Matchups: West Virginia - Louisville

The key battles and items to watch as West Virginia tries to keep a share of the Big East conference lead

BlueGoldNews.com Game Scorecard
Sat 11/22/08 12:00 PM

Louisville, KY

Papa John's Cardinal Stadium
Record: 6--3
BCS: NR
Last Game
Cincinnati L 23-26
TV: ESPN
Radio: Sirius, MSN
Web: BlueGoldNews.com
Record: 5-5
BCS: NR
Last Game
Cincinati L 20-28
Rosters/ Bios
Press Release
Season Stats
2008 Schedule

Series: WV 7-2
First Meeting: 1984
Last Meeting: 2007
Rosters/Bios
Press Release
Season Stats
2008 Schedule

Click for Louisville, Kentucky Forecast


MATCHUPS AND STORYLINES

WVU center Eric Jobe vs. UofL defensive lineman Earl Heyman

In his second start at center, Jobe will have a tough task in the form of Heyman, who is an active defender that excels in getting off blocks and making tackles – that is, if Heyman slides back inside to a tackle spot. In the last three contests, Heyman has started at defensive end, but it won't be a surprise to see him move around and Louisville tries to find a spark on defense.

While the job of most defenders on the nose is simply to neutralize two blockers, Heyman makes an above-average number of plays from the spot. With 33 total stops to date, Heyman is just seven away from equaling last year's total of 40. He's also an accomplished pass rusher, having recorded five takedowns in ten games in 2008.

For Jobe, whether he's facing Heyman or big junior L.T. Walker, the key will be in communication. In West Virginia's zone blocking scheme, making the right reads on the fly (and making the same one as the teammate executing the combination block with you) is paramount to efficient play. That sort of communication, often unspoken, is difficult to achieve with limited practice time, and although Jobe has gotten all of the reps over the past couple of weeks, that's the sort of process that typically takes much longer to hone to a fine edge. Jobe has the talent to be an excellent center, but nothing takes the place of experience. How many lessons did he learn against Cincinnati, and will he be able to put them to use in WVU's most critical road test to date?

Watch as Jobe snaps the ball and comes off the line to execute his blocks, especially those that involve an initial double team. How efficiently does the slide to a second defender occur? Are there any misreads that result in an unblocked defensive lineman getting into the backfield? It's tough to pin fault without knowing the play call, but if defenders aren't accounted for, there's usually a communication breakdown to blame.


WVU defense vs. UofL offensive game plan

O.K., so this is a pretty broad topic. But it's also an important one, because it will shape the way the Cardinal offense attacks the Mountaineer defense – and will likely be a key to the outcome.



Jeff Casteel
In past years, this was a no-brainer. Louisville would come out and throw the ball, then run as a variant or a follow-on to passing success. This year, the outlook isn't as clear. The Cardinals have had good results running the ball behind one-time WVU commit Victor Anderson, and have their own Owen Schmitt-like back in Brock Bolen. However, West Virginia's defensive strength is in stopping the run.

On the flip side, UofL's passing attack has dropped off more sharply than some thought, even with the loss of receivers such as Harry Douglas and Mario Urrutia. Still, QB Hunter Cantwell is producing nearly 200 yards per game through the air, and if there's a weakness in the West Virginia defense, it is in the secondary, where three first-timers play major minutes.

So, what does WVU play for? An early testing of the run defense, or an all-out aerial show that stresses the middle and deep pass coverage plan?

While it's not expected that the pendulum will tip completely to one side, look for the Cardinals to come out with a pass-leaning game plan. It has seen success with deep crossing routes against the West Virginia defense in the past, and those sorts of calls have also been effective at times against the 2008 squad. Although WVU's defense has been very good this year, and has been the key factor in almost every Mountaineer win, it will face a different sort of challenge from a Louisville offense that can still sling it on occasion. And if WVU can't contain that play phase, it may have to commit more defenders to the pass – likely in zone coverage – which could open running room for a very good stable of backs.

When The Cardinals go to the pass, how do they attack? Will they stick with the downfield throws that have worked over the past three years? Will WVU have an answer for those mid-field routes? The early answers there will likely dictate the flow of the battle between the two units.


THINGS TO WATCH

Neither team has been as explosive as in past seasons – big plays are down, and longer drives are necessary for scoring. Neither squad has mastered that skill, either, and both have struggled to overcome self-inflicted wounds that have killed many drives.

For West Virginia, an offensive holding penalty is tantamount to a death sentence – the Mountaineers have simply been unable to overcome a big loss or a mark-off on offense. Of course, that's true of many teams, but in years past a first-and-20 situation was not a signal to warm up the punt team. For Louisville, it's much of the same. The Cardinals were flagged several times for holding against Cincinnati last week, and those penalties killed at least two legitimate scoring chances.

Which team can produce a couple of big plays, or in the absence of that, avoid the mistakes that have negated the chance to string some first downs together and mount drives? More than any other item, this area will have the greatest impact on Saturday's game.

* * *

How will backup holder Carmen Connolly fare in his first start at the little-noticed, yet very important position? As the middleman on placekicks, Connolly will have to mesh with long snapper Adam Hughes and kicker Pat McAfee. Of course, the same idea is true for any backup moving into a starting role, but the split-second timing required for these duties make it all the more important.

On the plus side, Connolly is also a receiver with good hands and good speed – might this be the place for a gadget play?

* * *

Jarrett Brown's return to the lineup promises a few of the quarterback keepers and draws on third down and short situations – but that shouldn't be the only way in which the big Florida native is used at those times. Although it's not WVU's strong suit, a pass or two from Brown, especially early in the game, would certainly go a long way in loosening up Louisville's sure-to-be-seen aggression against the run. Of course, in order to have the desired affect, the pass would have to be successful – a couple of incompletions aren't going to get Cardinal defenders off the line. However, if West Virginia can mix up its play calls on third and short, and get a couple of early first downs, it could finally develop some consistency in keeping drives alive.


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