Match-Ups: WVU - Syracuse

Passing. Running. Both elements of the game are featured in this week's look at some of the key head-to-head highlights of the West Virginia - Syracuse game. Game Scorecard
Sat 10/10/09 12:00 PM

Syracuse, NY

Carrier Dome
Record: 3-1
Last Game
Colorado W 35-24
TV: Big East Network
Radio: MSN
Record: 2-3
Last Game
USF L 34-20
Rosters/ Bios
Press Release
Season Stats
2009 Schedule

Series: SU 30-26
First Meeting: 1945
Last Meeting: 2008
Press Release
Season Stats
2009 Schedule

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WVU cornerbacks vs. Syracuse wide receiver Mike Williams

This is the no-brainer showdown of the week. Can West Virginia's defensive backs keep Williams in check? Or will the star wideout, who is averaging more than eight catches per game, propel the Orange to an upset win?

It's easy to point the finger at cornerbacks Keith Tandy, Brandon Hoga, Pat Miller and Kent Richardson and assign them all responsibility for holding Williams down, but they are only one part of the puzzle. For example, if West Virginia is in zone coverage (say playing deep thirds) then the free safety is in the picture. The same is true if WVU is playing man under and zone over the top – a Williams catch can't always be pinned on the corners.

There will, of course, be many times when they are the primary focus. They'll have to be solid in their techniques, as Williams is very good at creating separation by driving off defenders and running solid routes. But the number one point of emphasis will be to limit the big play. Williams is going to catch a few passes – he's too good to shut out. If he stays at Syracuse, he will likely wind up with every receiving record in the book. The keys will be to keep him from getting behind the secondary ("play as deep as the deepest" will be the command) and tackling him quickly once he does make a reception.

Of course, there are other factors that can help limit the damage Williams can do. A good pass rush can limit the time available to develop deep passing routes and keep him from hitting the big play. Bracketing him with double coverage could also help keep him from getting in rhythm. It's going to take a team effort – but the focus will be on the corners as they attempt to keep him from running free through the secondary.

WVU interior offensive line vs. Syracuse defensive tackle Arthur Jones

Jones has returned from an injury suffered early against Maine to again become a dominating force on the Orange defensive front. How will West Virginia fare in combating the future NFL player?

Jones has ten tackles through Syracuse's first five games, but numbers don't tell the story of his play. He not only holds his ground in the middle of the line, but often defeats double team blocks and makes tackles in the backfield. Those negative yardage plays are huge for any defense, and can be drive killers for offenses. Jones is fourth on the Cuse's tackles for loss list (since 1994) and with a big season could pass NFL great Dwight Freeney's mark of 50.5.

To handle Jones, West Virginia's interior offensive line must be prepared for a series of strong moves. Where Colorado's defensive line played a gap-control, read-and-react style, the Orange are attacking upfield, which is perfect for Jones' style of play. He should be back at full strength against West Virginia, and is sure to pressure WVU's still-learning offensive line with a series of bull rushes and rips in an attempt to disrupt West Virginia's running game before it can get untracked.

Of course, such aggressive play can have its drawbacks. Strong upfield moves can be exploited with draws, delays and traps, which can open seams in the defense. Syracuse has avoided that danger so far, yielding just 91.4 yards per game on the ground – a figure that puts them 15th nationally. They will be facing a different sort of running game against the Mountaineers, however, so the match-up Jones and his mates versus West Virginia's varied running attack should be a very intriguing one. If Jones is able to continue to penetrate the backfield, he could upset the timing of West Virginia's run game and keep Noel Devine in check. If, however, West Virginia is able to contain him, or use his aggressiveness to its advantage, the Mountaineers could put a big dent in the Orange's run defense statistics.


With a dearth of tight ends, how will Syracuse attack West Virginia in the passing game? Certainly, Mike Williams (see above) will get his looks, but teams have been successful against the Mountaineers using tight ends and slot receivers. Crossing routes also continue to be something of an Achilles heel for West Virginia's defense. Will the Orange try to get Williams moving across the grain against WVU's pass coverage? Greg Paulus has the mobility to rollout and get the defense moving – a tactic that always has the potential to create holes in the defense.

With both Cody Catalina and Nick Provo out, the Orange might try to supplement their passing attack with a few more throws to its running backs. Delone Carter is certainly a viable option in the passing game – keep an eye on him for the occasional swing pass, or perhaps more tellingly, circle routes into the underneath passing zones.

* * *

It's an interesting debate, and is grounded in one of the game's hoary bromides: Run to set up the pass. More and more, however, teams are doing the opposite: pass first, then move to the ground game after the defense is loosened up. West Virginia has certainly benefited from that approach in 2009, and has seen foes, such as Colorado, execute, or at least attempt, the same strategy. The Buffs attempted 17 first quarter passes against the Mountaineers before turning to the ground game, and it won't be a surprise to see Syracuse adopt a similar strategy.

The Orange average just three yards per carry and 94 yards per game on the ground, despite running the ball just ten fewer times (156) than passing it (166). With West Virginia's insistence on stopping the run first and foremost, it's hard to imagine the Orange coming out and trying to dominate on the ground early. Look for early passing, with a deep shot or two downfield in the opening quarter, as Syracuse tries to get an early big play and get West Virginia's defense back on its heels a bit. If it can't do that, WVU's defensive front, which will be bolstered by the return of Scooter Berry, could take control of the contest.

* * *

The environment in the Carrier Dome is much different than in just about any other collegiate stadium in the country. First is the lack of a crown on the field – the turf there is perfectly flat, as there's no need to provide drainage. The second is the lighting – the translucent dome and lights combine to produce a video game effect that's different than night games in other venues. The third is the noise, which hasn't been much of a factor on WVU's recent trips to upstate New York.

We mention these as items to watch because the combine to make a unique playing atmosphere. Quarterbacks and receivers have to get used to a different angle on passes traveling from the middle of the field to the sideline. Seeing the ball, and judging it, against the white dome takes some getting used to. And if Syracuse can stay in the game early and hit a big play or two, it could get the crowd involved – there's probably no team, other than Penn State, that the Orange would rather defeat on this year's schedule than West Virginia.

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