Match-Ups: WVU - Louisville

West Virginia has some simple and straightforward battles facing it when it hosts Louisville on Saturday. Game Scorecard
Sat 11/07/09 12:00 PM

Morgantown, WV

Mountaineer Field
Record: 6-2
Last Game
USF L 30-19
TV: Big East
Radio: MSN
Record: 3-5
Last Game
Arkansas St W 21-13
Rosters/ Bios
Press Release
Season Stats
2009 Schedule

Series: WVU 8-2
First Meeting: 1984
Last Meeting: 2008
Press Release
Season Stats
2009 Schedule

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WVU Defensive End Julian Miller vs. Louisville Tackle Byron Stingily

West Virginia desperately needs to develop more pressure against the pass, and if it's going to occur, this could be the match-up that produces it.

Miller, who leads the Mountaineers with 5.5 sacks, has to shoulder even more of the load in WVU's final four regular season games. While he has done a respectable job pressuring the passer, he is the defensive lineman with the skills best suited to getting into the pocket, and thus, unfairly or not, the pressure is on him to make more happen in this play phase.

Miller and WVU have done o.k. in getting pressure on third downs – what the Mountaineers need to do is get pressure when passes aren't expected. West Virginia must develop the ability to defeat one-on-one blocks (and occasionally, a double team), and get to the quarterback on first or second down throws. It must, if it can't get a sack, force the quarterback to throw on the run, or at least move his feet. And it can't afford to have mental mistakes, such as rushing in the wrong lane or forgetting assignments.

Of course, none of this is a mystery. And no one should realistically expect the Mountaineers to suddenly morph into a defense such as that of the 1996 squad. But if it can't find a way to execute its calls, and make the occasional big play on its own, then a Big East championship is certainly out of the picture.

WVU run defense vs. Louisville running backs

Injuries are in focus on both sides of this confrontation. Which unit will be able to overcome them the most effectively?

Chris Neild
Despite West Virginia's woes against the pass, it still says here that its rushing defense tells the tale of its success sin winning games. Several teams have thrown the ball very well against WVU, but only USF, with nice rushing days from both its quarterback and running back, was able to secure a win in recent weeks. To be successful, WVU must make opponents one-dimensional, and then come up with a big play or two against the pass in order to get the win.

The problem with that strategy right now is the absence of Scooter Berry and the questionable availability of Reed Williams, both of which make WVU more vulnerable against the run. Without those stalwarts, West Virginia is hard-pressed to shut the run down as it usually does, and thus foes have a better chance of mixing things up and being even more effective offensively.

Louisville has its own injury issues, with running backs Victor Anderson and Darius Ashley missing games over the past few weeks. Together, that duo, along with Bilal Powell, would give the Cardinals their best chance of pulling an upset. However, Anderson and Ashley have battled injuries, and Powell got just one carry against Cincinnati.

At this point in every season, depth and overcoming injuries are key factors in the outcome of games. Both the Mountaineers and Cardinals face big challenges in this area, and the team that is able to come out on top in this match-up will likely be the winner. If Louisville could gain, say, 130 yards rushing and average around four yards per carry, it would have a tremendous chance to leave West Virginia with its first win over WVU in the Mountain State in twenty years. If the Mountaineers can return to their run-stuffing ways, however, it figures to extend its home dominance over the Cards.


Jarrett Brown hasn't been as accurate in the past two games as he was as the start of the season, and although that certainly isn't the only reason for West Virginia's offensive problems during that span, it has been a contributing factor. It isn't as though Brown has been way off – he has still completed passes and moved the ball through the air. It's just that his passes haven't been right on the money as they were earlier in the season, which allowed receivers to catch the ball in stride and maximize the yardage being gained.

The question is, is this simply part of the ups and downs that any quarterback will experience, or is something else in play? Brown has been forced to run and dodge rushers for much of the year, and he rarely got a clean look in the pocket against either the Huskies or the Bulls. That could certainly be one reason. Could he also still be bothered by the concussion he suffered against Marshall? I don't mean to imply in any way that he shouldn't be playing, or that WVU's doctors, training staff or coaches brought him back before it was safe to do so. But just as a knee injury can take longer to overcome mentally than physically, it could be that getting over it from a mental standpoint is taking a bit longer.

Either way, watch Brown on his first few pass attempts. Does he have to move and escape the rush again? Or does he have time to stand and look the field over? Are his passes leading receivers well so they can catch the ball on the run? His ability to deliver the ball on target will be key in West Virginia's four-game end of the season stretch.

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West Virginia modified its defensive alignment in the second half against USF with a move that went unnoticed by many. For the past couple of seasons, WVU has not flip-flopped its cornerbacks to the wide and short sides of the field, opting instead to keep them on one side (left or right) no matter where the ball is. That move does make some assignments simpler, but also exposes both corners to more single coverage and more responsibilities in the run game (most of those occur when playing the short side).

Against USF, WVU put Keith Tandy on the wide side of the field for each snap and assigned Brandon Hogan the short side. That allowed free safety Robert Sands to give a bit more help to Tandy on deep routes, but also put more run help on Hogan, as the short side cornerback is an often critical part of defending against runs into the boundary.

Will that move continue this week, or will the Mountaineers revert to the left-right assignment that has been the norm over the past couple of years. Neither way should be an admission of right or wrong, or an acknowledgement of weakness. The decision, like all others, will be based on what gives the Mountaineers the best chance to win. However, it also provides a look into the intricacies of pass coverage that aren't always readily apparent.

* * *

It's not a magic bullet, but West Virginia hasn't been stressing opposing pass defenses a great deal between the hash marks recently. Of course, there are many factors that determine how often the ball is thrown in the middle of the field, so looking at just one or two games can often result in skewed conclusions. Given that fact, however, it still remains that WVU hasn't been able to get the ball to Tyler Urban much recently. It hasn't been able to hit the quick pass on slants to Jock Sanders, where he can catch the ball moving up field at full speed. And it hasn't been able to hit many midrange routes in the mid-field either.

Of course, defenses try to first contain these areas, and shunt routes to the outside, where the extra defender (the sideline) awaits. Passes are also more susceptible to interception (as we saw on the slightly under thrown ball in the USF game that resulted in a key giveaway against the Mountaineers. But just like running the ball inside, attacking the middle of the field is something that needs to be done on a regular basis.

On pass plays, try to keep an eye on WVU's routes in the middle of the field. Are receivers there stressing the defense and forcing coverage? Or is West Virginia working the ball more to the outside? Hopefully, WVU can at least attempt to get the ball in the midfield a couple of times per quarter.

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