Match-Ups: WVU - Colorado

Battles in both the running and passing games highlight this week's areas of interest as West Virginia hosts Colorado. Game Scorecard
Thu 10/1/09 7:30 PM

Morgantown, WV

Mountaineer Field
Record: 2-1
Last Game
Auburn L 41-30
Radio: MSN
Record: 1-2
Last Game
Wyoming W 24-0
Rosters/ Bios
Press Release
Season Stats
2009 Schedule

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

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WVU middle linebackers vs. Colorado running back Rodney Stewart

Stewart gashed West Virginia for 166 yards on the ground a year ago, and will enter this game believing that it can do the same again in 2009. Colorado had good success in executing its interior blocking schemes a year ago and blocked WVU's middle linebackers well, creating creases that the powerful Stewart was able to exploit. With speedy Darrell Scott likely to be available for duty as well, expect the Buffaloes to try to establish their ground attack to both take the home crowd out of the game and keep the ball away from West Virginia's powerful offensive attack.

For West Virginia to achieve its primary goal of slowing the run, it must be able to keep its linebackers clean of blockers. That's a two-fold process. First, WVU's defensive front must occupy and slow the charge from the Colorado offensive line and keep them from reaching the second level quickly. The linebackers must do their part as well by reading plays quickly and getting to the ball before the blockers are able to get to them. They must also shed the blocks that do get to them and make plays in one-on-one situations.

Finally, West Virginia's linebackers must tackle well. Stewart and Scott are difficult tackling targets, and West Virginia's execution in this area was shaky against Auburn. Colorado's backs have talent, and will probably get some yards. The key for West Virginia is to limit their second chances and not allow them extra yards due to bad tackling. Whether it's Reed Williams, who is expected to play, Najee Goode or Anthony Leonard, WVU's middle backers must protect the interior of West Virginia's defense and keep Colorado from dominating time of possession with its running game.

WVU pass protection vs. Colorado pass rush

Many times, a match-up of strengths determines the outcome of a game. In this contest, it could be which team shores up an area of weakness.

Selvish Capers
A look at the numbers would seem to indicate that West Virginia has an advantage in this area. The Mountaineers have yielded just three sacks on the season, while Colorado has recorded just seven sacks through three games. However, a deeper look shows that West Virginia isn't quite as proficient in pass protection as the numbers show. Jarrett Brown has had to scramble on a number of occasions this year, and only his superior strength and deceptive speed have kept him from being sacked on several more occasions this year. Given a less elusive, less beefy quarterback, WVU's sack yielded totals would likely be in double digits through three games. And while Brown will likely continue to evade rushers and turn potential sacks into positive plays on occasion, West Virginia can't continue to count on that as the staple of its offense.

It's easy to point the finger of blame for this at the offensive line, and it's true that West Virginia's still-young blockers have had trouble protecting Brown at all points this year. The potential is there, however – WVU's line is mobile and athletic enough to be solid pass protectors. It's simply a matter of learning all of the ins and outs of pass protection, becoming comfortable with each others' tendencies, and developing the knowledge and reactions that come with experience. Is it realistic to think that West Virginia's line is at that point yet? Probably not all the way, but hopefully Mountaineer fans will begin to see the improvement that will be required for WVU to make a push for the Big East title.

In the meantime, West Virginia needs to give Brown more chances to throw the ball downfield. Many of his rushes have been scrambles off pass plays, and while those haven't necessarily had negative results, it would be good to see what Brown can do when he has 25 or 30 chances to throw the ball without having defenders in his face or pursuing him out of the pocket.


Whenever West Virginia has some extra time off between games, it typically does a bit of self-scouting. That includes an analysis of all of its offensive and defensive formations and the calls made out of each, along with their rates of success and failure. One of the things that's most important is a look at what plays are run from each formation in order to identify tendencies, then countering those in future games. For example, if West Virginia runs the isolation play 85% of the time out of the I-formation with two wide receivers and one tight end, it might try to switch that up in the coming week so that foes can't scheme against it based on the formation.

Of course, there's always the fear of getting too involved in this analysis and changing things that are working just for the sake of change. However, it's important to not fall into a rut and call the same couple of plays from the same sets week after week. By mixing those up, West Virginia (or any offense) will avoid giving an important advantage to the defense.

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West Virginia's improvement on kickoff coverage was a major factor at Auburn. The question is, was it a one-week aberration, or have the Mountaineers turned the corner? Evidence supporting the latter conclusion is apparent, as players such as Trippe Hale, Jordan Roberts and Matt Lindamood all had an impact in coverage. However, West Virginia will again be facing another outstanding return specialist in the form of Jeremy Scott, who set a single-game kickoff return yardage record for the Buffs against Toledo. Granted, he did have eight returns in the contest, but his speed and elusiveness will be another big test for West Virginia's revamped coverage team.

Keep an eye on WVU's first defenders down in coverage. Are they getting to the return man and forcing him out of his desired return lane? Are they getting downfield quickly enough to keep him from reaching full speed? (That's an important factor on kickoffs that only reach the ten or 15-yard line.) West Virginia was able to achieve those goals against the Tigers.

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Colorado's main receiving threats don't appear to be big play guys, which fits the talents of quarterback Cody Hawkins. Although the Buffs did complete a couple of deep passes early in the game against West Virginia a year ago, that play phase isn't a staple of their attack. Colorado is averaging just 5.6 yards per passing attempt this year, and of their receivers that have caught more than one pass, Ryan Deehan has the biggest yards per catch number at 13.4. Watch for Colorado to play conservatively in the passing game for the most part. Sure, the Buffs can be expected to take a couple of shots downfield, especially off play action if they get Rodney Stewart and Darrell Scott going in the running game, but turnover avoidance and ball control will likely be the twin tenets upon which they build their game plan against the Mountaineers.

If that plays out, will West Virginia get more aggressive in trying to jump short routes? Linebackers and the spurs and bandits will be very important in pass defense in this contest, as they figure to see a steady diet of passes in their coverage zones.

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