Matchups: WVU - VU

We highlight the key battles and items of interest in West Virginia's home opener against Villanova.


WVU head coach Bill Stewart vs. Expectations

The Coach Stew watch has already begun, and the man hasn't even coached a regular season game at West Virginia yet. That underscores the level of interest, as well as the achievements, of the Mountaineer program, and it will be interesting to see how the veteran assistant begins the grind of a 12 game schedule.

Of course, those expecting to see anything from Stewart different from what they saw in the Fiesta Bowl are bound to be in for a bit of a letdown. If there's anything we should all know about Stewart by this point, it's that the upbeat coach is going to be true to himself. His personality won't change no matter what the situation – he'll keep coaching and encouraging no matter what the score.

Stewart professes to not worry what most people think about him, or how he is perceived, but being the head coach is different from being an assistant. Stewart will certainly shoulder the blame whenever WVU has a poor performance, and will deflect criticism from his players. But will he be able to handle that if it piles up? West Virginia has unreasonable expectations for success this year, at least form the viewpoint of a large percentage of the fan base, which blows off the loss of players such as Steve Slaton, Keilen Dykes, Eric Wicks, Darius Reynaud and Ryan Mundy as if they were fourth-string walk-ons. If a 25-point win happens on Saturday, is that good enough for fans? And how will Stewart react to any displeasure shown?

WVU Defensive Ends vs. Villanova Offensive Line

Right off the bat, West Virginia ends Zac Cooper and Larry Ford will get a good test, as they face massive tackle Ben Ijalana (6-4, 325 lbs.) and guard Brant Clouser (6-3, 290 lbs.). Cooper, who did well as a spot pass rusher a year ago, will be out to prove that he can hold his own against the run from the defensive end spot, while Ford, who will be undersized in most matchups this year, will have to rely on speed and technique in order to get to the quarterback.

Zac Cooper
Defensive line coach Bill Kirelawich noted recently that he will rotate his defensive linemen, and sometimes switch players around according to the style of the opponent. So, in addition to Cooper and Ford, it won't be a surprise to see Julian Miller get some snaps – and even Pat Liebig could slide out for some plays as well. The defensive line has performed well in the pre-season, but there's no doubt that Kirelawich, along with several hundred thousand Mountaineer fans, will be watching to see how the rebuilt front performs – and this matchup will be one of the first tests to watch.

Keep an eye on WVU's rotations at end, and watch to see how the Mountaineers react to changing personnel and tactics from the Villanova offense. It could be a good indicator as to how Kirelawich and coordinator Jeff Casteel plan to respond throughout the year.


Of course, many eyes will be on West Virginia's revamped offense, but there will be many aspects that look the same as a year ago. One thing to keep an eye on is WVU's actions before the snap. Motion will be a part of that, but expect the Mountaineers to also conduct other pre-snap adjustments to create mismatches and get a read on how the defense reacts. Those Villanova responses will be noted, and later in the game counters to those reactions will be employed. At the game, it might be difficult to keep track of, but judicious use of tape or your digital recorder should allow you to get a basic idea of how it's employed. And after all, what else do you have to do before next week's game against East Carolina?

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Patrick White's throwing has appeared crisper this fall, and it is due to a couple of minor tweaks in his throwing motion. Watch the ball as it comes out of White's hand – the delivery is a little tighter and quicker, and the ball looks to have a little more motion – and a little more zip – on it.

Of course, making changes during practice is one thing – how they hold up in the heat of battle is another. Throwing on the run, and off rollouts, is also much different that dropping back into the pocket and delivering the ball on schedule. The key for White is to have the same motion, and the same delivery, no matter what his position when passing the ball. Obviously, the lower body is going to be in a different position on drop back passes versus rollouts, but the fundamental to watch for is the same motion and release. White worked diligently on those skills during fall camp, and it looked as if his passes were more consistent during that time. If he can keep that progression going in games, he will certainly have the chance to bolster his passing yardage, while not hurting his excellent quarterback rating, this year.

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The battle for starting positions and playing time has been most pronounced on the back end of the defense, where competition has been hot at both cornerback and safety. While it will be interesting to see which players take the field for the first defensive snaps, it will also be instructive to see which players hold down spots on the obvious passing downs. West Virginia will still employ some form of the SWAT defense that it has used on third-and-long in previous years, but the personnel for that unit hadn't been nailed down by the end of fall camp. Watch for at least three or four players to substitute in when passing situations occur. Game Scorecard
Series: WVU 4-1-0
Sat 08/30/08 3:30 PM
Morgantown, WV

Milan Puskar Stadium
Record: 0-0
USA: 8th
Last Game
Oklahoma W 48-24

<Click for Morgantown, West Virginia Forecast
Record: 0-0
FCS : 21
Last Game
Del W 16-10
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2008 Schedule
First Meeting: 1913
Last Meeting: 1977
Press Release
Season Stats
2008 Schedule

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