Matchups: West Virginia - Colorado

Special teams are always important, but perhaps never more than in the WVU - Colorado game, where a faceoff between two special teams stars could tell the difference in the contest. Game Scorecard
Series: First Meeting
Thu 09/18/08 8:30 PM
Boulder, CO

Folsom Field
Record: 1-1
USA: 24th
Last Game
ECU L 3-24

Radio: Sirius, MSN

Record: 2-0
USA: 40th
Last Game
E Wash W 31-24
Rosters/ Bios
Press Release
Season Stats
2008 Schedule
First Meeting: 2008
Last Meeting: - - -
Press Release
Season Stats
2008 Schedule

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WVU kicker Pat McAfee vs. CU returner Josh Smith

Smith is a dangerous return man in both punt and kickoff situations, and the Mountaineers will have to be very disciplined in its coverage execution in order to keep Smith contained. However, one of the keys to keeping Smith under wraps is McAfee, who can help his coverage teams greatly with the placement of his kicks.

On punts, McAfee has been excellent this year in kicking the ball high to allow his cover team to get downfield, and his placement, if anything, has been even better. McAfee routinely confounds opposing returners by kicking the ball away from them or placing long bombs between the numbers and the sideline, thus limiting chances for returns. In fact, McAfee has booted seven punts this year for an average of 44.3 yards per kick, but has yet to yield a single return yard to opposing returners. He will have to do that consistently to help keep Smith bottled up, as the CU star has racked up an outstanding average of 19 yards per punt return this year.

Perhaps the bigger area of concern is kickoffs, where Smith has already run back one boot for a score and is averaging 50 yards per return on four tries this year. Kickoff coverage is the shakiest of all of WVU's special teams, and Smith is poised to exploit any cracks in the coverage. West Virginia's best hope here is for McAfee to simply boom the ball into the end zone in the thin Rocky Mountain air, but there's no guarantee that's going to happen on every boot. Bill Stewart has not employed the sky kick this year, and it seems he is determined to let McAfee kick the ball away. However, there will be a collective holding of breath on those kicks that Smith gets the chance to return, as this might be on of the Buffs biggest advantages in the contest.

WVU interior offensive line vs. CU middle linebacker Jeff Smart

If West Virginia does return to its rushing roots against the Buffaloes, it will have to contend with a veteran linebacking corps led by an outstanding performer in the middle.

Greg Isdaner
If that sounds like East Carolina, it should. The only thing is, the Buffs may be better at linebacker. Smart lives up to his name, playing an intelligent game backed by crisp execution. He leads the team in tackles, as any middle linebacker in a 4-3 defense is expected to do, but he also provides solid leadership to a group of veterans around him. Smart isn't likely to be fooled by any tricks WVU could unleash, so it figures to come down to the physical battle between WVU's linemen, particularly the inside three, and the senior playmaker.

West Virginia must simply get back to executing its base plays better. The Mountaineers' timing and physicality in run blocking were both sorely lacking against the Pirates, and there's not much doubt that the O-Line's resolve to show that game was an aberration will be a key motivator in this contest. However, Smart and his teammates aren't going to lie down just because WVU wants to play better. Mike Dent, Greg Isdaner and Jake Figner will have to make the right reads and get to the second level of defenders at just the right time in order to make the West Virginia offense go, and that won't be easy. Surrounding the senior Smart are four upperclassmen, all of whom have the experience and ability to stave off blocks and shut down opposing running games.


In close contests, penalty yardage can be a key, and this is one place where West Virginia looks to have a bit of an edge. The Mountaineers are averaging just 4.5 flags and 38 yards per game in walk-offs, while the Buffs have been flagged 18 times for 128 yards in two games. While a handful of penalties are to be expected from a team that is expending maximum effort, it figures to be the team that plays with the most poise, and avoid the silly fouls, that could gain a key edge in this contest. West Virginia committed a key personal foul against East Carolina when it was set to back the Pirates up deep in their own territory, but failed to keep its composure and lost 15 valuable yards. Those sorts of mistakes can't be repeated on the road again.

* * *

Who to get the ball to if you're WVU? All of the focus since the ECU game has been on getting Noel Devine more touches, and there's certainly nothing wrong with that. However, if West Virginia truly wants to get defenses spread out and guessing, then it needs to include Jock Sanders in that mix as well.

The means to do so is there. From his slot position, Sanders can not only catch swing passes, but can also get into the interior of the opposing defense with quick slant and hot routes. Although there hasn't been much evidence of this in WVU's first two games, there is no doubt that the Mountaineers have such attack vectors in their arsenal. Sanders needs to get the ball in the passing game, and not just on horizontal screens. He needs at least a couple of chances on reverses or ends around, and it certainly would not hurt to put him in the backfield with Devine on occasion.

Obviously, all of this is based on West Virginia's ability to create some first downs and build drives. If the Mountaineers are held under 60 plays again, it's going to be nearly impossible to give White, Devine and Sanders all the chances they need to get into the flow of the game and break a long run or two. If there's one stat to keep in this game, offensive plays, and the number of carries/chances for these three players, would be it. The total should be at least 60 for the Mountaineers' version of the triplets.

* * *

West Virginia's players and coaches have been stating their intentions clearly this week – the Mountaineers need to get back to the running game that has served them so well over the past few years. Against a Colorado defense that is stout against the run, but weak against the pass, an interesting conflict is thus set. There's no doubt that WVU needs to get its running game untracked. And Colorado, while allowing just 59 rushing yards per game this year, hasn't exactly faced the greatest runners in the country in its first two games. But WVU can't, and shouldn't, ignore the pass either. Like West Virginia, the Buffs have yielded a lot of yardage through the air, and that appears to be where the most holes on the defense lie. So, which way will West Virginia attack first? The first two or three possessions of the game for WVU should give a clear indication as to just how much change, or "Back to the Future" there is in the Mountaineer game plan.

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