Thu 10/23/08 7:30 PM
Syracuse W 17-6
Radio: Sirius, MSN
Arkansas L 22-25
Last Meeting: ----
WVU - Pat Liebig (Head) Probable, Jarrett Brown (Shoulder) Questionable, Jim Lewis (Foot) Out
AU - Tray Blackmon (Unspecified) Probable, Chaz Ramsey (Unspecified) Out, Aairon Savage (Unspecified) Out, Jerraud Powers (Hamstring) Questionable
WVU offense vs. Auburn defense
The obvious strength of the Tiger team is their defense, which is one of the best in the country. Auburn is extremely fast from sideline to sideline, and the Tigers do a great job of getting after the quarterback. They also do a good job of creating turnovers and have the ability to win a game all on their own. West Virginia will be hard-pressed to run around Auburn defenders, and without a power running game, faces a difficult task in getting a ground game going.
The star of the line is defensive tackle Sen'Derrick Marks who will probably be used on the inside level at the next level where he's projected to be a top ten pick. MArks, who played defensive end last year, is extremely athletic and a very good interior pass rusher. He's also nasty against the run, and causes opposing offensive lines all sorts of problems. Marks currently has two sacks and nine tackles for a loss.
Also playing well this year on the defensive line is Antonio Coleman. Coleman is coming off a scary cervical sprain in the spring but has returned with a vengeance. The 6-2, 250-pounder is the team's best pass rusher, and so far this season has recorded a team leading five sacks and nine tackles for a loss. Coleman will be difficult to handle in the passing game for WVU and will likely be in the face of Pat White for much of the game. Teamed with Marks, they form a dynamic tandem that is difficult to account for.
The linebacking corps for the Tigers is loaded with speed and athleticism. So far this season, middle linebacker Josh Byrnes is leading the unit in tackles with 31. At 6-2 and 234 pounds, the sophomore is the biggest linebacker in the mix and could be used for his size from time to time. Byrnes is an aggressive hitter who paces a similarly-constructed linebacking group that does a great job of cleaning up behind the front line.
Leading the outside linebackers in tackles is Merrill Johnson. Johsnon is a talented veteran who made 19 tackles in a spot-starter role last season. He's a reliable hitter, and while not big at six feet and 204 pounds,is very fast and quick and has shown a knack for finding the ball this season. So far this season Johnson has racked up 30 total tackles.
In the secondary, 5-9, 188-pound junior Jerraud Powers built on a strong freshman season with a tremendous sophomore campaign finishing fourth on the team with 63 tackles to go along with a team-leading four interceptions and four tackles for loss. He did a little of everything as a lockdown corner who started every game in 2007. Now he's on the verge of being an all-star with the reputation to match. Thus far he has picked up where he left off, leading the team with two interceptions this season.
The emergence of sophomore Mike McNeil at free safety has bolstered the Auburn secondary. At 6-2 and 201 pounds, last year's top recruit was too good to keep off the field Mostly a special teamer last season, he'll grow into an All-SEC star as a regular in the secondary very soon.
This Auburn defense is fast to the ball and can make plays from sideline to sideline with their excellent team speed. This will be, by far, the best defense West Virginia has faced all year long. Given the recent struggles of the Mountaineer offense, this could be a long night for that group. Aside from being quick, this defense also likes to hit hard so it will interesting to see how West Virginia responds to this challenge.
By The Numbers
WVU Scoring Offense 22.2 ppg, Rushing Offense 224.8 ypg, Passing Offense 117.3 ypg
Auburn Scoring Defense 13.1 ppg, Rushing Defense 107.9 ypg, Passing Defense 157.3 ypg
WVU defense vs. Auburn offense
The Auburn offense was in the middle in the middle of a complete overhaul when new offensive coordinator Tony Franklin was fired seven games into the season. Franklin was hired to install a new spread attack, but his new offense sputtered. That, plus clashes over players and playing time, led to his dismissal. The Tigers are averaging 308 yards per game of total offense which ranks them 108th in the country and are averaging 19.1 points per game, good for 100th in the country. Things did not go as planned, so right now the offense is a huge question mark. Auburn is a team that wanted to run a spread passing attack but failed, so are they back to their roots of running the ball? These things remain to be seen as they have only played one game without Franklin calling the plays. Those results, in a 25-22 loss to Arkansas, weren't so good.
The majority of the snaps this season have gone to Texas Tech transfer Chris Todd, but he will be benched in favor of Kodi Burns. Burns is built more like a tailback than a quarterback, and at 6-1 and 205 pounds, he is a threat to run the ball. Burns was the star of the Chick-fil-A Bowl win over Clemson last season with 69 yards and the game-winning touchdown in overtime to go along with a 22-yard touchdown pass, his only completion in four attempts. This season, however, Burns has thrown for 198 yards and two touchdowns compared to five interceptions while completing just 17 of 42 passes.
Todd isn't the ideal spread offense quarterback, but the 6-4, 212-pound junior is mobile, just not Kodi Burns mobile, and is the team's best passing option. So far this season Todd has thrown for 908 yards with five touchdowns and six interceptions. Again these numbers aren't exactly eye popping but Todd has the ability to be a very good passer if given time to find an open receiver. He is mobile enough to make plays outside of the pocket and is still a threat to run. Barring injury or total ineffectiveness on the part of Burns, WVU won't see Todd in this game.
The Tigers are very deep at running back, as they almost always are. Ben Tate is a big back who is a good runner as well as a receiver out of the backfield. Tate has 121 carries for 533 yards and two touchdowns to go along with nine catches for 76 yards, and he expects to get a lot of action against WVU. Right behind him on the depth chart is Brad Lester, who took the majority of the snaps at the end of last season. Lester was solid over the second half of last season and has a great burst through the line. His carries this year have been limited, but he is still a formidable option in the backfield.
The strength of this offense is the line, which returns five starters from last year's squad. Massive sophomore Lee Ziemba (6-8, 297 lbs.) was a CFN Freshman All-American after starting every game at right tackle as a true frosh. This season Ziemba has moved to the left tackle position and has lived up to the hype he had coming out of high school as a superstar recruit. At the other tackle slot is Ryan Pugh a 6-4, 284 pound sophomore who is a better in the run game than in pass protection.
The two guards will be Tyronne Green and Chaz Ramsey. Green is 6-2, 307 pounds and is tough blocker inside. Ramsey is most notably remembered in the SEC for his questionable chop block on former LSU defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey that injured Dorsey's knee. Nonetheless Ramsey is a talented guard who has loads of experience.
Center Jason Bosley started every game last year, and while he's not going to make any all-star teams, he doesn't make mistakes and will be a steady middle man for the changing offense. Even at a relatively rangy 6-4 and 281 pounds, he's a mauler for the ground game and while he is not the most talented linemen around he is the leader on the offensive line and exactly what a coach looks for in a center.
Rodgeriqus Smith is the big play receiver for the Tigers. The 6-0, 196-pound former walk-on might be a tad limited when it comes to his overall talent and he might not be the ideal No. 1 target, but he led the team last year with 52 catches for 705 yards and five touchdowns, was by far the team's best receiver. Smith is steady and durable with 26 straight starts. This season Smith has 21 receptions for 212 yards and two touchdowns. The number two option on the outside this year has been Robert Dunn. Dunn has 15 receptions for 172 yards and two touchdowns in 2008.
With Auburn's offensive issues, and the fact that the Mountaineer defense continues to gain experience and improve each week, it won't be a stretch to look for another solid performance from the Mountaineer defense, especially at home.
By The Numbers
WVU Scoring Defense 14.7 ppg, Rushing Defense 118.8 ypg, Passing Defense 202.0 ypg
Auburn Scoring Offense 19.1 ppg, Rushing Offense 135.3 ypg, Passing Offense 157.3 ypg
Advantage: West Virginia
WVU special teams vs. RU special teams
Sophomore Wes Byrum turned into a real find. Last year, as a true freshman, he eased the team's worries by hitting 17 of 23 field goal attempts, including 14 of 15 attempt inside the 40. While he doesn't have a monster leg, it's strong enough to boot a 45-yarder. He didn't get any attempts from beyond 50 after going just three of ten from beyond 40 and failing to hit one longer than 38 over the final eight games of the year, but he's very dependable when the Tigers get into field goal range. This season Byrum is 7-12 on field goals, and has been a key weapon in light of Auburn's offensive woes..
Handling the majority of the punting this season has been Clinton Durst. He has received a lot of work this season with the struggles of the offense, and had responded very well. Durst averages 43.6 yards on 42 punts.
Robert Dunn has been excellent on punt returns tallying 21.4 yards per return, but the kickoff return team has been average despite one 97-yard return for a score by Tristan Davis, who averages 26.1 yards per return. Auburn's coverage on both punts and kickoffs has been very good, giving the Tigers a bit of an overall advantage over their foes this year.
By The Numbers
WVU Net Punting 41.9 yards per punt, Kickoff Returns 21.7 yards per return , Punt Returns 11.3 yards per return
Auburn Net Punting 37.9 yards per punt , Kickoff Returns 23.2 yards per return, Punt Returns 16.7 yards per return
PICKS TO CLICK
On Offense: Will Johnson
On Defense: Mortty Ivy
This game should be a battle of defenses, but I still have the feeling that the Mountaineer offense is ready to break out and have a big game. WVU has a couple things working in its favor. The first is that this is a night game at home, and Milan Puskar Stadium should have amazing energy. Second, Pat White returns as the starting quarterback and word has it that the offense will have some new wrinkles this week. Either way. I like the Mountaineers in this one at home. Auburn's offense is reeling right now as they struggle to find an identity.
WVU - 28 Auburn - 10