Sat 11/20/10 12:00 PM
Papa John's Cardinal Stadium
Cincinnati W 37-10
TV: Big East
USF L 24-21
Series: WVU 9-2
First Meeting: 1984
Last Meeting: 2009
WVU – FB Chris Snook (Head), Out; Donovan Miles (Ankle) Out; Don Barclay (Shoulder) Probable; Jeff Braun (Shoulder) Probable; Pat Eger (Shoulder) Probable; Sidney Glover (Ankle) Probable; Matt Lindamood (Neck) Probable; Julian Miller (Shoulder) Probable.
Louisville – WR Jarrett Davis (Lowwer Body), Questionable; TE Nate Nord (Lower Body), Questionable; QB Adam Froman (Leg), Questionable; LB Tyon Dixon (Head), Questionable; OL Joe Evinger (Back), Out for Season; TE Stephon Ball (Knee), Out for Season; CB Anthony Connor (Knee), Out for Season; WR Michaelee Harris (Knee), Out for Season.
WVU Offense vs. Louisville defense
West Virginia has run for 150-plus yards six times this season. It is 5-1 when it does. It has rushed for, obviously, fewer than 150 yards three times. It is 1-2 in those games. The question is, though, does WVU need passing success to set up the run, or does its running set up the pass? The answer is muddled, but appears to lean toward the Mountaineer passing game leading to better running. Thus, against a Louisville defense ranking second in the Big East in passing yards allowed (163.6 per game), West Virginia's third-rated passing offense could face a solid challenge. The Cards are solid at the corners with Bobby Burns and Johnny Patrick, but have youthful safeties in Shenard Holton and Hakeem Smith, a sophomore and redshirt freshman, respectively. Add in the very good play of Geno Smith in all but one game and UofL's inability to intercept passes (the Cards have allowed 13 TDs while intercepting seven passes), and the Mountaineers should feel somewhat comfortable – if they can give Smith enough time.
Louisville, under new defensive coordinator Vance Bedford, is bringing pressure from many different positions. It doesn't record a ton of sacks (defensive end Rodney Gnat leads the team with seven, good for third in the Big East), but the collapsing pocket and the harassment of opposing quarterbacks has greatly aided the secondary. The pressure, combined with good corner play, is a major reason the Cardinals allow fewer than 19 points per game. And with the Mountaineers being 5-0 when amassing 200-plus passing yards, that along with turnovers will be the number to watch. If WVU can gain yardage through the air, its running game should click, as Louisville foes averaging 138 yards per game on the ground. The Cards' 4-3 set is led by linebacker Daniel Brown, who has 10 tackles for loss and is seemingly always around the ball. It's a good thing, as the line starts three freshmen and a senior. If there is ever a unit West Virginia's offensive line could manage in the running game, it is this one. The Cardinals are achingly thin and undersized, as players have not had time to develop as the staff would have liked (two starters are true freshmen).
Look for West Virginia to mix the run and pass up well on the initial series to see what alignments are shown against certain formations and situations. That's a given in any game, but could be more important here than against other foes because of Louisville's strength in in-game adjustments. The Cardinals have allowed just 23 fourth quarter points this year and Bedford, who played at Texas and coached on national championship teams at Michigan and Florida as well as in the NFL, has seemingly gotten better as the season has progressed. The Mountaineers need to find out of their strength (passing, it seems, to set up the run) will work against a defense that plays the pass well but hasn't handled the run extremely effectively. Remember, too, that West Virginia has stalled after fine first quarters this season and that it hasn't consistently played well on the road under head coach Bill Stewart, and any offensive lulls could prove difficult to overcome. Turnovers will be a huge key; give the ball away against a defense that typically doesn't get many and the problems immediately compound.
|By The Numbers|
|Scoring Offense 25.9 ppg||Scoring Defense 19.4 ppg|
|Rushing Offense 166.6 ypg||Rushing Defense 142.9 ypg|
|Passing Offense 208.4 ypg||Passing Defense 163.6 ypg|
Advantage: West Virginia
WVU Defense vs. Louisville Offense
The Cards, behind tailback Bilal Powell, lead the Big East in rushing with 193.3 average yards per game. That's part of an offense that is hitting for almost 400 yards per game in scoring about 27 points per contest. This will pit strength against strength, as West Virginia ranks in the top 10 in the nation (sixth) in rushing defense and hasn't allowed many foes save Syracuse to bully them. But the issue is that Louisville's style is similar to that of the Orange. Expect the home team to lineup and try to run right at the Mountaineers, negating the swarming angles of attack in the 3-3-5 and trying to continually slip tackles, something with which SU had much success. If WVU cannot play more physically and tackle better than it did three games ago, it won't be able to slow UofL and is likely in for defending lengthy drives.
Powell, a 6-0, 215-pound senior, averages 133 yards per game behind a veteran offensive line. He has moved into the starting spot ahead of incumbent Victor Anderson, a one-time Mountaineer commit who chose to sign with his hometown school. Anderson still gets multiple game carries, but he hasn't been able to hammer a defense like Powell, who is averaging a whopping seven yards per carry. He isn't a burner, and indeed prefers to churn out the yards. But that type of back is exactly what UofL needs against West Virginia. With four senior line starters (center Mario Benavides is a sophomore) and some receiver talent to force defenses to at least stay somewhat honest, the Cards are running well and getting into manageable downs and distances. Result: A Big East-best 178 first downs with a third-down conversion rate of 40 percent.
First and second downs will be very important for the odd stack in this game. WVU needs to force quarterback Adam Froman into longer throws so that it can bring its pressure and try to force the senior into mistakes. Froman (6-4, 218 lbs.) has been steady, completing 60 percent of his passes for 1,633 yards and 11 touchdowns against four interceptions. He won't often make the big play, and he isn't as solid a scrambler as Cincinnati's Zach Collaros, but he is mentally very good for a player in the first year of an offense and he'll throw a ball away or make the shot pass even if it means a punt to avoid major miscues. His height is another asset, as he can survey the field well and throw over defensive linemen even with the arms up at times. His main target is Doug Beamont, a 5-9, 186-pound senior. Beamont, perhaps the league's best punt returner, has caught 32 passes for 369 yards, good for more than 50 average receiving yards per game – good for a top 10 Big East ranking. Fellow wiedeout Josh Bellamy leads the team with six scoring catches. Like many offenses that bother the Mountaineers, UofL hits the tight ends. Cameron Graham, at 6-4, 248 lbs., is a sizeable target. The senior tight end has caught 20 passes and is one of 16 Cards to snare at least one completion this season as Froman has spread the ball well.
|By The Numbers|
|Scoring Defense 13.2 ppg||Scoring Offense 26.2 ppg|
|Rushing Defense 94.9 ypg||Rushing Offense 192.3 ypg|
|Passing Defense 158.4 ypg||Passing Offense 198.9 ypg|
WVU Special Teams vs. Louisville Special Teams
UofL placekicker Chris Philpott has made 12 of 16 tries this season – the majority coming from close range as he has missed half of his six attempts beyond 40 yards. Punter Josh Bleser averages almost 40 yards per punt, and of late has shared that duty with Philpott, who shows a bit better leg with a 43-yard average but not as fine an ability to drop kicks inside the red zone. Thus, the coaching staff could utilize Philpott when the field is longer, and Bleser when it's shorter. In the punt return game, the Mountaineers will face Big East leader Doug Beaumont. The senior averages 19 yards per return, with one 74-yarder going for a score. He flashes good quickness and an ability to cut and head north-south. He is also sure-handed, and at 5-9 with a lower center of gravity, a bit difficult to knock offbalance. This is likely the best returner WVU has faced this season outside of LSU's Patrick Peterson (with a 17.6-yard average) and will demand execution throughout the entire phase to slow. Louisville's lead kickoff returner is Victor Anderson, who averages more than 30 yards per run back. Louisville seems to have a bit more skill and ability in the return game, with the kickoffs and punts being a push. That's enough to give the edge to the Cards.
|By The Numbers|
|Net Punting 36.8 yards||Net Punting 36.4 yards|
|KO Returns 17.8 yards per return||KO Returns 23.4 yards per return|
|Punt Returns 8.9 yards per return||Punt Returns 13.2 yards per return|
PICKS TO CLICK
The coaching staff can preach all they want about no game being a must win. This is. If West Virginia wants to accomplish much worth anything this season, it must defeat Louisville and set-up a Backyard Brawl showdown with Pitt. The Cardinals are not as talented as the Mountaineers, but do have enough backfield and kick return skill to win. This game is about toughness. Can West Virginia stop the power running game and tackle well, two aspects (along with, as always, turnovers) that cost it the game against Syracuse. UofL is a stronger running team than Cincinnati and will show some power. That, along with the unpredictability of WVU's offense and the game being on the road throws this one largely on the special teams and defense. Win those phases and the turnover battle and the Mountaineers should win the game. Get punched in the mouth by the league's best running team and don't respond – season's over. This one could be very close.
Louisville – 24 West Virginia – 23