WVU tackles Lance Nimmo and Tim Brown vs. Virginia defensive ends Brennan Schmidt and Kwakou Robinson
This is a battle of experince (senior Nimmo and junior Brown) against a pair of Cavalier freshmen. The UVa defenders have talent, but they don't match up in the game experience or savvy that West Virginia's tackles posess. Those qualites are things that are only gained through experience, and while the Cavalier ends have a season's worth of it under their belts, they don't figure to have seen every trick that Nimmo and Brown are likely to employ.
Over the second half of the season, West virginia has followed a simple strategy: run a few base plays, see how the defense reacts or if they are doing anything differently from the past few games, then adjust and begin attacking susupected weak points. It won't be a surprise to see UVa with some alignment or strategy changes right off the bat, because they know WVU is going to run the ball.
On the flip side, Nimmo, Brown and their mates along the offensive line have all the pressure on their side. They know they have to open holes to run the ball. Virginia knows that too. But since the Cavalier defense finished in triple digit rankings against the run, not much is expected of them against the WVU rushing attack.
Not having a great deal of expectations can often lead to a breakout performance. Let's hope it doesn't in this case.
WVU nose guard Jason Davis vs. Virginia center Zach Yarbrough
This faceoff has several different angles to it. On the Mountaineer side, Davis will again be asked to pull yeoman duty, as backup Kelvin Dubouse is out for disciplinary reasons and solid freshman Ernest Hunter figures to be limited as he tries to come back form his broken leg.
On the UVa side, Yarbrough will have to server as the leader of the line due to the absence of tackle Mike Mullins, who just underwent back surgery and is out for the game. Mullins, only a sophomore, will likely have to hold together the Cavalier line, which did an outstanding job of pass protection this year.
Nose guard versus center is often a key matchup, but in this game, with the circumstances surrounding the two lines, it's magnified.
WVU spur Angel Estrada vs. Virginia quarterback Matt Schaub
Estrada isn't going to shut Schaub down by any stretch of the imagination, but he has to slow hime down by confusing the Cavalier quarterback with his coverages and blitzes.
That's going to be a difficult task, because Schaub is an outstanding passer who has had success against many different types of defenses.
For Estrada to cause problems, he has to blitz effectively and get in Schaub's face quickly. Estrada also has to get into passing lanes underneath to try to prevent the Cavaliers from nickel and diming their way down the field. UVa will complete passes -- the key for Estrada and his mates is to get an ainterception or two, or force Schaub into uncharacteristic bad decisions.
THINGS TO WATCH
Rich Rodriguez' passing offense, especially the deep ball, is predicated on single-covered receivers outjumping our outfighting opponents for the ball.
That strategy hasn't played out well in Rodriguez' tenure, but it could come into play against the Cavaliers.
Virginia starts cornerbacks measuring five foot eight and five foot ten, while WVU can send out 6-3 Phil Braxton, 6-2 Miquelle Henderson and 6-4 Aaron Neal against them.
It's not expected that WVU is going to abandon their running game, of course, but don't be surprised to see a couple of vertical routes early in the game.
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Virginia's 3-4 defense is designed to pursue to the ball and shut down the outside run. With four big linebackers, including two seniors, the Cavs try to shut down the run with flow control.
We'll also probably see som stretch plays that give the appearance of going wide, but are designed for the back to cut back inside once a seam develops in the defensive pursuit. (It was this play that Quincy Wilson broke for his 42-yard touchdown against Virginia Tech.)
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The Mountaineer defensive line is at its thinnest point at any time this year, and it's a cause for concern. Nothing can tire out a defensive line more than pass rushing, and with Virginia expected to throw the ball all over the lot, the stamina of the D-Line is something to keep an eye on.
Players like Fred Blueford and Ben Lynch will have to provide quality snaps for coach Paul Randolph, otherwise starters Tim Love, Jason Davis and David Upchurch might be worn down by the end of the game.
It helps, of course, that WVU has had time off before the bowl game, but if the defensive line is forced to rush the passer 40 times or more, fatigue could become a factor.
Watch the defensive line, especially after UVa throws a few consecutive passes. Are they still getting off the ball? Are they showing signs of fatigue, like coming out of their stance too high? Are the Mountaineer backups playing effectively? Put it all together, and you'll have a big indicator of the success of the West Virginia defense.
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