Matchups: West Virginia - Rutgers

A great clash of styles in the trenches, and the importance of assignment football highlight the key face-offs in the West Virginia - Rutgers game. Game Scorecard
Series: WVU 29-4-2
Sat 10/4/08 Noon
Morgantown WV

Mountaineer Field
Record: 2-2
Last Game
Marshall W 27-3

TV: Big East Local
Radio: Sirius, MSN

Record: 1-3
Last Game
Morgan St W 38-0
Rosters/ Bios
Press Release
Season Stats
2008 Schedule
First Meeting: 1916
Last Meeting: 2007
Press Release
Season Stats
2008 Schedule

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WVU defensive end Scooter Berry vs. RU tackle Anthony Davis

In the trenches, there's no more compelling matchup this week than the savvy Berry versus the mountainous Davis. The fact that both are still sophomores, yet are the best players in their respective units, lends additional spice to the confrontation.

Berry, generously listed at 285 pounds, will still yield at least 40 (and probably more like 60) pounds to Davis, who was one of the top-recruited offensive linemen in the country. Berry, however, has shown that recruiting rankings aren't the be-all and end-all predictors of collegiate success. Blending a combination of quickness, solid technique and old-fashioned toughness, Berry has become a stabilizing force for WVU up front. He has a variety of moves and weapons he can deploy depending on the strengths of his foe.

Davis, of course, uses overwhelming strength and size as his primary weapons. However, he does move his feet well for a player of his size, and foes can't simply run around him to get into the Rutgers backfield.

In this battle, Davis will be looking to lock up Berry and keep him from using his mobility. In the parlance of the line, Davis tries to "swallow" foes by locking them down with an initial block, then getting close and engulfing them with his huge frame. Berry will have to counteract this by keeping Davis from locking on to his shoulders with the initial block, and by making moves to keep Davis from bringing his superior weight to bear. This is a fascinating matchup of different styles that should be very entertaining to watch.

WVU running back Noel Devine vs. RU linebackers

Of course, Rutgers linebackers will be aware of Devine, and focused on containing West Virginia's dipping, darting runner. It's the methods they will need to employ, however, that make this battle a good one to watch.

Noel Devine
For fans of a defense trying to slow a star performer, the answer is a simple one. "Key" on that guy, and don't let him run free. Assign a "rover" to follow him all over the field. However, like most such simple solutions, those sorts of answers aren't effective. Dedicating a defender to a particular player can open holes that other players can exploit. And in West Virginia's case, with what amounts to another running back in the backfield in the form of Patrick White (and now Jarrett Brown), teams can't afford to do that.

What defenders, and specifically in this case, Rutgers' linebackers, must do is be disciplined. And that's tough against a runner like Devine, who moves like a jackrabbit on the open prairie. But in order to limit Devine's long runs, linebackers must cover their assigned gaps, especially those on the back side of the play. They must resist the urge to head straight for Devine on sweeps and stretch plays, and instead get there via their assigned routes. If they can do that, they have a much greater chance of success.

For Devine's part, he too must have patience. Success on stretch plays often isn't about beating defenders to the corner. It's about staying under control, allowing blocks to develop, them picking a lane in which to cut upfield for yardage. That goes against a back's natural inclination to run as fast as he can all the time, but it's one that, when mastered, yields the greatest number of yards. Of course, coaches don't want to limit Devine's natural ability, which can sometimes make plays out of nothing, as he twice did against Marshall last week. However, against much stouter defenses to come, Devine must continue to work on his reads and patience. If he masters that, the sky is the limit.


Everyone knows that West Virginia's kickoff coverage has been inconsistent at best, and that it received extra attention this week. But what changes were implemented? There are only so many coverage tactics that can be employed. Players can be crossed early in the run down to try to confuse opposing blocking assignments, and of course the kick placement can be varied as well. However, in the end, staying in lanes, getting off blocks and tackling crisply are the keys to great kick coverage. WVU showed it had the ability to do that against Colorado, and it just as clearly showed that it isn't immune to sloppiness when it faced the Herd.

Watch WVU's kick team as it runs down the field – not the ball – on kickoffs. Are the players staying in their lanes? Are they getting off the initial blocks around the 30-yard line, or are some getting tied up, creating gaps in the coverage? Marshall used two double team blocks at the point of the runback, which should have left a couple of Mountaineers unblocked, but those players were unable to get to the ball. Are players that avoid contact getting downfield quickly enough? All these things play into good coverage, and breakdowns in any one area are enough to yield a long return.

* * *

During the Ray Rice era, Rutgers quite rightly used the run to set up the pass. Pound, pound, pound Rice, then play action and hit a wide receiver that often was running free through a depleted secondary. With that option gone, might the Scarlet Knights not move in the opposite direction, and use the pass to set up the run?

That's a difficult concept for some purists to accept, but just because it hasn't been around to garner the hoary rime of time doesn't mean that it can't work. Rutgers has the weapons to do so, and even if, as some suspect, that wide receivers Tiquan Underwood and Kenny Britt benefited mightily from Rice's presence, there's still no doubt that they are excellent receivers.

Would it be a surprise to see Rutgers, despite Mike Teel's early season woes, to come out throwing the ball? A 50-50 or higher split on the Scarlet Knights' first couple of possessions might provide them with just the spark they are looking for. While West Virginia's initial defensive focus is always on stopping the run (and correctly so), the Mountaineers might expect that Rutgers will test their still young secondary. Robert Sands and Brandon Hogan has good games against the Herd, but they are still babes in the woods compared to the major players in Rutgers' passing offense.

* * *

If Reed Williams can't go at linebacker, how will the Mountaineers fill his spot? There are two primary options, each with its own positives and negatives.

The first option is to move Mortty Ivy to the middle and replace Ivy's vacated spot with John Holmes. The thinking here is that it gets West Virginia's most experienced remaining backers on the field, and that's thinking is not misguided. WVU, and many other coaching staffs, follow this precedent routinely. For example, an injury or break on the offensive line can result in multiple positions being shuffled in order to allow the "next best" lineman to get on the field. In a way, WVU is also doing the same thing at quarterback, albeit not in response to injury. Jarrett Brown is one of WVU's best playmakers, so the coaching staff found a way to get him on the field.

The other option, putting either Anthony Leonard or Pat Lazear or Najee Goode into the mike spot, also has weight behind it. By leaving Ivy at his strongside spot, there's less disruption in the continuity of the defense. Ivy is a tremendous player who could play any of the linebacking positions, but there's not doubt that he's most comfortable at the spot he has practiced the most over the past year. And while "comfort" is a generic description, it does result in quicker reaction times and a more free-flowing style of play. Moving back and forth to different spots can be unsettling, no matter how good the player.

So, if Williams is out, which way does WVU go? It's a matter of balancing and trying to guess which approach is less disruptive to the defensive continuity that the Mountaineers have been building this year. There's no magic eight ball on this one. The coaching staff has to make their best estimation, then go with it. Keep an eye on the numbers at the linebacker spots, and how that rotation goes throughout the game.

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