Preview: WVU - Auburn

It's high stakes on the Plains as West Virginia and Auburn look for a key early win. Game Scorecard
Sat 9/19/09 7:45 PM

Auburn, AL

Jordan-Hare Stadium
Record: 2-0
Last Game
E Carolina W 35-20
Radio: MSN
Record: 2-0
Last Game
Miss St. W 49-24
Rosters/ Bios
Press Release
Season Stats
2009 Schedule

Series: WVU 1-0
First Meeting: 2008
Last Meeting: 2008
Press Release
Season Stats
2009 Schedule

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WVU – Trippe Hale, (Groin) Questionable, Tyler Rader (Knee) Out, Wes Lyons (Hamstring) Probable, Scooter Berry (Shoulder) Questionable, Reed Williams (Foot Injury) Probable.

Auburn – TE Tommy Trott (Knee) Questionable, DB Aairon Savage (Torn Achilles) Out, WR Tim Hawthorne (Broken Foot) Out, WR Montez Billings (Academics) Out, S Mike McNeil (Leg Injury) Out.


WVU Offense vs. Auburn defense

The Mountaineers' more dynamic attack showed itself in a 35-20 win against East Carolina last week, mixing the run with impressive downfield passing versus an experienced unit. The Mountaineers will get a look at a similar 4-3 style from Auburn in their first road game of the season. The Tigers, under new defensive coordinator Ted Roof, have held Louisiana Tech and Mississippi State to a combined 376 points in starting 2-0. But neither team can match WVU's talent, or its ability thus far to score as needed in key situations. Roof's style is to blend some pressure with solid cornerback play and safety help over the top in a classic ‘stuff-the-run' mentality. The former Minnesota coordinator will rely up front on athletic end Antonio Coleman. The 6-3, 261-pounder won't be the beefiest end the Mountaineers play this season, but his combination of rip and swim moves and his quickness off the snap will test the tackles. Coleman likely won't take over the game up front, but he could provide enough disruption to quarterback Jarrett Brown to slow West Virginia's downfield passing game.

Tackles Jake Ricks and Mike Blanc are sizeable, but neither will often play heads up against the Mountaineers' young center – whoever it will be. Don't be shocked, though, if Auburn slides into a one technique early and tries to disrupt center-quarterback play by going heads-up with either Joe Madsen or Eric Jobe. That pressure on the ball combined with the noise level of Jordan-Hare Stadium's 87,000-plus during a night game is an issue to eye early. WVU head coach Bill Stewart, who has stated his team will utilize the pistol formation more, might attempt a few of those snaps early to lessen the worries of a direct exchange or the potential for mistakes on longer snaps out of the shotgun formation. It's a nice happy medium for Brown and the centers, and might ease tension in the initial plays. Ricks and Blanc will make their share of stops, but like most 4-3s, the tackles occupy blockers, the ends and linebackers make tackles and pressure the pocket. Coleman, a surefire NFL early round pick barring unforeseen issues, and fellow end Michael Goggins have combined thus far for two sacks, four QB hurries and a pick.

Roof is hoping that middle linebacker Josh Bynes and outside ‘backer Craig Stevens make most of the stops. They tallied 53 and 54, respectively, last year, but the Tigers were getting gashed enough that safety Zac Etheridge finished with more tackles. Both are physical run-stoppers that, thus far with Etheridge, lead the team in tackles and tackles for loss. Stevens, who has a sack and 3.5 TFL, is more likely to blitz, and Roof could also bring outside pressure from linebacker Eltoro Freeman, a sophomore. Freeman, at 5-11, 218 pounds, is build more solidly than Stevens, at 6-3, 223. Both are backed by inexperience, however, and an injury would make a significant dent in AU's front seven.

The backfield, led by Etheridge, has held the first two foes in check for the most part. West Virginia has the ability, though, to easily be the biggest challenge of the season if it can continue to take what the defense is allowing – be it run or pass. The Tigers are minus Jerraud Powers, a third-round NFL pick, but do return cornerback Walter McFadden. The 6-0, 175-pound senior had one of two interceptions against WVU last year that kept AU in the game longer than needed. Fellow corner Neiko Thorpe, a 6-2 sophomore, beat out 5-9 junior Demond Washington for a starting position and so far has tallied 10 tackles and a pass break-up. Washington will see solid time, though, and provides depth to a backfield that could do a lot of running Saturday. Safety Daren Bates is a true freshman, and could be susceptible to getting sucked up with play- and pump-fakes. Look for WVU Offensive coordinator Jeff Mullen to try and gain a desired match-up and call for a double-move off perhaps a fake belly play to a running back to see to test Bates' discipline – especially in a night contest at home in which nerves could be present in the first few possessions. The Mountaineers should have some success throwing, but might need to keep it simple initially in a difficult road game. It's a risk-reward proposition putting it up early and often, and Auburn has thus far been hurt more by the run than pass. Again, though, thus far WVU has shown itself past and present to be better than Mississippi State. The Tigers will need to pressure Brown, and keep some containment while utilizing speed.

By The Numbers
West Virginia Auburn
Scoring Offense 34 ppg Scoring Defense 18.5 ppg
Rushing Offense 185 ypg Rushing Defense 131.5 ypg
Passing Offense 288.5 ypg Passing Defense 139.5 ypg

Advantage: West Virginia

WVU Defense vs. Auburn Offense

Coordinator Jeff Casteel is stringing together an impressive run of second half shutouts. The Mountaineers have yet to allow a point in the final two quarters of play this season; last year the 3-3-5 stack mounted second half shutouts against Auburn, Marshall, Syracuse, Connecticut and South Florida. In addition, neither Colorado nor Cincinnati scored in the third or fourth quarters, but each did score in overtime to defeat the Mountaineers. A repeat of last season's dominance over AU will be difficult, however, as head coach Gene Chizik and coordinator Gus Malzahn have completely revamped the offense from a base I-formation look with some pro sets into the spread. The Tigers used multiple "trick" plays to score against MSU, and one senses senior quarterback Chris Todd and his wideouts will be turned loose. Todd, at 6-4, 210 pounds, is a dropback passer who lacks the running ability of Brown. He maintains some elusiveness, but isn't likely to bust a big play as much as be able to slide a bit to allow receivers an extra second to spring free.

Todd hit Terrell Zachary with a school-record 93-yard touchdown pass in the opening win over Tech, and has shown an ability to throw well downfield and place the ball as needed. He has completed 27 of 49 passes for 441 yards and two scores thus far for a rating of 144.17. Zachary, at 6-1, 203 pounds, is more a possession and over-the-middle receiver. The deep threat is 6-3 sophomore Darvin Adams. He has a slight frame, but is averaging 20 yards a catch and 90 per game (Zachary is averaging 27 yards per reception – mostly because of the 90-yarder). Fullback Mario Fannin is a threat out of the backfield, with Todd swinging passes out to him in the flat. Auburn will also bunch up and screen the Mountaineers as needed, though that's often a difficult play against the odd stack. Backup tight end Philip Lutzenkirchen, a freshman, will likely start because of an injury to senior Tommy Trott. That could be a significant blow because of the damage tight ends have inflicted on WVU in the past.

The biggest asset to Todd, though, is the Auburn running game. The Tigers blend power and speed with backs Ben Tate and Onterio McCalebb. Tate, 5-11, 218 pounds, is a bruiser who sees most of the short yardage carries. The senior is averaging 6.8 yards per carry, with McCalebb at 6.9 – numbers that must drop for West Virginia to have any defensive success. McCalebb, 5-10, 164 pounds, is a freshman who originally committed to WVU before former head coach Rich Rodriguez left. The Florida native already became the first back in Auburn history to put up a 100-yard game as a freshman since Bo Jackson. They ket here, as always, is to swarm and take advantage of the varying angles of attack the odd stack presents. Casteel isn't one to become stubborn and stick with a front that isn't working, and if he senses West Virginia needs a fourth lineman-type player to slow the run – always the first priority – he'll do just that. WVU is thin along the line, though, and needs a solid game from Chris Neild and Scooter Berry. The two will be straining all evening, and how they hold up under the pounding of a sizeable front. This isn't a Georgia- or Alabama-style line, though, and the spread offense has called for a bit of slimming down on the Plains. The line WVU sees this year shows four juniors and a senior as starters with primarily juniors and sophomores as reserves. What it might not have in size compared to last year it could make up for in ability and better quickness.

This will be a difficult match-up. The Tigers are not as likely to quit at home as they did last season at Mountaineer Field, and the unit as a whole has more big-play capability with a more finesse touch. Assignment football is the mantra. The Mountaineers cannot get out of position or play off a man or zone coverage scheme to simply chase the ball carrier or a wideout that has yet to get past the line on a reverse or other similar play. AU will test the mettle of WVU's secondary early, looking for long completions and some trickier plays. The new staff doesn't seem to keep much in the bag, and this contest could turn into an offensive shootout quickly. West Virginia can lessen those chances by playing intelligent and disciplined football. Make Auburn make the play – don't make it for them.

By The Numbers
West Virginia Auburn
Scoring Defense 20 ppg Scoring Offense 43 ppg
Rushing Defense 75.5 ypg Rushing Offense 345.5 ypg
Passing Defense 192.5 ypg Passing Offense 227 ypg

Advantage: Auburn

WVU Special Teams vs. Auburn Special Teams

Auburn returns both its placekicker and punter in Wes Byrum and Clinton Durst. Byrum led the team in scoring each of the last two years, and has thus far this season hit all three of his attempts – including both from 40-plus yards. Dursts's average is 37.7 yards per punt, but that's mainly because three of his six kicks have landed inside the 20, with two being fair caught. He has a solid leg, with a 47-yarder to his credit this year, and that area doesn't seem to be of concern to AU. Byrum and Morgan Hall handle kickoffs, and thus far have booted one out of bounds and don't have a touchback. The returners will again get their chances in this game.

For Auburn that means McCalebb and Fannin on kickoffs and Demond Washington on punts. McCaleb (21.7) and Fannin (20.0) have decent averages on kickoffs, but neither has busted a big one. Both have the speed to exploit the Mountaineers, however, if the kick coverage isn't adequate. Washington, the more sure-handed of the trio, hasn't had many chances to break out in the punting game. Many fans forget that, as well as the offense and defense, the special teams schemes often change with a new coaching staff. The returns and coverages and still being adapted to, which could pull WVU even in an area where Auburn appears to have an advantage. West Virginia has been hurt by field position miscues, either in the form of coverage mistakes or lack of fielding punts. East Carolina, without a short field and the special teams edges it had, would likely have lost by 20-30 points. Still, Tyler Bitancurt has yet to kick in a high pressure environment, and has yet to have to make a big kick on the road in a tight game. If West Virginia is going to record its sixth straight win over an SEC foe, Bitnacurt needs to be solid, not spectacular, and there can't be any game-changing plays go AU's way on special teams. Once again, two of three advantages go against West Virginia. But the intangibles (adjusting to a new staff, breaking in young talent, meshing players to schemes) don't.

By The Numbers
West Virginia Auburn
Net Punting 48.0 yards Net Punting 32.3 yards per punt
KO Returns 18.8 yards per return KO Returns 19.7 yards per return
Punt Returns 0.2 yards per return Punt Returns 11 yards per return

Advantage: Auburn


On Offense: Selvish Capers, Joe Madsen, Eric Jobe.

On Defense: Scooter Berry, Chris Neild, Reed Williams.


Bill Stewart's teams don't play exceptionally effective early. There's more of a feel-it-out process with this staff than the last, and often in the first few possessions that idea is not necessarily to score – though that's always the goal – than it is to find how certain players react to certain plays and situations and how the opposing team will operate its offense and defense. Stewart's teams also don't panic often when down – a mirror image of the head coach. That will serve the Mountaineers well this weekend, when the challenges of a better foe and more difficult environment pile upon those already present in every game. Look for a slow start, and maybe even a slow opening half as each team decides how they want to play. Auburn will take offensive chances, certainly, and so will West Virginia – but looking for many big plays and an up-and-down-the-field style doesn't seem likely. The longer WVU plays well early, the more confident it will play later. I like this team's ability and mindset. West Virginia goes on the road and gets a solid win.

WVU - 31 Auburn - 24

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