Match-ups: WVU - ECU

West Virginia and East Carolina square off in what figures to be a tightly contested game. What factors will make the difference?

BlueGoldNews.com Game Scorecard
Sat 9/12/09 3:30 PM

Morgantown, WV

Mountaineer Field
Record: 1-0
BCS: NR
Last Game
Liberty W 33-10
TV: ESPN360.com
Radio: MSN
Web: BlueGoldNews.com
Record: 1-0
BCS: NA
Last Game
Appy St W 29-24
Rosters/ Bios
Press Release
Season Stats
2009 Schedule

Series: WVU 17-3
First Meeting: 1970
Last Meeting: 2008
Rosters/Bios
Press Release
Season Stats
2009 Schedule

Click for Morgantown, %%MATCH_14%% Forecast


MATCH-UPS AND STORYLINES

WVU run defense vs. ECU rushing game

In a classic battle of strengths, West %%MATCH_15%%'s morphing 3-3-5 will attempt to contain a stable of East Carolina running backs. The winner of this battle will, almost certainly, win the game.

Notwithstanding their 27-point first half outburst against Appalachian State, the Pirates don't appear to be an explosive offense. They have talent, to be sure, and can't be discounted as a threat to score points, but they appear to be a team that will again rely on solid defense and a mistake-free offense to win games. Patrick Pinkney is a good game manager, but unless he hits a hot streak is unlikely to go wild through the air. Thus, the onus will be on running backs such as Brandon Jackson and Dominique Lindsay to provide a thumping ground attack. That duo combined for 151 rushing yards in week one, and helped ECU pile up 206 total yards on the ground to go along with a 5.4 yards per carry average.

After dominating WVU a year ago, it will be no surprise to see the Pirates attempt to run the ball right at the Mountaineer defense. West Virginia prides itself on shutting down the run, and it swarms to the ball really well on the perimeter. Not many teams can make a living running wide against the Mountaineers, so other than a few such carries to keep it honest, don't look for ECU to try, either. Instead, it will likely ride the strongly built pair of Jackson and Lindsay between the tackles and try to negate WVU's speed by going right at the heart of the defense.

From the Mountaineer perspective, Chris Neild and Scooter Berry will have to stand strong inside. If they can't defeat blocks, they must at least control their gaps and keep from being moved in order to clog inside rushing lines. In the resulting traffic, West Virginia's linebackers must close quickly and avoid getting caught up in order to get to the ballcarriers before they build momentum, which makes them even more difficult to stop.


WVU offensive line vs. ECU defensive line

Could there be any more marked difference between two units going head to head than this one? In terms of game experience, at least, the Pirates hold a sizeable advantage.



Eric Jobe
East Carolina's four-man front has a wealth of game play under its belt. C.J. Wilson, Jay Ross, Linval Joseph and Scotty Robinson have a combined 82 career starts and 11 letters among them, and they form a group that's even greater than the sum of its parts. It's not just the experience, factor, however that stands out. This could be the best defensive front that West Virginia sees this year (although Pitt and USF will undoubtedly be good as well). Inside, Ross and Joseph stand their ground and allow little running room, while Wilson and Robinson are athletic forces off the corner. They're all tall as well, with Ross the shortest at six feet, three inches, which allows them to get their hands up and disrupt passing lanes. The Pirates recorded three sacks against Appalachian State in their opener, and will be looking to at least duplicate that number against West Virginia. For sure, Jarrett Brown won't be shedding Pirate tackle attempts like he did those of Liberty.

For West Virginia to win, it will have to at least slow this group, which rampaged on the turf of Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium a year ago to shut down West Virginia's offense. It's not fair to expect WVU's still learning offensive line to overpower this unit on a regular, so West Virginia's offensive scheme will be a key. Look for the Mountaineers to try to slow down ECU's upfield rush with its normal variety of wide receiver screens (no surprise there) and other plays designed to get the Pirates reacting instead of forcing the action. Anything that can get East Carolina moving laterally will likely get a test, if for no other reason that to keep the Pirates from pressuring the backfield.

Development of this scheme could take some time, so don't despair if the Mountaineers don't have a great deal of success early on in the contest. Getting control of the ECU defensive line could take some time – and the real key will come in crunch time.


THINGS TO WATCH

ECU's plan to control the ball doesn't mean it will be stodgy on offense. There will certainly be some bootleg action by Pinkney in attempts to get WVU overpursuing, and the Pirates can almost always be counted on to trot out some sort of gadget play. West Virginia has shown itself to be vulnerable to such ploys in recent history, so expect the Pirates to again put pressure on WVU's safeties with a trick or two. The Mountaineers, especially on the back end of the defense, must be careful not to get pulled up by play action or other run looks, which would allow ECU's wide receivers more operating room.

In the trickery department, it might be wise to keep an eye on erstwhile quarterback Rob Kass, who is putting in time as a backup tight end this year since Pinkney returned for a sixth year. Might the Pirates have something up their sleeves involving getting the ball to Kass so that he could throw it?

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In what figures to be a close contest, third down conversions, especially those of the short yardage variety, could loom large. All Mountaineer fans are familiar with WVU's 2008 struggles in that play phase, but the Pirates were just as deficient a year ago. ECU was just 28-64 in situations of third down and three yards or less, and thus put an emphasis on correcting that during fall drills. And just like West Virginia, the Pirates showed early 2009 promise, converting all three of its short yardage chances against Appalachian State.

WVU met with similarly encouraging results, going 2-2 with its big backfield of Ricky Kovatch and Ryan Clarke, including a touchdown run, which gives hope that the Mountaineers' problems in that area will be but a memory in 2009. Basing judgments on one game's worth of data, however is often fraught with danger, and there will certainly be more information to work with after this week to make that call.

But that's for future evaluation. In this game, both offenses will be going up against veteran defensive fronts with the ability to jam the line of scrimmage. Which unit will be able to open enough space to eke out those all-important conversions? While turnovers are often the biggest barometer of a game's outcome, in this contest third down conversions could be just as important. Keep track of those during the game – and follow them to victory.

* * *

The progression of West Virginia's passing offense is also something to keep an eye on as this game, and the season, unfold. Jarrett Brown certainly threw the ball well in the opener, and his receivers made some nice catches and runs, but the feeling here is that there's even more to see, and more production to be gained, in the passing game. WVU took the first steps toward that goal by getting the tight end involved and throwing the ball in the middle of the field, which forces defenses to cover areas that it didn't have to against previous Mountaineer squads. That should provide a bit more operating room for the screens and flat passes that are also staples of the WVU attack. One other thing to eyeball – note that most of WVU's wide receiver screens now get the ball to receivers that are moving upfield, rather than horizontally. While that may not seem like much, it allows the receiver to see the field better while making the catch, and also get upfield more quickly.


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