Match-Ups: WVU - Connecticut

Each team has a distinct goal it wants to achieve -- and those two items will come into direct confrontation as the Mountaineers host Connecticut.

BlueGoldNews.com Game Scorecard
Sat 10/24/09 12:00 PM

Morgantown, WV

Mountaineer Field
Record: 5-1
BCS: 23
Last Game
Marshall W 24-7
TV: ESPNU
Radio: MSN
Web: BlueGoldNews.com
Record: 4-2
BCS: NR
Last Game
Louisville W 38-25
Rosters/ Bios
Press Release
Season Stats
2009 Schedule

Series: WVU 5-0
First Meeting: 2004
Last Meeting: 2008
Rosters/Bios
Press Release
Season Stats
2009 Schedule

Click for Morgantown, West Virginia Forecast


MATCH-UPS AND STORYLINES

WVU rushing defense vs. UConn offensive game plan

We typically highlight individual player match-ups in this space, but the opposing schemes of Connecticut's offensive game plan and West Virginia's defensive goals figures to have the biggest effect on the game.

UConn has built its game strategy around running the ball, controlling the clock and limiting the possessions of opponents, and it has done that very well in making a move toward the upper echelon of the Big East conference. The Huskies have developed an excellent rushing game, and while it hasn't necessarily been of the explosive variety, it is well-suited to grinding out consistent gains and putting together long drives. Running backs Andre Dixon and Jordan Todman give the Huskies a potent one-two punch, as each averages five yards per carry. That keeps opposing defenses from keying on one back or the other, and allows the Husky coaching staff to keep each one fresh. Dixon has 123 carries on the season, while Todman has 100 – and the pair has combined for 1,148 yards through six games.

For West Virginia, UConn's ball control strategy will be a direct challenge to its stated mission of stopping the run. The Huskies have run the ball 110 times more than they have thrown it this year (257 runs vs. 147 passes) and even given the 23 runs by quarterbacks that are likely scrambles off called passing plays, that's still a hefty run to pass ratio. The Mountaineers, in order to rustle up its desired number of offensive possessions, will have to stop UConn's straightforward tactics and force the Huskies to the air. This confrontation is a classic battle of strength vs. strength, and the winner of it will likely walk away with the victory.


WVU pass rush vs. UConn quarterback Cody Endres

Wait – didn't we just say that the ball control offense of UConn was in the spotlight? Well, yes – but Endres' comfort in the pocket and efficiency in the passing game will play directly off that match-up, and make it the perfect counterpoint to watch in Saturday's contest.



Julian Miller
The important factor to eyeball in this phase of the game is West Virginia's ability to make Endres move in the pocket. By and large, most college quarterbacks' efficiency drops dramatically when forced to move and reset their feet. Only the best – those that have shots at pro careers – possess the ability to ignore the rush, or step and slide to find holes, and then deliver the ball accurately time and again.

Endres, whose passing ability is solid, is even more effective when he's able to throw from play action sets that derive from UConn's rushing attack. If he's allowed to stand in the pocket and survey the field, he's perfectly capable of producing enough yardage in the passing game to balance against the Husky running attack and produce a victory.

Of course, West Virginia would love to get sacks, but the biggest key will be for the Mountaineers to generate pressure, collapse the pocket and force Endres to throw on the move. Even better would be the ability to force the Huskies into "must throw" situations, and take them out of their comfort zone.

Successful scenarios for both squads were clearly played out in last year's game. UConn controlled the opening 30 minutes by running the ball and held a 13-7 halftime lead, but the Mountaineers shut down the run in the second half, forced a pair of interceptions and won going away, 37-13.


THINGS TO WATCH

It seems almost disrespectful to discuss the effect that the death of Jasper Howard will have on UConn's emotion and playing effectiveness. Certainly, the Huskies will be motivated to play well in honor of their teammate. However, it's also just as likely that once the game begins, the focus of the team will be on the game. That's not to say Howard will be forgotten, or dismissed. It's just that the heat of competition has a way drawing all of a player's attention and focus to the game itself.

Again, this isn't to say that Howard's absence won't have an effect on UConn. His closest friends, and those that were with him on that tragic night, won't shake that off quickly. But here's hoping that getting back on the field for a game is one small step in the healing process.

* * *

West Virginia's quarterback situation could present a preparation problem for Connecticut. It's doubtful if WVU head coach Bill Stewart will make a formal announcement as to whether or not Brown will play on Saturday, and that's probably the right decision. Although UConn typically plays a base defense and does relatively little blitzing or personnel changes, it has to be tempted to load up the box a bit more if it sees Geno Smith at the helm for the opening snap. Although Stewart said West Virginia would run its full complement of plays with Smith at the controls, that will likely have to be proved before UConn buys it as a fact.

If, however, Brown starts, the Huskies have to honor the pass, and especially the intermediate and deep routes, right from the start. Brown has shown his ability to hurt defenses no matter how they try to play him, so look for UConn to go the conservative route and defend against the big play if he's on the field. Watch the Huskies' defensive alignments (once you've checked for #16 or #12 on West Virginia's first offensive possession) and see if they are running anything very different than their base 4-3 set – once they identify which WVU QB is running the offense.

* * *

Did you notice that offensive linemen Joe Madsen and Eric Jobe again swapped positions after the Auburn game? Against Liberty in the season opener, Madsen was at center and Jobe at right guard. The next two weeks, against ECU and Auburn, Jobe was back at center, where he had five starts in 2008, while Madsen slid out to guard. The reversal occurred again for the Colorado game, with Madsen back at center and Jobe at guard.

It looks like that move is now permanent, and its interesting to see the talents each player brings to his spot on the line. Madsen excels at firing out and getting into his man, while Jobe is more of a technician who is also well-versed in making line calls and getting the line in rhythm. Watch as the offensive line breaks the huddle and approaches the line of scrimmage – he'll often be helping with the calls and pointing out blocking assignments for the still-growing offensive front. With the meat of the Big East schedule on the horizon, the progression of the line becomes more critical each week – and the comfort level of Madsen and Jobe is a big part of West Virginia's hopes to grab a conference title.


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