Heading into last weekend's game against Marshall, many observers wondered aloud if West Virginia's youthful secondary could match up with and ultimately contain the talented pass-catching duo of wide receiver Darius Passmore and tight end Cody Slate.
In the 27-3 pounding of the Thundering Herd, the Mountaineer defense held Passmore (the nation's leading receiver entering the game) and Slate to a combined 79 yards. And their reward for passing that test? An even bigger challenge this week from a duo more dangerous than Marshall's.
While Rutgers has struggled to a 1-3 start without the services of departed 2,000-yard rusher Ray Rice, wide receivers Kenny Britt and Tiquan Underwood are hardly responsible for the early-season woes.
One year ago, the duo accumulated 127 catches for 2,332 yards and 15 touchdowns. Through the first four games of 2008, Britt and Underwood have 34 combined catches for 417 yards. While the numbers may be down slightly from one year ago, the threat they bring to the table is certainly alive and well.
And therein lies the challenge for West Virginia's secondary this week.
"It comes down to if you double one, what are you doing on the other side? They do so much," said WVU defensive backs coach David Lockwood. "Anytime they line up, somebody is moving. They probably do that so that you can't match up on them. There are times when all three wideouts come out and they might be in the backfield, then they shift to one side and the other side.
"When they're on separate sides, it isn't so bad, but when they're on the same side it becomes a little bit more challenging," he added. "You've got to come up with something to deal with that."
Underwood, a senior, has the potential to break open games with his big-play ability. As a junior, Underwood got off to a blazing start by hauling in 21 consecutive catches which resulted in either a first down or a touchdown. Against West Virginia, he had seven catches for 59 yards, both game-highs.
Britt, meanwhile, made a big impact against the Mountaineers two seasons ago as a true freshman, catching 10 passes for 138 yards in West Virginia's triple-overtime victory in the season finale at Milan Puskar Stadium.
Perhaps the biggest problem posed by Britt is his combination of size (6-4, 215 pounds) and speed.
"That's the challenging thing with Britt. He's bigger than your normal wideout, but maybe a little bit smaller than your average tight end. He's closer to a tight end size-wise than he is a wide receiver, but he runs like a wideout. Match-up wise, it creates huge problems."
Despite the obvious and well-documented talents of Britt, Underwood and the rest of RU's pass-catchers, don't expect West Virginia's veteran defensive coaching staff to reinvent the wheel just for the sake of doing so. In the past seven quarters of football, the Mountaineer secondary has buckled down big time. On Saturday, they must do so again in hopes of slowing down the big-play potential of RU.
"Its the same deal. We've simply got to line up and play football no matter who the opponent is. It's a situation where we might have a wrinkle here, or a wrinkle there for some of the things they do, but the bottom line is lining up and playing football."