Sat 12/5/09 12:00 PM
Pittsburgh W 19-16
Louisville W 34-14
Series: WVU 30-4-2
First Meeting: 1916
Last Meeting: 2008
WVU – Reed Williams (Shoulder, Foot) Will Play, Sidney Glover (Neck) Will Play, Noel Devine (Leg) Will Play
Rutgers – Kordell Young (Knee) Out, Shamar Graves (Spleen) Probable, Justin Francis (Leg) Questionable, Tim Brown (Ankle) Probable, Mark Harrison (Head) Probable, Caleb Ruch (Unspecified) Out
WVU Offense vs. Rutgers defense
Rutgers' defense has been a bit underrated through the season, what with the attention paid to offensive players such as Tom Savage, Joe Martinek, Tim Brown and Mohammed Sanu, but the Scarlet Knight stoppers have been key in their success to date. After yielding a 47 point barrage to Cincinnati in the opener, Rutgers has only given up more than 20 points in a game twice (24 to both Pitt and Connecticut).
Keying the defensive front are ends George Johnson and Alex Silvestro, who both check in at six feet, four inches and 260 pounds. Johnson, a two-year starter, gets upfield well, averaging more than a tackle per game behind the line of scrimmage. He has 40 total stops on the season as well as 6 ½ sacks. Silverstro complements him well on the opposite edge with 35 stops, including 9 /12 behind the line. He;s also been a playmaker, recovering three fumbles and picking off a pass in 2009.
Tackles Charlie Noonan (6-2, 270 lbs.) and Scott Vallone (6-3, 270 lbs.) are the quintessential space eaters in the middle of the 4-3. Although neither has overwhelming size, they have done a good job of plugging holes and keeping blockers away from the linebackers behind them. Vallone, a redshirt freshman, has also shown the ability to defeat blocks and make tackles on his own – five of his 25 stops have come behind the line of scrimmage. In all, this unit will provide another tough challenge for a Mountaineer offensive line that still struggles with consistency. While it might not be quite as overpowering as the groups at Pitt or USF, this front can certainly hold its own with any in the Big East.
Linebacker Ryan D'Imperio (6-3, 245 lbs.) is the focal point of the defense. The team captain has 67 stops this year to go along with three pass breakups, and is a player that West Virginia will have to scheme against to keep out of play. If he runs free, he can shut down opposing running games. Linebackers Antonio Lowery (6-2, 225 lbs.) and Amaso Munoz (6-0 220 lbs.) provide pursuit speed from their outside spots. The Florida natives have combined for 15 tackles for losses, and are fourth and third, respectively, behind D'Imperio (second) on the RU tackling list.
In the secondary, Devin McCourty (5-11 190 lbs.) leads the entire team in tackles, but it's not as if he's getting lit up by opposing passing attacks. McCourty has seven pass breakups in 2009, and also has 7.5 tackles for losses, showing his aggressive nature in both run support and in defending wide receiver screens. Fellow corner David Rowe (6-0, 195 lbs.) moved into the starting lineup in the third game of the season and has played well, with seven pass breakups and 31 tackles. While this duo has played efficiently, West Virginia's receivers, especially Wes Lyons and Bradley Starks, should be able to find some downfield operating room is quarterback Jarrett Brown is provided time to throw.
Safety Joe Lefeged (6-2 205 lbs.) is having a solid season in both run support and as a pass defender. A hard hitter who has forced fumbles and broken up passes Lefeged doesn't have as many tackles as he did a year ago, but some of that is due to the improved play of the Rutgers front. West Virginia will have to account for him, especially in its run game. Zaire Kitchen (6-2 215 lbs.) is a steady complement at free safety who can break on the deep ball.
West Virginia's offense could again have trouble consistently moving the ball against this unit, and Rutgers' overall soundness probably gives it an edge.
|By The Numbers|
|Scoring Offense 26.8 ppg||Scoring Defense 16.8 ppg|
|Rushing Offense 185.5 ypg||Rushing Defense 104.1 ypg|
|Passing Offense 205.5 ypg||Passing Defense 211.1 ypg|
WVU Defense vs. Rutgers Offense
Rutgers' offense has been well-balanced this year, and while not overpowering, has provided foes with plenty to prepare for. True freshman quarterback Tom Savage stepped into the starting role early into the season, and despite taking a number of hits this year, has been effective. His completion percentage isn't great (54.5%), but he has avoided big mistakes, and has 11 touchdowns against four interceptions. His primary target is smurfy wideout Tim Brown (5-8 165 lbs.), who has 51 catches for 1,051 yards and eight scores this year. Brown is a difficult matchup – he has the speed to go deep and the know-how to find dead spots in coverage. Mohamed Sanu (6-2, 215 lbs.), who also came on as a wildcat quarterback in the Scarlet Knights' most recent win, is RU's second leading receiver with 41 catches. Only tight end Shamar Graves (6-3, 230 lbs.), has as many as ten catches among WVU's remaining receivers.
The Rutgers ground attack is led by Joe Martinek (6-0, 216 lbs.) , who epitomizes the toughness of New Jersey football. Martinek is a rugged runner who has pounded out an average of 4.9 yards per carrry. Backup Jourdan Brooks has averaged 4.7 yards per carry in limited duty, but it's Sanu, who racked up 148 rushing yards against Louisville, who also has the attention of the the Mountaineer defensive staff. Look for Rutgers to try to establish the run, via several different methods, against West Virginia's suddenly vulnerable run defense.
The offensive front, thought to be a strength coming in to the season, has been a mixed bag. Left tackle Anthony Davis (6-6, 325 lbs.) and center Ryan Blaszczyk (6-4, 295 lbs.) are the leaders up front, and have helped Rutgers put up impressive offensive totals against UConn and USF, among others. However, the consistency factor has been lacking, and West Virginia's defensive front could have some success against this unit.
|By The Numbers|
|Scoring Defense 20.7 ppg||Scoring Offense 28.1 ppg|
|Rushing Defense 123.3 ypg||Rushing Offense 145.1 ypg|
|Passing Defense 216.9 ypg||Passing Offense 186.2 ypg|
Advantage: West Virginia
WVU Special Teams vs. Rutgers Special Teams
WVU's kickoff coverage woes continue to drag down otherwise good-to-great special teams play. Rutgers almost matches the Mountaineers in net punting, and field position battles on boot exchanges could be a key factor in what figures to be a tight contest. West Virginia holds the slightest of edges in the return game, and has a potential gamebreaker in Tavon Austin on the kickoff unit. WVU's Tyler Bitancurt gets the consistency nod over Rutgers' San San Te in the placekicking department to help offest the kickoff coverage edge of the Scarlet Knights. Add it all up, and it looks like a fairly even matchup between the specialists.
|By The Numbers|
|Net Punting 39.0 yards per punt||Net Punting 37.9 yards per punt|
|KO Returns 22.9 yards per return||KO Returns 22.4 yards per return|
|Punt Returns 10.6 yards per return||Punt Returns 6.8 yards per return|
PICKS TO CLICK
On Offense: Bradley Starks
On Defense: Scooter Berry
Two teams with identical records square off for third place in the Big East (WVU could claim second with a win and a Pitt loss). That's a bit below where both hoped to be at the start of the season, but both could cap a good campaign and have a shot at ten wins with a victory here. While the Scarlet Knights have the home edge and a varied offensive attack, the feeling here is that West Virginia is on a bit more of an upward arc coming off the Backyard Brawl win over Pitt.
WVU – 23 Rutgers - 16