Sat 10/24/09 12:00 PM
%%MATCH_7%% W 24-7
Louisville W 38-25
Series: WVU 5-0
First Meeting: 2004
Last Meeting: 2008
INSIDE THE BORDERS
West %%MATCH_8%% will be playing its 621st game inside the borders of its home state when it faces UConn on Saturday. What is the Mountaineers' all-time record within the confines of the Mountain State? Answer at the end of this column.
FILLING THE GAPS
UConn linebacker Scott Lutrus was expected to be the leader of the Husky defense in 2009 after recording 106 tackles in 2008, but injuries have cause him to miss four full games and parts of two others in 2009. He's had just nine tackles this year, and could miss the WVU game as well.
In his absence (though not at his position), linebacker Lawrence Wilson has taken on the mantle of defensive stopper, racking up 66 tackles, including six for losses and three sacks, so far this year. In many ways, the absence of Lutrus parallels that of WVU defensive lineman Scooter Berry, who also has sustained two injuries that have kept him out of action for much of the year. Of course, Berry's latest mishap, an arrest for disorderly conduct and public intoxication, was a self-inflicted one – and one that could keep him out for more games than his physical issues.
Josh Taylor has done a solid job filling in for Berry, but there's not doubt that his absence hurts the Mountaineer defensive front, just as Lutrus' presence on the sideline hinders UConn's play. Overcoming the loss of such stalwarts is a big challenge for teams, and those that are able to fill the gaps often see an extra win or two at the end of the year.
BRINGING THE HEAT
Also of note on the UConn defense is the play of defensive end Lindsey Witten, who has piled up 9.5 sacks in six games. That number puts him second in the nation in sacks per game, and also points out the fact that he has been able to generate pressure on his own. The Huskies, as noted in our Match-Ups column, play a large percentage of their snaps out of a base defense, and don't run a lot of gimmicks or blitzing. That says that Witten has been able to defeat his opponents and get to the quarterback without a lot of assistance.
The Huskies have 19 sacks this year, with ten of those coming in their first two games against %%MATCH_9%% and North Carolina. Generating pressure to combat WVU's passing game (likely the Mountaineer response if UConn crowds the line of scrimmage) will be the visitors' key to staying in the game defensively.
DEFENDING THE ZERO
For the second consecutive week, West Virginia faces a foe to which it has never lost. The Mountaineers are a perfect 9-0 against Marshall, and own a 5-0 mark against UConn. WVU is the only Big East team that the Huskies have never defeated.
While Scooter Berry certainly made a big mistake in his actions last weekend that resulted in an arrest, he also deserves a bit of credit for the way in which he addressed it. A user of Twitter, Berry sent three separate tweets apologizing for his behavior, accepting responsibility for his actions, and promising to make it up to his teammates and WVU's fans.
Does this excuse Berry's actions? No. But as someone that has observed him over the past couple of years, I've always found him to be straightforward and honest. I believe what he wrote was sincere, and I certainly don't view it as a PR ploy to try to look good. Berry could have dropped totally offline – instead, he made an apology and is, no doubt, working now to get back in the good graces of the program and the coaching staff. I don't see how anyone can ask for more than that. I am very confident that he will learn from this, and earn his way back onto the team.
UConn has built its success on avoiding mistakes, and that shows in a couple of statistical areas. The Huskies have been penalized a total of only 164 yards through six games this year – an average of just more than 27 yards per contest. That's a big advantage in the "hidden yardage" stat that we've talked about several times on this site. The second? Turnover margin – something Mountaineer fans eye with trepidation. UConn is +5 in that stat this year, while the Mountaineers are -5.
West Virginia is 456-164 when playing in the state – a winning percentage 73.5%. The Mountaineers have played in ten different cities within the state. Perhaps that's next week's trivia question?