WVU spur Jermaine Thaxton vs. tight end Kellen Winslow
It's no surprise to most to find that the ultratalented tight end is the son of NFL great Kellen Winslow. It might be a surpise to see that he's leading the 'Canes in receptions and is second in receiving yards.
From his tight end position, Winslow takes advantage of the attention paid to Miami's excellent outside receivers. He gets into seams, settles in dead spots, and hits vacated areas to grab passes from Ken Dorsey.
WVU must, we repeat, must, keep Winslow from getting free. The Mountaineer defense, which chooses to give up the short pass, must keep Winslow from getting behind the linebacker/spur/bandit level of the pass defense. They must keep him out of the middle of the field, and force him to the sideline.
That's a big order. Winslow hasn't missed a beat in replacing the Canes' last uber-tight end, Jeremy Shockey. If WVU can't contain him, though, they have little hope of slowing the other weapons in Miami's offense.
WVU Quarterback Rasheed Marshall vs. Miami's strong safeties
We don't name a specific strong safety, because this position is in doubt for the Hurricanes. Starter Maurice Sikes won't start for disciplinary reasons, but he could be in there early if backups Marcus Maxey or Greg Threat, both freshmen, falter.
In the passing game, Rasheed needs to work the short and intermediate routes where the strong safety often lurks. WVU's passing game must be effective, and throwing to the tight ends and backs might be the best way to negate Miami's pass rush and speedy pursuit.
Perhaps more importantly, though, Rasheed will be matched up against the safety at times in the running game. On WVU's bootleg series of plays, there will be one or two times when Rasheed and the safety will be one on one on the corner. If Rasheed can get by him, a big play will result -- and that's something WVU will have to break in order to stay in the game.
WVU linebacker Grant Wiley vs. Miami running back Willis McGahee
If you'll pardon the pun, we often take Wiley for granted. Wiley is one of several great players on the Mountaineer team who perform at a consistently high level. We grow accustomed to that level of play, and the end result is that guys like Wiley, David Upchuch, et al, don't get the notice they deserve.
This week, Wiley will face the double challenge of closing off the corner against Miami's strong, speedy back while also battling another hamstring problem.
Hamstring injuries obviously affect running ability, but they can also have an impact on tackling. Good tacklers fire through the ball carrier with hip and leg drive, but that can be tough to achieve with an injured hamstring, which limits just about any stretching motion you put on the upper leg.
Will Wiley still be effective enough to get to the corner and make plays? We know it won't be for lack of effort, as his play last year while battling a similar injury in his other leg attests.
We've become accustomed to Wiley making great performances seem routine. He has to have another one to give his team a chance this week.
THINGS TO WATCH
Miami's simplicity is a thing of beauty for the football purist to see. Give the Hurricanes credit for intelligence as well as athletic ability. They don't try to fool you. They line up in base pro set offenses (with the occasional extra receiver or two thrown in), and execute fundamental football.
They run isolation. They power sweep. They play-action. When you get frustrated and blitz them, they slip in a screen or a backside draw.
Many coaches would be tempted, with so much talent, to be fancy and run a lot of different schems and sets. Not so the Hurricane coaching staff. They keep it simple, and make it a matchup game. Most of the time, that's good enough to win.
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West Virginia will likely try to emulate the rushing success other teams have had by running right at the Hurricane defensive front. The theory in that strategy is that it negates some of Miami's speed.
The Mountaineers, players and coaches alike, need to be patient and keep pounding away at Miami inside. There are likely to be several plays that don't gain much, but it's not likely that WVU will be able to run around the Cane defense.
The reverse and bootleg plays are another thing to watch for. These types of plays are designed to use Miami's speed against them. If WVU can get the Cane defense to flow the wrong way, Rasheed or a wide receiver might be able to get one or two of the big plays we talked about in the matchups section above.
None of this is earthshaking news, however. Every team attacks Miami this way, and so far every one has come up on the short end of the scoreboard. There's no magic elixir for beating Miami. You simply have to play great and make a couple of breaks for yourself.
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WVU's pass defense will likely be as conservative as you'll see it all year. Expect a variety of two deep and possibly even three deep zones to try to keep Miami receivers catching the ball underneath the coverage.
The Hurricanes' average scoring drive is under two minutes this year, which is an amazing stat. WVU will try to slow down their offensive assault by giving up the short routes and forcing Miami to make lengthy drives.
Again, this is no panacea. The Hurricanes are perfectly capable of reeling off a twelve or fifteen play drive. Or two. Or four. But given the alternative, (score by the quick strike), we're sure that WVU would prefer the former.
WVU will give yardage up this week. Miami will complete a number of short passes. The key will be for WVU to limit the long ones.
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