Matchups: West Virginia - Cincinnati

Cincinnati's passing game will present major challenges for West Virginia's defense this Saturday, and also figures heavily in our look at the key matchups in the contest.

BlueGoldNews.com Game Scorecard
Sat 11/8/08 7:00 PM

Morgantown, WV

Mountaineer Field
Record: 6-2
BCS: 25
Last Game
UConn W 35-3
TV: ESPNU
Radio: Sirius, MSN
Web: BlueGoldNews.com
Record: 4-2
BCS: NR
Last Game
USF W 24-10
Rosters/ Bios
Press Release
Season Stats
2008 Schedule

Series: WVU 14-1-1
First Meeting: 1921
Last Meeting: 2007
Rosters/Bios
Press Release
Season Stats
2008 Schedule

Click for Morgantown, West Virginia Forecast


MATCHUPS AND STORYLINES

WVU center Mike Dent vs. UC defensive tackle Terrill Byrd

Although Cincinnati plays a 4-3 front, Byrd is often to be found slanting into the "A" gap (the gap between center and guard) and creating havoc with the plays and blocking assignments of foes. If West Virginia's running game is to operate smoothly, Byrd must be at least neutralized, and Dent will play a key role in that effort.

Byrd has the perfect build for an interior line defender. He's short, squatty and powerful, which allows him to play low and gain leverage advantage over taller foes. A three-year letterman that has been an integral part of the rebuilding process at Cincinnati, Byrd is now a stalwart around which the senior-dominated lineup revolves. Although he doesn't pile up big tackle totals, Byrd is very good at tying up blockers and keeping them off UC's linebackers, who get to the ball with good speed and solid pursuit angles.

For Dent's part, he will need to have a solid technical game in order to offset Byrd's efficiency. Getting the snap back to quarterback Patrick White in good order will only be the first step on his path to success in this game – he will also have to make the right calls against the Bearcats' swarming front four, and then execute the combination blocks upon which much of WVU's running game relies. It's cliché to say that everything begins up front, but in a game in which West Virginia's running attack will be heavily relied upon, the initial contact after the snap will be very big in determining which line gets the upper hand.


WVU cornerback Brandon Hogan vs. UC wide receiver Mardy Gilyard

Cincinnati has the best corps of receivers in the Big East, having proven on the field that their group is better overall than that of Rutgers. Look for the Scarlet Knights to send one of their best to test WVU's most callow defender.



Brandon Hogan
Hogan's inexperience is about the only thing going against him right now. The converted slot receiver has a great change of direction, takes coaching well, and speed to make up ground. It's simply repetitions, or the lack thereof, that makes him a target in WVU's secondary. It will be no surprise to see the Bearcats send Gilyard, who has 43 catches for 685 yards and seven scores in 2008, at Hogan in several different manners.

After watching film of West Virginia's win over Connecticut, there's little doubt that UC will test WVU with play action passes. Whether those will be as effective without the threat of a runner like UConn's Donald Brown remains to be seen, but the fact is that West Virginia's first priority is stopping the run. That can make it susceptible to play action, so it is an exam that Mountaineer corners are likely to face each week. However, that won't be the only type of pass that Cincinnati will throw at the still-learning Hogan.

The Bearcats can also be expected to run crossing routes at the WVU defense in hopes of picking them off in man coverage (UC runs very good picks in its passing game), and there will also be some short outs to keep everything honest. Even with a cadre of quarterbacks that have dropped like flies in 2008, Cincinnati has managed to average 260 yards per game through the air, which is a testament to both its talent and commitment to throwing the ball. Hogan will be in for yet another challenge this week, and his response will be crucial to WVU's success. He doesn't have to shut down Gilyard, or get two interceptions as he did against UConn. If he can play smartly, not get beaten deep and tackle crisply when his foe does get the ball, West Virginia will be in good shape.


THINGS TO WATCH

Cincinnati's defense might not get the credit it deserves. The unit, which features ten senior starters, swarms to the ball well and allows just 3.3 yards per rush. When watching the Bearcats, the thing to take note of is their accountability. As might be expected from such an experienced unit, UC doesn't make a great deal of mental mistakes, and doesn't get caught out of position a lot. That makes it difficult to break big plays on them, and forces opposing offenses to put together long sequences of mistake-free plays in order to score points.

Watch how UC's defense responds early to WVU's different formations. Do the Bearcats go with different personnel packages to combat WVU's shifting tactics, or will they stick with their experienced 11 and adjust accordingly? Will West Virginia be able to take advantage of their response to create and exploit mismatches, or will Cincinnati be able to handle everything the Mountaineers throw onto the field?

* * *

If there's one thing the Big East has a ton of, it's good punters. This week features another great matchup between WVU's Pat McAfee and UC's Kevin Huber, but the focus won't just be on the booming kicks that each is capable of. There is a great deal of hidden yardage and field position to be gained, or lost, in the punt game, and that could be a key factor in the contest. That doesn't involve just the length of kicks, but also the return yardage yielded, and both teams have been very good in coverage. Which team will be able to "tip the field" and gain 40-45 yards when it punts the ball? With team will pin its foe inside the ten? Both punters are very good at placing the ball inside the 20 and not allowing returns, so this overlooked aspect of the kicking game figures to be very hotly contested.

* * *

Cincinnati is one of the few teams West Virginia will face that depends on the pass before the run. WVU has, as its first defensive priority, shutting down the running game. How will those two factors play against each other? Although UC doesn't ignore the run entirely, it is a passing team first and foremost. It will throw a great deal on first down, and won't hesitate to throw in situations that most other teams would run in.

That presents a challenge for defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel and the "regular" Mountaineer defense. It will have to defend against the pass more than it is used to. Linebackers will need to be very disciplined in getting into their drops, and tackling in the open field will be at a premium. Might WVU show more of its pass defense packages on early downs? This will be another interesting cat and mouse battle that figures to have a major impact on the outcome of the contest.


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