Match-ups: WVU - Pittsburgh

West Virginia faces a foe running a throwback offense and defense in the Backyard Brawl, so it's no surprise that the game should hinge on some old-fashioned confrontations.

BlueGoldNews.com Game Scorecard
Fri 11/27/09 8:00 PM

Morgantown, WV

Mountaineer Field
Record: 7-3
BCS: NR
Last Game
Cincinnati L 21-24
TV: ESPN2
Radio: MSN
Web: BlueGoldNews.com
Record: 9-1
BCS: 9
Last Game
Notre Dame W 27-22
Rosters/ Bios
Press Release
Season Stats
2009 Schedule

Series: Pitt 37-61-3
First Meeting: 1895
Last Meeting: 2008
Rosters/Bios
Press Release
Season Stats
2009 Schedule

Click for Morgantown, West Virginia Forecast


MATCH-UPS AND STORYLINES

WVU offensive line vs. Pitt defensive line

We usually try to highlight individual battles in this space, but sometimes the implications of one unit vs. another are simply too big to ignore, and that's the case this week. WVU's inconsistent offensive front faces perhaps its biggest challenge of the season in trying to control a Pitt front four that wears down foes by simply beating them into submission for four quarters. Ends Jaball Sheard and Greg Romeus, along with tackles Mick Williams and Gus Mustakas weren't as ballyhooed as USF' front four going into the season, but they have been far more consistent this year, and are, in this estimation, the best such group in the conference. The Panther front four yields just 3.1 yards per rush and have racked up more than 400 yards of losses in tackles behind the line of scrimmage – sure signs that they are controlling the line of scrimmage.

For West Virginia to win, it has to keep the Panthers from getting the penetration that causes plays to be disrupted before they can unfold. That has been a problem for the Mountaineer front in 2009, in both the running and the passing game, and if it continues on Friday, the Mountaineers will be the owners of three consecutive losses in the series.

It's especially true in pass protection, where Jarrett Brown has dodged more missiles than the aliens in Space Invaders this year. The result is a loss of timing and accuracy in the passing game, as the senior hasn't had the time to set his feet and throw during the games of the last couple of months. Can WVU come up with a game plan to combat that? The obvious answer is shorter routes and quicker releases, but that negates the ability to throw the ball downfield. The only real answer is improved play by the offensive line. Can it come up with its best performance of the season? And against a unit that leads the nation in sacks, averaging 4.0 per game?


WVU midfield pass coverage vs. Pitt tight end Dorin Dickerson

Dickerson noted earlier this week that he might not get as many balls thrown his way this week, since WVU plays with three safeties. His thinking was that might negate some of the match-up problems that he causes teams forced to cover him with a linebacker.



Reed Williams
Our reaction is that he's just trying to deflect attention from himself. Tight ends and other receivers have been able to operate in the middle of the field very well against the Mountaineer defense this year, and Pitt is quite likely to target Dickerson early to see if that soft spot remains. The Mackey Award semifinalist has 43 catches for 496 yards and ten scores this year, and he has had at least three receptions in every game but two this season. Typically, the Panthers try to get him matched up on a linebacker, which he can outrun, or posted up against a strong safety that can't match his strength.

West Virginia could try to combat Dickerson in a couple of ways, but the one to watch for involves linebacker Reed Williams. He's West Virginia's best at the position in terms of downfield pass coverage, and he matched up well against great tight ends such as Colorado's Riar Greer and Marshall's Cody Slate earlier this year. Williams was able to break up several passes intended for those players, but the downside is that both totaled more than 100 yards' receiving against the Mountaineers. Not all of those yards can be assigned to Williams, as he didn't have coverage responsibility all the time, but it will be interesting to see how West Virginia tries to combat Dickerson's ability. He doesn't have the mismatch advantage against Williams, so getting the senior defender paired up against him in the passing game might be a key component of this week's strategic battle.


THINGS TO WATCH

Both teams had the weekend of Nov. 21 off, but which team will it help more? The lean here is that West Virginia seems to play better when it has been out of the spotlight for a bit, and this team and staff certainly needed a respite from the many criticisms (some fair, some not) that it has heard during the 2009 season. I don't expect the Mountaineers to come out displaying a lot of emotion (that's simply not this team's overall demeanor), but that doesn't mean it can't play hard or play well. WVU circled the wagons well after its road loss to Auburn by coming home and knocking off Colorado, so the pattern to follow has been established. Granted, Pitt is miles better than the Buffs, but the sneaking suspicion lingers that West Virginia will be prepared to play.

* * *

Speaking of emotion and intensity, has it cooled a bit surrounding this game? Pitt, despite its sterling record, returned some 1,200 tickets of its allotment of 5,000 for the contest. Mountaineer fans, some unhappy with a 7-3 record, also don't seem to be generating nearly as much buzz. Perhaps the highly-anticipated basketball season is also contributing to the lack of excitement around this contest.

In any event, take a few moments to gauge the feel in the stadium prior to kickoff. WVU's senior day introductions should generate some emotion, but will that carry over to the stands? It's important, because it can have an effect on the game. The team that gains the upper hand early, or plays with more intensity, will get a big advantage on what could be yet another bad weather game. Getting an early lead in snowy and cold conditions would be of particular advantage, especially to a Pitt team that can play power football.

* * *

And speaking of power football, if West Virginia chooses to go that route, will it use Shawne Alston at running back instead of Jock Sanders or Noel Devine? The benefits of getting the ball to the two elusive runners are many, and they should certainly get their touches. However, if West Virginia finds that running inside is an avenue that's open (as it was against Cincinnati, then shouldn't it use not only fullback Ryan Clarke, but also Alston, who showed some promise against Syracuse with a handful of short yardage runs? West Virginia tried to use Sanders in the power role a year ago, and its simply not a task that he's built for.


Mountaineers Daily Top Stories

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