Sat 10/24/09 12:00 PM
Marshall W 24-7
Louisville W 38-25
Series: WVU 5-0
First Meeting: 2004
Last Meeting: 2008
UConn – QB Zach Frazier (Knee) Questionable, LB Scott Lutrus (Shoulder) Questionable, DT Beau Brunelli (Suspension) Questionable, S Aaron Bagsby (Suspension (Out), LB Kijuan Dabney (Shoulder) Out for Season, S John Yurek (Knee) Out for Season, TE Yianni Apostolakos (Hip) Out for Season, OB Jimmy Bennett (Knee) Out for Season.
WVU Offense vs. UConn defense
This has always seemingly been a West Virginia advantage. Connecticut pays a base 4-3 set that the Mountaineers see often, and the Huskies don't do anything especially unique within coverage or blitz schemes. Head coach Randy Edsall is likely to stack the box, especially with WVU starting quarterback Jarrett Brown doubtful for the game. But the Huskies did the same thing in 2007, and WVU ripped them for 66 points utilizing the running game far more than the pass. With a very solid freshman in Geno Smith, it would seem offensive coordinator Jeff Mullen could – as he did in the second half against Marshall – find that run-pass mix that leans toward delving into the portions of the playbook with which Smith is familiar while also putting enough pressure on UConn that it doesn't further abandon the pass defense.
The Huskies allow an average of 109 yards per game on the ground, but have yet to face a back the caliber of Noel Devine, who rates sixth in the NCAA in yards per game. He is by far the Big East's most explosive running threat, and the problem for aUConn will be the same as for every other club. It could bottle the back for his first 12 carries, and then a lane opens and Devine goes for 80 yards and a score. The idea will be to contain the junior and attempt to get the Mountaineers into uncomfortable third down situations. Anything third and four or longer is almost certainly a passing play, and to make the frosh signal caller convert multiple type plays every drive would give Connecticut an edge in its own defensive formations, calls and blitz packages. WVU will counter with what it hopes is a solid game by the offensive front and the ability to get into manageable downs and distances. This might not be a game where fans will see quite as much big-strike scores as it will a steady, heady game that, yes, limits potential but also minimizes the big mistake. Still, the Mountaineers have more talent, and it's that which usually matters most.
The backbone of UConn's defense is still its front seven, led by linebackers Lawrence Wilson and Greg Lloyd, the son of former Pittsburgh Steeler of same name. Wilson, 6-1, 220 pounds, runs well and has amassed a team and Big East-high 66 total tackles, including six for loss, three of which were sacks. The junior mans the weakside and will be key in limiting Devine's cutback opportunities as well as sealing plays inside and cutting off lanes. Lloyd is the middle ‘backer, and though he doesn't have the size or tenacity of his father, the 6-2, 245-pounder is UConn's best solo tackler. He doesn't blitz as much as his counterparts both because of his size – he doesn't have the speed to get home as quickly – and because he is such an imperative part of Connecticut's defensive flow and positioning. Strongside linebacker Jory Johnson is surprisingly the lightest of the three (211 pounds). The redshirt freshman was forced into action when UConn lost a pair of linebackers, one for the year and one which is doubtful for this week. Johnson has 14 tackles this year, two for loss.
Tackles Kendall Reyes and Twyon Martin are sophomores, though at 285 and 275 pounds, respectively, have the bulk to man up with the interior WVU line. Their numbers are nearly identical on the season with tackles nearing 20, three for loss, and a sack each. Both beat out older players with more program experience for the starts, and show promise for future seasons. Senior end Lindsey Whitten has been a wrecking crew for opposing backfields. The 6-5, 260-pounder is aggressive off the edge and has an assortment of moves to get past tackles. He has 26 tackles on the season, 10 for loss, including nine sacks. He continually pressures the pocket from the outside, and if West Virginia's Selvish Capers isn't quick off the snap, Whitten could cause major problems. This will be the key match-up on this side of the ball. Keep an eye on Capers to see if he can maintain position on Whitten and not allow end around rushes nor his opponent to slip inside off a fake and rip or swim move. Capers isn't likely to give ground on a bull rush, but his ability to control Whitten will go a long way in determining WVU's playcalling. Too, other end Jesse Joseph is a redshirt freshman. If Capers can handle Whitten, then the Mountaineers should be able to muster enough to give them all the field in which to try to run.
UConn's secondary numbers are respectable, with foes passing for an average of 203.3 yards per game. As reported in the print edition of the Blue and Gold News, though, a look at the stats reveals that the team has been hurt by the three decent passing teams it has played in North Carolina, Pitt and Louisville. The trio each threw for more than 230 yards and several scores, which opened the run game. West Virginia's passing game could be its best since the late 1990s, when Marc Bulger teamed with Shawn Foreman, David Saunders, Khori Ivy, Anthony Becht and Pat Green to torch foes. The issue, obviously, is that Brown is likely out, leaving Smith to have a go. With a full week of prep, WVU should have enough time to ready the newcomer. Safety Robert Vaughn is the concern here, as the senior has 32 tackles and three picks – two of which came against Pittsburgh. One was returned for a touchdown. Corner Robert McClain, 5-9, 195 pounds, isn't sizeable but has made plays all year. His four interceptions lead the team, and he has a fumble recovery, three tackles for loss, a sack and three pass break-ups. This is a defense that ranks in the top 30 in rush defense, scoring defense and total defense. But other than UNC, the Huskies have not faced a unit with the skill of West Virginia. They also have not faced one as turnover prone, or with the potential to play a quarterback with very little experience. There are a lot of unknowns, but in the on-paper talent column, WVU wins this area.
|By The Numbers|
|Scoring Offense 31.8 ppg||Scoring Defense 18.2 ppg|
|Rushing Offense 184.7 ypg||Rushing Defense 109.8 ypg|
|Passing Offense 241.8 ypg||Passing Defense 203.3 ypg|
Advantage: West Virginia
WVU Defense vs. UConn Offense
Connecticut's staple has been the running game, and that remains the same this season. Tailback Andre Dixon averages more than 100 yards per game and, at 6-1 and 202 pounds, the senior has added significant bulk for ability between the tackles. Where Dixon was primarily an outside threat, he now routinely carries in short-yardage situations and can also handle backfield blocking. His style is more north-south than anything else, and with reserve back Jordan Todman providing a change of pace with better overall speed, Dixon has been as effective this year as at anytime in his career.Todman, 5-9, 189 pounds, resembles Jock Sanders with his size, though he isn't anywhere near as explosive from the backfield or in pass routes. Both are helped by primarily blocking fullback Anthony Sherman.
The other major concern for West Virginia is the tight end play. UConn will utilize the end much in the same manner as did Marshall, and at 6-6, 240 pounds, Ryan Griffin is a sizeable target. He has yet to fully grasp the position as a redshirt freshman, however, and should not pose as significant a coverage task as did Cody Slate. Still, patterns down the seams and across the defense have often been problematic, and Griffin could play a major role if he can convert two or three third downs and keep WVU's offense off the field. Receivers Brad Kanuch, Mike Smith and Isiah Moore and Kashif Moore are a young group. Only Kanuch, a senior, has more than two seasons in the program, and all fall between 5-9 and 6-1. The Mountaineers should handle the wideouts without a major issue. If the backfield can't at least hang here and get a stalemate, there's no reason to think it could against any team the rest of the season.
Another coup for Edsall has been the play of back-up-turned-starting quarterback Cody Endres. The 6-4 sophomore beat out junior Zach Frazier (also 6-4) after he was injured two games into the season. Frazer began 1-1, but also tossed for picks and completed barely 50 percent of his passes in an offense that demands a higher percentage. Endres is 3-1 with a single interception and four scores with 936 yards. The Huskies, though, still rank only seventh in the Big East in passing, and have never challenged for top league marks since joining. This is primarily a running team, and there is no big play threat at wideout or under center. This team can be very effective in churning out yards, but against a WVU team that prides itself on not allowing the big play and slowing the run, Connecticut should find the going tough. Add in that tailback Donald Brown, the nation's leading rusher last year before moving to the NFL, managed a season-low 82 yards versus West Virginia, and it appears the Mountaineers should again be able to slow the I offense.
The lone issue could be the tackle play, as Scooter Berry is out for the game after being indefinitely suspended by Stewart. That means Josh Taylor will get the start. Taylor has been very solid thus far, but will ply his trade against tackle Mick Hicks, a 6-6, 323 pound senior who could give the sophomore a headache by games end. Taylor is giving up two inches and 50 pounds, which are not astronomical numbers. But without a proven back-up and with UConn spelling Hicks with a pair of players, Taylor will earn his keep in this one. The other battle to eye will be Connecticut center Moe Petrus against nose tackle Chris Neild. As always, this match-up will determine if the Huskies can run toward the middle, or if Neild demands a double-team that takes another guard away from getting into the second level and blocking a linebacker. If Nield is swarmed under, that could spring Dixon for gains up the middle and the creation of more lanes by the rest of the interior line. Overall, this group resembles the past Boston College lines. It's got great size, average-to-above skill and some depth. But it's not extremely athletic, and this could tilt at least a stalemate toward WVU. At a match of five on three, that's a win.
|By The Numbers|
|Scoring Defense 20.8 ppg||Scoring Offense 29 ppg|
|Rushing Defense 80.2 ypg||Rushing Offense 179.8 ypg|
|Passing Defense 2212.7 ypg||Passing Offense 192.8 ypg|
Advantage: West Virginia
WVU Special Teams vs. UConn Special Teams
Connecticut's return game lacks the skill that Marshall has, but the Huskies' Robbie Fray is averaging a solid 24.7 yards per return with a long of 39. The Mountaineers have made opposing returners look better than they are this year, and that must be cut down in this game especially because of UConn's desire to play ball-control, field-position game. The obvious issue is how to replace explosive punt returner Jaspar Howard, a major player who was stabbed to death last Sunday. Howard already had a 56-yard return this year, though he averaged just nine yards per bring back. West Virginia's Jock Sanders leads the Big East with a mean of 11 yards per return, though he has made mistakes. Call this area even.
On the flip side, Scott Kozlowski continues to boom punts and kicker Tyler Bitancurt remains a perfect six of six after nailing a 32-yarder in somewhat difficult conditions against Marshall. That was just Bitancurt's second field goal in four games, and the freshman was denied a deeper chance later in the game when head coach Bill Stewart chose to go for a fourth and long inside Herd territory. The conversion led to a touchdown that helped seal the win. UConn's Desi Cullen has punted 28 times with a 43.7-yard average. He has 10 inside the 20 and six touchbacks. Place kicker Dave Teggart has converted six of nine field goals with one blocked. He is one of three from beyond 39 yards. The two kickers are very comparable, and this, too, looks even. It'll come down to execution here. Flip a coin.
|By The Numbers|
|Net Punting 38.9 yards||Net Punting 37.3 yards per punt|
|KO Returns 21.6 yards per return||KO Returns 22.1 yards per return|
|Punt Returns 12.3 yards per return||Punt Returns 9.1 yards per return|
PICKS TO CLICK
On Offense: Selvish Capers
On Defense: Josh Taylor, Chris Neild
This game could come down to base execution, especially on third downs. The Huskies will certainly attempt to control the ball and thus the clock via long drives and an offense that doesn't turn the ball over. West Virginia counters with more weapons, but perhaps not as much of an ability to use them with freshman quarterback Geno Smith likely to get his first career start as Jarrett Brown nurses a concussion. The Mountaineers should be able to run the football, even against Connecticut's top 30 rated defense. WVU must keep downs and distances manageable and give Smith time in the pocket. If it does those two things and hangs onto the ball in what could be a second consecutive damp outing, it wins solidly. If not, all bets are off against an emotionally-charged opponent.
WVU – 27 UConn - 17