Filling Gaps

West Virginia's defense was just rounding into consistent form over the last month of the season when it was hit again by attrition, and filling those gaps will be one of the focal points of practice this week.

Defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel has had to patch together a defense for many games this year, and only had three contests in which his anticipated starters were all on the field together. It should have been four, but when Scooter Berry and Nate Sowers were ruled academically ineligible for the Gator Bowl, it sent Casteel back to the depth chart for another session of juggling and filling. The only bit of good news for Casteel is that he's seen this situation before.

"When you lose two starters, that's not the best way to go into a bowl game," he observed wryly. "It moves guys up, and cuts away some of your depth. But it's almost normal at this point for us not to have all of our guys. We'll have to have some other guys step up."

Casteel was not ready to name replacements for Berry and Sowers, although it seems likely that Josh Taylor and Boogie Allen are prime candidates to at least partially fill those slots. He wants to maintain a competitive edge for those vying to get more playing time.

"We have an idea, but we are still competing," Casteel said when asked if the likely starters have been identified. "We are going to have to play a bunch of guys anyway, so whoever is first out on the field might not play a great deal. We'll play as many guys as we can."

WVU could also use Eain Smith in Sowers place, and could do some personnel shuffling with Larry Ford or third down rushers such as Zac Cooper or Ovid Goulbourne.

Casteel believes WVU's task was difficult enough even before his defense was dealt this sickening blow. In quarterback E.J. Manuel, who replaced injured Christian Ponder, he sees a player that has likely improved a good bit since he hit the lineup.

"I think he can get a lot better," said Casteel of Manuel's potential improvement during the break between the end of the regular season and the bowl game. "I'm sure they have been trying to get him more reps. where maybe he was getting a quarter or half of them when Ponder was there, he's [getting more now]. And the more reps you get, the better you are going to be. But it's not just him. They have players all over the place. They have the ability through their lineup to throw the ball down the field and for guys to play in space."

While the additional practice and preparation time can benefit players, Casteel and West Virginia's staff are careful not to overload their charges with too much information. That can lead to the dreaded "paralysis by analysis" in which performance is hindered because coaches or players are buried with data.

"We have to take care of what we need to take care of, and not worry about what they do," Casteel said in response to the scouting question. "When you get 12 games of film, you can give your players too much info. You see every snap, and you try to make kids aware of what will happen."

The correct procedure, according to Casteel, is to look at the big picture, figure out what a team does the most and what is has success with, and be prepared to respond to those strengths.

"They will try to get to those at some point in the game," he said

Casteel also noted that Florida State does a few things in similar fashion to USF, but that the Noles feature one key factor in their offensive attack.

"They'll run some two backs and they are very multiple in what they will do, and they do a very good job of being balanced with the run and the pass. They will give you four or five different looks and groupings, and be balanced in each of them."

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