Match-ups: WVU - Rutgers

West Virginia and Rutgers bring identical records into Saturday's game, and the team that want's to add a mark in the win column will have to come out on top in at least some of these confrontations. Game Scorecard
Sat 12/5/09 12:00 PM

Piscataway, NJ

Rutgers Stadium
Record: 8-3
BCS: 23
Last Game
Pittsburgh W 19-16
Radio: MSN
Record: 8-3
Last Game
Louisville W 34-14
Rosters/ Bios
Press Release
Season Stats
2009 Schedule

Series: WVU 30-4-2
First Meeting: 1916
Last Meeting: 2008
Press Release
Season Stats
2009 Schedule

Click for Piscataway, New Jersey Forecast


WVU backside defense vs. Rutgers run game

While Rutgers features a mostly straight-ahead power runner in the form of Joe Martinek, it also has the ability to change pace with Mohamed Sanu, who had a coming out party as a wildcat quarterback in Rutgers' win over Louisville last week. With Sanu, a strong runner with the ability to cut back and change direction, The Scarlet Knights figure to test West Virginia's discipline against the run – especially on the back side of plays.

Out of the wildcat, Rutgers can be expect to run several influence plays, which are designed to start one way then cut back against the pursuit. WVU has had some problems maintaining discipline against these sorts of plays, and also against quick tosses and pitches designed to get outside defensive containment. Cincinnati's Isaiah Pead had two big runs that took advantage of those failings, and Pitt installed a quick option pitch to Dion Lewis, as well as a cutback play. Those moves were clearly direct results of Pitt's film study of the Cincinnati game, and they were successful as well.

To combat this, West Virginia must maintain backside discipline. That means that the wide defender away from the play (it could be a defensive lineman, outside linebacker or even the spur or bandit depending on the defensive call) has to maintain coverage of the cutback gap and not chase the ball carrier directly. This can involve scraping down the line of scrimmage or simply pressing a cutoff block on the back side, but either way the the goal is the same – take away a runner's ability to cut back against the flow. Defenses facing WVU have to be cognizant of this, as Noel Devine is well known for reversing his field. Mountaineer defenders have to do the same to control Sanu and limit his chances.

It's interesting to note that Sanu had wild success (pardon the pun) out of the wildcat, where another quarterback/athlete, Jabu Lovelace, struggled. Rutgers tried to make a role for Lovelace for a couple of years with a package of run plays out of the shotgun, but it never really took hold. Sanu, however, had a huge game against the Cardinals. Can he keep it going against the Mountaineers, or will WVU shore up its run defense, which has been somewhat leaky of late? Sanu gained more than half of his season's rushing total against Louisville, so he'll be out to show that his performance there was not a one-game aberration.

WVU wide receiver Bradley Starks vs. Rutgers cornerbacks David Rowe and Devin McCourty

We've been waiting for two years for Starks to have the sort of major impact that his athleticism suggests, and against a Rutgers defense that has done well in limiting Noel Devine, this could be the week that he has the opportunity to break out.

Bradley Starks
Starks got the ball on a couple of ends around against Pitt, which were designed to keep the Panther defensive front from charging aggressively upfield on every play, and he did well in that role. He's also contributed with 26 catches this year, and averages more yard per reception (14.4) than any other Mountaineer receiver.

One thing that has kept Starks from being more of a downfield threat this year is pass protection, as quarterback Jarrett Brown often simply hasn't had the time to let deeper routes develop before he's flushed from the pocket. Sometimes, he hasn't had the time to complete a three-step drop before a rusher flushes him. That has certainly affected the ability to get the ball downfield and make bigger plays in the passing game.

To combat that, might West Virginia go with more protection, keeping a running back and a tight end or fullback in to block, to allow some deeper routes? Of course, the flip side to that tactic is that it puts fewer receivers into the pattern, and gives the defense a better chance of covering.

Whatever the tactics, however, the fact is that West Virginia has an offensive weapon that it hasn't been able to make full use of this year. Getting Starks the ball on a reverse or end around, or lining him up in the wildcat for a snap or two wouldn't be bad either. Starks figures to have a good advantage against his defenders this week so hopefully he can get more than the three touches per game he is averaging this year.


All of the pre-game national attention is focused elsewhere in the Big East this week, and while this game might not have do-or-die bowl implications, it is an important one in terms of conference standings and momentum for the post season. Which team will take that more seriously? Rutgers might seem to have the first-glance edge, as it is coming off a good performance, but not one that held any emotional significance. Meanwhile, all it took was one look at the tears of joy and relief on Scooter Berry's face following the win over Pitt to see what victory in the Backyard Brawl meant to the Mountaineers.

Will West Virginia be able to "set the alarms" as Stewart has instructed this week? Will Rutgers have an emotional edge due to its Senior Day activities? (I've always wondered if the lengthy introductions of seniors blunted any of that emotion that has built up all week.) Either way, the approach and attitude carried into this game by the two teams could dictate the early going and give one side an advantage.

* * *

Two conflicting offensive ideas – balance vs. identity – clash in this contest. When teams become one dimensional, the goal is to get some balance – that is, be able to either run or pass the football depending on what the defense is giving. It doesn't mean that an offense has to run and pass a like number of times, just that it needs to have the ability to do so if a defense loads up against one play phase. Both West Virginia and Rutgers have fought to achieve that in 2009, and both have met with good, if not great, success.

The counterpoint to that is identity. There have been complaints that when a team doesn't have an identity, or one thing that it does well and relies upon, that it will flounder at times. That criticism has been leveled by several observers at West Virginia this year. The premise is that in trying to achieve balance, the Mountaineers haven't established one style of offense that it can rely upon week after week.

Is there a right answer? Of course, many will criticize no matter what. When WVU was rolling up 300 yards rushing per game a few seasons ago, the complaint was that it couldn't do anything else. The lack of a counterpunch proved fatal to those teams. But had it worked on passing the ball more, would it have been as good running it?

In this game, which team will achieve better balance? Is that necessary to win the game? If Sanu can rip off another 150-yard rushing day, will Rutgers need to throw for 200 in order to win? If Noel Devine has two lengthy touchdown runs, will WVU still need to complete some downfield passes? Watch each team in the early going as it tries to set its offensive identity for the day – and keep in mind it might not be the one it showed in previous weeks.

* * *

How will Rutgers defend West Virginia? Odds are the Scarlet Knights won't blitz much, and will play a containing scheme designed to cut down on big plays and force the Mountaineers to put together drives of 8-10 plays or more in order to score. Rutgers had some success with just such a scheme last year, so it won't be a surprise to see it again. Watch Rutgers' front seven early in the contest. Are there linebackers heading into the backfield, or are they playing more read and react? Are the safeties, who have a number of tackles for losses this year, creating more pressure, or are they flowing in containment mode? What the Knights do will dictate West Virginia's offensive response, but it will likely take a couple of series to get a read on their intentions.

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