Matchups: WVU-UConn

Running. Stopping the run. It's football at its most basic, and it figures to be on display when West Virginia invades East Hartford for Saturday's game against Connecticut






BlueGoldNews.com Game Scorecard
Series: WVU 4-0
Sat 11/1/08 Noon
East Hartford, CT

Rentschler Field
Record: 5-2
BCS: NR
Last Game
Auburn W 34-17

TV: Big East
Radio: Sirius, MSN
Web: BlueGoldNews.com

Record: 6-2
BCS: 25
Last Game
Cincinnati W 40-17
Rosters/ Bios
Press Release
Season Stats
2008 Schedule
First Meeting: 2004
Last Meeting: 2007
Rosters/Bios
Press Release
Season Stats
2008 Schedule

Click for Hartford, Connecticut Forecast


MATCHUPS AND STORYLINES

WVU Defensive Preparation vs. UConn Offensive Game Plan

Last week, West Virginia expected to get a heavy dose of a thumping running game from Auburn. That indeed came down the pike, and the Mountaineer defense was up to the task. WVU did not get worn down by repeated power Tiger runs, and was able to weather a long first drive to eventually shut down the Auburn running game.

The challenge appears similar this week, as the nation's leading rusher, Donald Brown, is again expected to carry a big load for the Huskies. With the quarterback situation still in flux, it's no secret that Brown will get the ball. However, there are some differences in what UConn will do with Brown compared to what Auburn tried to do to WVU.

First, Brown is not a one-trick pony. He has the strength to run it inside, and deceptive speed that allows him to get to the corner. He also has a tremendous burst that allows him to get through holes quickly and break tackles when contact comes. In those respects, he's different (and much better) that the Auburn backs faced by WVU a week ago, so it would be a grave mistake to assume that just because West Virginia shut down the Tigers that they will automatically do the same against the Huskies. The Mountaineer defense will still have to be disciplined, but it will also have to fly to the ball and get multiple defenders in on tackles. Even so, no one has held Brown under 100 yards this year, and it will take a superb effort if the Mountaineers are to be the first.

Look for UConn to test WVU's run defense in several different manners. There will be some isolation plays and lead draws. There will be counters. There will be sweeps. There will be swing passes that are pretty much extended handoffs. The Huskies will probe all areas of the Mountaineer defensive front, and then hammer away at those areas where they find success. If West Virginia can limit big runs and get some stops on third downs, it will gain the upper hand.


WVU running game vs. UConn linebacker Scott Lutrus

In its classic 4-3 defense, the Huskies always seem to feature an outstanding linebacker who roams the field, and this year is no different.



Selvish Capers
Linebacker Scott Lutrus leads the Huskies in tackles, and excels at sifting through traffic to get to the ball. Only a sophomore, he has already become a leader on the UConn defense.

Lutrus makes his tackles the old fashioned way. He doesn't pop out at observers in terms of size or speed. Instead, he uses quick reactions, a natural sense for avoiding pileups (coaches call it "getting caught up in the wash") and never-ending pursuit in order to make tackles. In those characteristics, he's similar to former WVU All-American linebacker Grant Wiley. He is, in the most complimentary sense of the term, a football player.

Combating those skills is not easy. West Virginia's tackles and tight ends will have to bring their lunch pails, because it's going to be an all day job in just getting to Lutrus, much less getting him blocked. For WVU's running game to go, he will have to be at least occupied and screened away from the play. And while he's not likely to run down Noel Devine or Jock Sanders in a footrace, he also has very good pursuit skills, and is talented in getting down the line to the opposite side of the field to make plays form the back side. With that in consideration, the Mountaineers will likely have to account for him on most of their running plays, and their success in keeping him contained will have a big effect on whether or not White, Devine and Sanders can find some gaps in the Husky defense.


THINGS TO WATCH

UConn has battled a tortuous string of injuries and uncertainty at the quarterback position for what seems like several years now. The latest came this year against Louisville, when starter Tyler Lorenzen broke his foot. Zach Frazer started the next two games (both losses), but then he suffered a concussion and yielded to Cody Endres, who started and played the entire game against Cincinnati. While Endres was just 18-42, he produced enough yardage to keep some heat off Brown, and did not suffer an interception in UConn's big win. The question is, will Edsall go back to Frazer, who has a bit better arm, or stick with Endres, who produced a win?

WVU will first need to see who takes the field for UConn's opening possession, as head coach Randy Edsall has declined to name a starter. Of course, Edsall could just be playing a game, whether to keep WVU guessing or to motivate his QBs in practice, but it still results in the same thing at game time: Which player will the Mountaineers face, and will any adjustments be necessary if a switch is made? He also has to consider the morale and emotional state of his team in making the pick. Would a move back to Frazer be a negative in that regard?

The key for UConn's quarterbacks is to avoid mistakes. Neither needs to take risks. The one that can manage the passing game, while riding the pads of Brown, will be the player Edsall goes with. If that's not happening, will he pull a mid-game switch?

* * *

A good deal of attention has been paid to the offense in this game, and with good reason. Patrick White, Noel Devine, Brown, Endres and Frazer are important storylines. However, the defenses will probably have something to say about this game before it's all over. Need supporting evidence? Look at last week's game. The WVU-Auburn game was predicted to be a defensive battle, but it was the West Virginia offense that snared much of the spotlight. The reverse could just as easily be true this week.

West Virginia's defense has been on an upward trend of improvement all year, but UConn's defense is quite comparable to WVU's in most areas, and an order of magnitude better in preventing third down conversions. The Huskies have also been good at forcing turnovers, and their six pickups against Cincinnati was one of the key factors in that win. So while most will be watching the offensive stars, be sure to watch some of the defensive matchups – they could end up being the key to the game.

* * *

There's always a bit of concern when a team used to one playing surface plays a game on another. Even though that concern sometimes gets overblown, it is a valid one when WVU visits Connecticut.

There's nothing wrong with the surface at Rentschler Field – it's just very different from what WVU is used to playing on. It is a bit softer and spongier than other natural grass fields (rains during WVU's last two trips certainly contributed to that) and it can cause some footing problems. For a team like West Virginia, that is dependent on making quick cuts, it can take a little getting used to. Making strong plants, and cutting off the ball of the foot rather than the outside edge, can cut down on slips, but can also narrow the speed advantage that West Virginia enjoys.


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