ Bios
Press Release
Season Stats
2007 Schedule
First Meeting: 2004
Last Meeting: 2006
Press Release
Season Stats
2007 Schedule


WVU center Mike Dent vs. UConn linebacker Danny Lansanah

While Dent's first focus is on good exchanges and on-target shotgun snaps, he will also often be tasked with making a second level block on Lansanah, an active linebacker who routinely beats his opponents with speed and smarts.

In West Virginia's zone blocking schemes, combination blocks are a staple of the attack. Initial double teams on a defensive lineman morph into a second block on a linebacker by one of the offensive linemen, who slide off the initial block to impede a second level defender. When the tactic is executed well, running backs that can set up the blocks and make good reads are rewarded with good running lanes. In this contest, especially on the interior, that won't be an easy chore.

Lansanah doesn't have blazing speed – he's simply a football player that executes his assignments well. He's also one of those players that have great instincts – he typically gets a jump on plays and is moving in the right direction before everyone else. Whether that's called "a nose for the football" or "football sense", he has it, and it makes him a very difficult player to block.

In order to be effective, Dent will have to be very proficient in his reads. He will have to get off the initial block at exactly the right time, and then get into position in order to slow Lansanah's rush for the ball. One thing that might help Dent in this regard is UConn's 4-3 defensive front – he won't be dealing with a nose guard that blasts him on every play. Having that bit of space to get the snap away and move before contact comes could be an important factor in the contest.

WVU kicker Pat McAfee vs. UConn return specialist Larry Taylor

McAfee had a big role in West Virginia's win over Cincinnati, but the Mountaineers will need another performance on that level in order to help keep Taylor under control.

Pat McAfee
Of course, keeping a return man in check isn't the sole responsibility of the kicker or punter, but without good play from that position, getting good coverage downfield and in position can become an impossible chore. It's up to McAfee to execute the called kicks and help put his coverage teams in the right position to make tackles – otherwise Taylor could romp up and down the field against the Mountaineers.

On punts, McAfee will likely mix up his kicks, employing both the roll and conventional punt styles. Placement will also be a key, as McAfee will try to drop his kicks between the sidelines and the numbers, in order to narrow the field and allow the coverage team to pin Taylor against the sideline and keep him from employing his darting moves in the open field. He could also use the crossover, which WVU hasn't employed much this year, and roll right before kicking the ball back across the field. This is a difficult technique to execute, but it could help keep Taylor off guard.

On kickoffs, McAfee will have to contend not only with Taylor but also with Tyvon Branch, who has run back two kicks for scores this year. West Virginia has struggled in kickoff coverage this year, and has yielded far too much yardage for the liking of the Mountaineer coaching staff. A move away from the sky kick to more conventional boots has been seen as the season has progressed, but while marginal improvement in the coverage has been made, WVU is still searching for better, more consistent coverage after scoring. Taylor and Branch will present a difficult challenge for West Virginia's kickoff coverage squad, which can't allow the Huskies to score or consistently give its offense good field position.

If that statement sounds overblown, consider this: In games when Taylor has played from start to finish, the Huskies are 26-9. When Taylor does not play throughout, UConn is 1-10.


Penalties could play a major role in field position, and thus in the game. West Virginia started off the season committing very few penalties, but has since increased their infractions to the point where they are having an impact on the game. A costly holding call killed one WVU drive against Cincinnati, and other ill-timed flags have also put dents in the Mountaineer attack. WVU has now committed 57 infractions for 521 yards—just one less marker than the total suffered by UConn. Although those numbers are still near the top of the league, they are having a negative effect, especially on the West Virginia offense. Keep an eye on those yellow flags – the team that draws fewer in this game will obviously get help in the battle for field position.

* * *

It continues to draw less notice than it deserves, but West Virginia's stifling of opposing running backs is one of the big reasons for the team's success. When foes can't run the ball, there is a psychological effect as well as the on-the-field one: the thought can begin to crop up that the team which can't run isn't as tough as the other. And while that team might be able to move the ball via the pass, or with a couple of quarterback scrambles, the thought still remains that it can't tough it out when it needs to. That was certainly on display in WVU's last two games, when both Louisville and Cincinnati threw in the towel on its running game. When the Cardinals and Bearcats needed to be able to run the ball late, they couldn't do it.

So, it will be interesting to see if UConn sticks to its mostly balanced offensive attack – or if it can. In this game, perhaps more than any other this year other than Mississippi State, shutting down the run will be of great importance. If the Mountaineers can hold UConn under 100 rushing yards, it will tip the scales strongly in WVU's favor.

* * *

The "Game of the Century" storyline is getting to be old hat for this year's edition of the Mountaineers, and for once WVU fans are getting to see how life is as a Soc instead of a Greaser. (For those missing that reference, click here.) When your team is living life in the top ten on a consistent basis, each game with contenders for the conference title becomes a huge one for the challenger. It's the reverse of the situation that many Mountaineer fans in the 1970s and early 80s grew up with, when big games with Pitt or Penn State were just another contest with the Pennsylvania baddies. Now that the situation is reversed, it's interesting to see it from the opposite perspective.

What does all this mean for Saturday's game? WVU has been through three or four of these contests this year. The pressure to win and secure the Big East's BCS bid will be present, but West Virginia has been through it and handled it – not only this year, but for the past couple of years. Connecticut, on the other hand, came up woefully short it its first attempt against Cincinnati, and now faces another road trip into another hostile environment. That doesn't mean the Huskies are going to fold – but they will certainly have to show they learned a lot of lessons over the past couple of weeks if they hope to snare their first league title.

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