Matchups: West Virginia - East Carolina

West Virginia laid down a new set of rules for its offense against Villanova, but will foes such as East Carolina be swayed by one week's worth of results?






BlueGoldNews.com Game Scorecard
Series: WVU 17-2
Sat 09/06/08 4:30 PM
Greenville, NC

Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium
Record: 1-0
USA: 8th
Last Game
Villanova W 48-21

Click for Greenville, North Carolina Forecast
Record: 1-0
USA: 28
Last Game
VaTech W 27-22
Rosters/ Bios
Press Release
Season Stats
2008 Schedule
First Meeting: 1970
Last Meeting: 2008
Rosters/Bios
Press Release
Season Stats
2008 Schedule

MATCHUPS AND STORYLINES

WVU Offensive Scheme vs. ECU Defensive Alignment

Anyone who thinks that the Pirates are going to be backing out of the box and changing up their defensive scheme in light of WVU's five touchdown passes against Villanova is in for a rude awakening. Despite showing respect for West Virginia's passing prowess against the Wildcats, East Carolina's defensive coaches have to be thinking, "We're not ‘Nova." They are, of course, correct.

That's not to say that the prospects for West Virginia's offense aren't good. They are. In fact, they are great. The willingness to "hit ‘em where they ain't" to steal a baseball metaphor, was a refreshing sight in WVU's win over the Wildcats. Sure, West Virginia could have run the ball 45 times, broken a couple of big gains and won the game, but that wouldn't have served nearly the purpose, nor set up nearly the benefits, that the passing attack did.

In today's microwave world, many want instant results. Three minutes for a bag of popcorn even seems to long. But that's not the way it works here – at least in this situation. West Virginia will have to prove, several times over, that it's able to throw, move the ball and score before defenses get out of the box against White, Sanders, Devine and company.

West Virginia's coaches haven't addressed that, of course. They'd far rather that foes back off and give the running game some room to operate. However, it's probably not going to happen, at least until the Mountaineers put up 250 passing yards against better-known foes.

Expect the Pirates to again deploy their defense close to the line, and also a bit wider down the line. In doing so in past years, ECU was able to close cutback lanes in WVU's running game, keep big gains off the board and force the Mountaineers to string together 10 and 12 play drives. If they do that again, West Virginia could find some inside passing lanes open, and be able to exploit them with slants and hot passes to slot receivers and tight ends. But until they do, and put up several scores, don't expect the Pirates to back out.


WVU Defensive Line vs. ECU running game

Unlike a season ago, when the majority of ECU's carries went to Chris Johnson, the Pirate rushing attack will be split over several players. That's not the basis of this matchup, however.



Scooter Berry
The battle that intrigues is whether the Pirates, with a big back in Brandon Simmons and similarly sturdy complements in Jonathan Williams, Norman Whitley and J.R. Rogers, will attempt to run right at WVU's defense. It's become axiomatic that foes don't try to run around West Virginia's fast-pursuing defenders, so just like the Mountaineers and other teams game planned against Miami's speedy defense during the Hurricanes' heyday.

This tactic might not lead to huge gains, but it can yield a ball-control situation, much as Villanova engineered a week ago. A steady diet of three and four-yard runs may not be electric, but it is an ideal method of keeping WVU's offense off the field. The key, of course, is to finish drives and score. That was the capstone that Villanova failed to produce consistently, and which allowed West Virginia to pull away for a comfortable win.

Keep an eye on ECU's early runs. Are they going inside? Are they trapping and using counters to try to get WVU's defensive linemen moving in the wrong direction? Are they favoring one side of the field, or a certain hole? (Center Sean Allen and right guard Doug Palmer are obvious candidates to run behind.)

While obviously not bearing sole responsibility for slowing the rushing attack, WVU's defensive line must be more consistent in executing its assignments, and also needs to produce a few negative plays in the run game. While sacks are important, so too are those situations where a lineman beats a block, roars into the backfield and dumps a rusher for a loss of three or four yards. Record two or three of those, and offensive drives can be disrupted.


THINGS TO WATCH

Special teams – specifically coverage teams – could have a big impact on the game. Putting aside the weather implications for the moment, the battle of ECU's kickoff return squad and WVU's coverage team will allow one to remove some of the disappointment from its game one performance. The Pirates averaged just 11.5 yards per kickoff return, with two going for six and minus two yards, while WVU yielded 24.8 yards per runback. That's not awful, but it still far below the goals set by head coach Bill Stewart for his coverage squad.

WVU must be more aggressive in getting off blocks and striking the return man in order to shore up its coverage performance. Against Villanova, there seemed to be a bit too much dancing with blockers and reaching on tackle attempts – both of which can result in a long return.

* * *

Another item to watch in this game is tackling in the open field – part of the "playing in space" factor that coaches refer to often. Tracking this is fairly simple – how often are one-on-one tackles made, especially on the perimeter or in open ground? West Virginia was merely average in this play phase last week, while East Carolina range from very good to great against Virginia Tech. Of course, there are times when slippery ballcarriers are going to make defenders miss, so expecting to make the tackle every time is unrealistic. However, making the majority of those plays limits extra yardage and is another key factor in getting the defense off the field. Which team will be more efficient?

* * *

Most of the attention on the weather for the game has focused on possible change of venues or playing date. Now it's time, as it appears that the game could be played under downpour conditions, to figure out which team bad weather favors.

East Carolina has the ability to load up and go with a big back and a power rushing game, and against WVU's lighter defensive front, could have an advantage. Conversely, the advantage of knowing where you're going, and being able to set up your cuts, can be an advantage to a passing team. It's still difficult to put West Virginia in that category, thought, and it would have to show it's able to throw and catch the ball not only in rain, but also in what promises to be very windy conditions.

Also, simply dunking a bunch of footballs in water buckets before each play doesn't really simulate the difficulties of playing in the rain and wind. Players are wet all over, which poses a different challenge in securing the ball, blocking and tackling. Blowing rain can affect vision, while wind gusts can make passes, punts and kickoffs problematic.

Put all those factors together, and it looks like an edge for the Pirates.


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