Match-Ups: WVU - USF

Strategies and tactics highlight this week's keys to the WVU - USF game. Game Scorecard
Fri 10/30/09 8:00 PM

Tampa, FL

Raymond James Stadium
Record: 6-1
BCS: 21
Last Game
UConn W 28-24
Radio: MSN
Record: 5-2
Last Game
Pittsburgh L 41-14
Rosters/ Bios
Press Release
Season Stats
2009 Schedule

Series: Tied 2-2
First Meeting: 2005
Last Meeting: 2008
Press Release
Season Stats
2009 Schedule

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WVU's offensive adjustments vs. USF's defensive front

West Virginia's offensive ability to shift gears and attack where the defense is weakest is reminiscent of another Big East power some 20 years ago. That team, like the Mountaineers, was able to run plays from numerous offensive sets to find weak spots in the defense, and then hammer away at them to win games.

The team? None other than Syracuse. The Orangemen (as they were called then) of the mid and late 80s ran just about every offensive set known at the time. The Cuse would come out in a wishbone and run the triple option, then go pro set and play action. Next series? Double tight ends and the power I. Then three wides and sprint out passes. Opposing coaches could never figure out how they could perfect so many formations in the allowed practice time, but the key was that they had an answer for just about anything the defense would throw at it.

West Virginia isn't quite as diverse in formations, but it is every bid as wide-ranging in terms of the styles of offense it can employ, and the personnel packages it can use. WVU can go power, speed, spread, you name it. And while it might take a little longer to figure out the answers than some fans would like, the fact is that West Virginia isn't going to have to beat its head against a wall trying the same thing over and over, knowing that it's not going to succeed.

That sets up an interesting match-up with the Bulls, who, more than any other league team, wrote the book on how to defend the zone read and option runs out of the spread. Watch as West Virginia runs different plays and varies its formations early in the contest to get an idea of what USF is doing, then tailors its calls to try to maneuver the Bulls into a position where they can be attacked. Of course, "attack" has been the keyword for USF's defensive strategy against West Virginia, as the Bulls get upfield quickly, especially with its defensive linemen, to disrupt plays and blocking assignments. Until WVU shows that it can handle that, don't expect to see anything different from defensive coordinator Joe Treasey's troops.

WVU secondary vs. USF wide receiver Carlton Mitchell

Yes, we know it can be frustrating when West Virginia gives up short and mid-range pass completions, and opponents are able to move the ball with those gains. It's better, however, than giving up two or three big plays, and that's just what Bull wideout Mitchell has specialized in this year.

Robert Sands
The junior big-play threat has produced four plays of 50 or more yards this year for USF, and owns five of the Bulls' ten longest plays from scrimmage in 2009. He has scored three touchdowns on those plays, and is averaging 17.1 yards per catch. He doesn't catch a lot of passes (he averages just 3.4 receptions per contest), but when he does it's typically for big yardage.

West Virginia's corners, and just as importantly, its free safeties, must keep Mitchell in front of them and make tackles when he does get his hands on the ball. A long strider who eats up ground with deceptive speed, Mitchell has shown the ability to beat even the speediest players deep and get into the end zone.

On West Virginia's side of the ball, a couple of factors come into play. The corners must judge Mitchell's speed correctly so they can turn and run with him when he takes off on deep patterns – if he gets level with them, he has the height (6-4) to go up and get the ball over the Mountaineers' shorter corners. WVU can combat that with free safety Robert Sands (6-6) but he will have to diagnose USF's pass patterns correctly in order to give himself time to get to Mitchell and help on deep balls. Taking the correct angle will also be key in that regard – that's an area where West Virginia's defensive backs have been somewhat inconsistent this year.


Obviously, West Virginia's offensive tackles against USF's defensive ends is a battle to watch as well. Head coach Bill Stewart has hinted that running right at the speedy pair of George Selvie and Jason Pierre-Paul is a tactic to look at, so it won't be a surprise to see a few off tackle plays out of power sets. Traps against the hard charging defensive duo are also another play to watch for, but that's something the duo has seen a steady diet of, along with double teams, this year as well.

Want something a bit different? How about some passes in the flat to fullbacks and tight ends? That could serve to help the offensive line with blocking in the passing game, as they would not be required to hold their blocks as long as they would on deeper routes. It could also serve to slow down the aggressive upfield play of the pair, and force them to help chase down those plays rather than expend effort in fruitless rushes against the passer.

Whatever the tactics, however, WVU's offensive success will be, in large part, predicated on how it is able to handle, whether by scheme or performance, USF's defensive ends. They set the tone for the Bulls defense.

Pitt showed that the Bulls can be worn down, rushing for 214 yards and controlling the pair with a thumping ground attack, then following it up with play action passes and downfield throws. Has West Virginia's offensive line progressed to the point where it can do the same?

* * *

How will the Bulls react to two consecutive losses and the apparent start of another late season Big East swoon? It might be a bit early to write their epitaph.

We know the numbers and the storyline – USF has collapsed over the past couple of seasons as it has entered the heart of its Big East schedule. Two consecutive league losses seem to have the Bulls primed to do the same thing again, but might the circumstances be a bit different this year?

First, USF didn't lose to middling teams the past two weeks – Cincinnati and Pitt are the top two teams in the Big East at this point (although WVU hopes to have something to say about that by season's end). They've been struggling to find an offensive persona since the loss of Matt Grothe, but every snap that quarterback B.J. Daniels gets makes him a bit more experienced, and the hope from Tampa is, a bit more effective. Finally, and this can't be emphasized enough, is that what happened in 2007 and 2008 should have little effect on what occurs in 2009. Granted, the mental aspect of "Here we go again" could come into play, but players such as Selvie aren't likely to let the Bulls go down without a fight.

The bigger question is, how will the fans respond? The last time WVU traveled to USF for a Friday night game, the atmosphere was wild. After the letdown of the Cincinnati game at home and the beatdown at Pitt, will the fans be able to pack the house again and make a loud environment? Or will the unmet expectations cause a "wait-and-see" attitude among the fans – one that we're seeing more and more at West Virginia these days? If so, the Mountaineers could be in position to seize the initiative with an early score or two.

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West Virginia's backups have performed very well this year, and they will again play key roles on Friday. Take a few minutes to watch players such as Josh Taylor, Anthony Leonard, Najee Goode and Pat Miller on the defensive side. Their play, as well as that of several others, has allowed the Mountaineers to win six games to date, and still has them in position to challenge for the league title. Without it, WVU certainly wouldn't have just one loss seven games into the season. And honestly, would most fans have pegged WVU at 6-1 if it knew that three of its best players would miss significant portions of the season through the first seven contests?

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