Wyoming-Virginia: Position Breakdown

Just one day from kickoff, fans are already giddy with anticipation for Saturday's Wyoming-Virginia season opener. The game promises to be one of the most competitive of the season, and both programs should show marked improvement over last year. In the spirit of true pregame preparation, we decided to take a closer look at each position.

As evenly-matched as the Wyoming-Virginia game was last season, it could prove to be just as close this year. The Cavaliers return plenty of veteran talent on both sides of the ball, and an improved Wyoming squad will have the advantage of playing at 7,200 feet in front of a probable sell-out crowd Saturday. Both teams will need to bring their "A" games, and in the end, it could come down to some last-second heroics…or like a year ago, some last-second misfortune.

In the meantime, we've brought you a position-by-position analysis of what to expect from the teams in tomorrow's showdown. Here's how we see the matchups:

QBs:

This is about as even as it gets. Both Jameel Sewell and Karsten Sween were Honorable Mention Freshman All-Americans in 2006. Both are left-handed. Both took over as starters a few games into the '06 season. Both showed they can win and put up big numbers, but both also showed they are susceptible to freshman mistakes. Sween had a slightly better touchdown-to-interception ratio last season, and playing mistake-free will be a key in Saturday's game. Still, he'll likely see a heavy pass rush all afternoon, and with Chris Long flying through the line, it would be tough for any young quarterback to keep his composure.

Jameel Sewell

Advantage: No one.

RBs:

Wyoming returns its top two rushers from a year ago, Wynel Seldon and Devin Moore. When the Pokes faced Virginia last season, the two combined for 127 all-purpose yards. Seldon struggle on the ground, however, averaging just 2.9 yards per touch, and both backs fumbled once in the game (Seldon's came on the Virginia one-yard line, ending a potential Wyoming scoring drive).

On the other side, Virginia returns junior tailback Cedric Peerman, who should be the Cav's premier back in ‘07. At 5-10, 208 pounds, he is a solid all-around rusher but doesn't have the speed of Moore or the power of Seldon. Last year, he put up just 41 yards on 16 carries against a stingy Wyoming defense, and his 2.6 yards per touch were the best of any Cavalier rusher in the game. Virginia head coach Al Groh said he tried to give Peerman a lot of repetitions in training camp. Still, the Cowboys' most experienced and talented unit in 2007 may be its linebackers. And with senior cornerbacks Julius Stinson and Michael Medina putting pressure on Virginia's passing game, the Pokes' starting four backers should be free to key in on the Cavaliers' running game. It could be a long day for Peerman and UVA's other rushers.

Advantage: Wyoming

WRs:

Both teams were dominated by their defenses last season, but Wyoming has a slew of impressive receivers, led by leading 2006 wideout Michael Ford. Ford will demand plenty of attention, opening things up for Greg Bolling on the outside against the Cavs' No. 2 corner and Hoost Marsh, whose explosiveness from the slot position will be tough for any Virginia DB—if Sween can find time to throw the ball.

Virginia's top receiver Kevin Ogletree, who caught the game-winning score last year in Charlottesville, was knocked out for the year with a knee injury this off-season. Ogletree was about the only bright spot offensively for the Cavs in last year's contest, catching an impressive 10 balls for 95 yards and a touchdown. With its top wideout on the sidelines, UVA will turn to 6-foot-4, 215-pound junior Maurice Covington, who has the potential to become a star. He'll be complemented by 6-foot, 181-pound redshirt freshman Staton Jobe on the other side. Jobe is quick and runs nice routes, but "Receiver U," as Wyoming calls itself, has too much talent for the Hoos at this spot.

Advantage: Wyoming

O-Line: There is a great chance that much of the game could be decided in the trenches, and in that area, Virginia has to get the initial nod. Admittedly, no one knows much about the Cowboys' line because only two of them (Kyle Howard and Tim Bond) got any significant playing time last year. Howard and Bond should do well, but they can't do it alone, and Saturday will speak volumes about what fans can expect from the rest of the unit in '07.

In any case, Virginia returns all five O-line starters from a year ago, led by 6-foot-7, 315-pound junior Branden Albert, who is a beast at left guard. A potential NFL talent, he was the best blocker on the Cavs' 2006 unit and should open up some holes in the running game. Eugene Monroe and Will Barker, at left and right tackle respectively, are also 300+ pounds. Jordy Lipsey, at center, and Ian-Yates Cunningham, on the right side, round out the unit, which will likely show substantial improvement from last season.

Advantage: Virginia

Tight Ends:

Virginia calls itself "Tight End U" and boasts past greats like current Pittsburgh Steeler Heath Miller. This year, UVA is led by 6-foot-5, 250-pound junior Tom Santi. Like Wyoming's Wade Betschart, Santi is a physical blocker who can also catch. He's no Heath Miller, but he runs excellent routes, and Wyoming can't expect him to drop many passes.

Despite Virginia's self-proclaimed moniker, Wyoming's group of tight ends boasts a fair amount of talent in their own right. Betschart earned preseason all-conference honors and has proven to be one of the best blocking tight ends in the country. Chris Sundberg is healthy again and should pick up where he left off in '06 before his injury. Coincidentally, Sundberg caught the three-yard TD pass from Jacob Doss in overtime at Virginia last year that would have tied the score had Aric Goodman not missed the PAT. In the end, this position, like last year's game (until the final seconds, anyway), is almost too close to call.

Advantage: No one

D-Line:

This may well be the strength of UVA's entire team, led by preseason All-American Chris Long. Long is strong and a tough block for any line in the country, but he's got a talented duo of supporters up front as well. All three of the Cavs front three (like Wyoming, they run a 3-4 defensive scheme) return for 2007, and Virginia's other defensive end, Jeffrey Fitzgerald is nearly as dominating as Long. He capitalized last season on the attention Long demanded, cranking out 64 tackles with 5.5 sacks and 12 tackles for loss. Anchoring the middle will be 6-4, 287-pound senior Allen Billyk. Billyk won't make his way into the backfield much, but he'll be able to hold his own against the run.

Wyoming's linemen are nothing to scoff at, but they don't have the experience of Virginia's front three. Head coach Joe Glenn has called 6-6, 274-pound defensive tackle John Fletcher "unblockable," and Fred Givens and Mitch Unrein have showed flashes of brilliance during fall camp. Still, none of them is on the same level as Long, and the fact that Wyoming's O-line is far less experienced than Virginia's only favors the Cavaliers that much more.

Advantage: Virginia

Linebackers: If the strength of UVA's defense is its line, the strength of Wyoming's is its linebackers. Ward Dobbs, who earned preseason all-conference honors, leads the unit, and he should be an animal in the middle. Sean Claffey will be able to use his speed to stop the run on the outside and cover anybody that lines up in the slot. All four of the Pokes' backers can fly around the field, and the position is deep, with sophomores Weston Johnson and Zeb Whipp and seniors John Prater and Brandon Haugen all more than capable of filling in at any time.

Virginia returns all four of its linebackers from ‘06 (one senior and three juniors), and they each have plenty of experience. Not an outstanding unit last season, they should be tough, but not great in '07. They're led by 6-0, 232-pound junior Jon Copper. The main starter on the inside, Copper had 81 tackles, four sacks and nine tackles for a loss a year ago. He's obviously a sure tackler—his 81 tackles lead the team by far—but he's not much of a threat in the backfield. Coincidentally, his biggest game of 2006 was against Wyoming, where he posted 11 total tackles. On the outside is Junior Clint Sintim, who is the unit's best pass rusher by far and may be the most dangerous for the Wyoming offense on Saturday. At 6-3, 248 pounds, Sintim makes his living in the backfield; last year, he had 45 tackles, 12 tackles for a loss and four sacks. Both teams' linebackers are impressive, but in the end, the Cowboys' mobility gives them the edge.

Advantage: Wyoming

Cornerbacks Virginia is starting two juniors at corner, first-time starter Mike Brown, and veteran Chris Cook. Brown will attempt to fill the shoes of 2006 star cornerback Marcus Hamilton, who had five picks last season.

Marcus Hamilton
Cook had 58 tackles (fourth on the team), four tackles for a loss and eight broken-up passes last year. He also had ten solo tackles against Wyoming, which was the most of any Virginia player the whole season. A talented defender with top all-around talent, he may be given the assignment of blanketing Michael Ford, which would leave Brown on a dangerous Greg Bolling.

Brown's lack of experience probably gives Wyoming the advantage at the corner position, with team captain Michael Medina and preseason all-conference selection Julius Stinson both returning for their senior seasons. Last year, the two helped hold the entire Virginia passing offense to just 174 total yards. Stinson struggled at times against Ogletree on the outside, but with the Cavs' top receiver out for ‘07, Wyoming's corners should be able to shut down most of Sewell's options on the outside, especially any deep threats. Wyoming wins this battle on the strength of its veteran leadership, and with some help from its talented wideouts.

Advantage: Wyoming

Safeties The hardest hitting player in the Virginia secondary is junior Nate Lyles. Last year Lyles had 46 tackles with two sacks, four tackles for a loss, an interception and three broken-up passes. He's 6-0 and 203 pounds and can really lay the hit on receivers. The other safety is 5-11, 203-pound junior Byron Glaspy. A decent defensive back without elite athletic skills, Glaspy somehow finds a way to get around the ball often.

The safeties for the Cowboys are a bigger question mark, with neither Michael Ray or Quincy Lewis being starters in 2006. Ray has the daunting task of replacing current Buffalo Bill John Wendling. Lewis logged more field time last year than Ray and has shown consistency during fall practices. The Wyoming safety spot is deep, with Chris Prosinski and Alex Toney more than adequate subs, but in the end, UVA's experience wins this battle.

Advantage: Virginia

So there you have it. By the way, if we end up being correct about any of the above analysis, feel free to show your approval by offering donations. We accept cash, checks, travelers' checks, food stamps, meal vouchers, real estate deeds, car titles and Mastercard. But we won't take American Express…

NOTES:

We debated about whether or not to add one more position to this story and cover special teams but finally decided that Virginia and special teams just don't remind Wyoming fans of anything worth remembering, so we'll just conveniently leave that out.

We also debated about whether to add a coach position to the story. As close as these squads are, there's a realistic chance that the game could come down to sideline strategy. Instead, we decided to leave you with the following quote from Virginia head coach Al Groh, speaking about Wyoming head coach Joe Glenn during his press conference Tuesday:

"What we do know about them (the Cowboys) is kind of from top to bottom. (They have a) very accomplished coach; he had seven seasons of 11 wins or more. It would probably be very hard to find too many coaches in the country that have had that. As we saw last year, they've got some very good players and we certainly saw a lot more than last year in looking at their practice tapes. I think their schemes are very diversified on both sides. They give us a lot to think about. They make you play the whole field on both offense and defense."

That's it for today, but we'll post a recap tomorrow after the game along with message board posts throughout the contest. So if you're not going to make it out to Laramie, log on tomorrow and find out everything you need to know right here.

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