PoG: WVU - Louisville

Bruce Irvin

On a day when almost any defensive player could have earned our top honors, it was a junior college transfer who continued to show just what a physically dominating presence he is. Unequivocally, he is one of the best in all of college football when it comes to rushing the quarterback.

DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE GAME:

Bruce Irvin.

He is, to be sure, a force off the edge of the defensive line.

Irvin had another two sacks on Saturday, backing up the Louisville offense 17 yards on those plays. He added another solo tackle, ranking fifth on the defense in tackles -- even in spite of the fact that he is not an every-down player.

But that might slowly be changing. Irvin, typically reserved for third down passing situations earlier this season, found himself on the field on a lot of second down plays as well against the Cards.

While a lot of that is the result of the defense putting U of L in poor down-and-distance situations early, Irvin was on the field for more than just second-and-long plays. He got occasional work in intermediate yardage situations, as well.

Perhaps that's a sign that the junior is becoming a bit more cerebral of a football player as the year goes along. But there's no doubt that Irvin's greatest strength is his ability to make life hellish for opposing quarterbacks in passing situations.

On one play, Louisville attempted to account for Irvin with only a single blocker. It paid dearly for that decision, as the rush end embarrassed his opponent with an initial surge of power before using his speed to leave the blocker in his wake. Cards' QB Justin Burke had no chance and went down to the turf in a heap.

Irvin was one of the more obviously dominant players on a WVU defense that was full of them on Saturday. He is just one more reason why opposing offenses have struggled to put up points against the Mountaineers all year long.

OFFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE GAME:

Gregg Pugnetti.

The fact that a punter got the top honors on the offensive side of the ball tells you all you need to know.

It was a rough outing for the offense, particularly in the second half. Again, the squad struggled to put up points in the latter stages, adding only a field goal to its lead in the final 30 minutes of the contest.



Gregg Pugnetti
But Pugnetti was a bright spot. He was clearly targeted by the Cards' coaching staff, which apparently thought it found weaknesses in the team's protection unit on film this past week.

U of L nearly blocked at least three of the senior's punts, but it never got a glove on any of them in the end because Pugnetti got the ball away quickly.

That speed didn't effect the quality of the delivery, as Pugnetti averaged 44.9 yards per kick and had a long of 47 yards. Twice, he pinned Louisville inside its own 20-yard line.

Thanks to Pugnetti, even while the Mountaineer offense struggled, the hosts were never able to claim the upper hand in the field position battle. Louisville's best field position on a drive that began as a result of a WVU punt was only at the Cardinals' own 33-yard line.

That means Pugnetti was consistently solid on his seven punts. He needed to be consistent in a game that was largely decided as a result of defense and special teams play.

GAME BALLS:

  • Stopping the run.

    It's obvious, but that doesn't make it any less significant: West Virginia won this game in large part because it made the Cardinals' rushing game -- which came into Saturday leading the Big East Conference in that category -- utterly ineffective.

    Pick your favorite statistic to show just how dominant the visiting defenders were against the ground game: Louisville averaged only nine-tenths of a yard per rushing attempt, saw Bilal Powell (the nation's fifth-leading rusher coming in) fail to gain a single yard on four carries, and registered only 26 total yards on the ground.

    Take away the performance of punter Chris Philpott (who, in one of the oddest statistical twists this reporter has ever seen, was the Cards' leading rusher with 21 yards on a fake punt in the first half), and U of L players combined to tally only five yards rushing on 29 carries.

    That made Louisville one-dimensional offensively (and, thus, allowed the WVU pass rushers to pin their ears back and come after Burke). The result? Only 171 total yards for the hosts and a grand total of three points from their offense.

  • Anthony Leonard.

    Observers of the Mountaineer football team this season may have gotten used to seeing Leonard dominate in the middle of the field. But going back to the start of the campaign, who saw this kind of consistent performance coming from the senior?

    Again, Leonard was outstanding at middle linebacker against U of L. He led the team with seven tackles (all solo efforts), including one tackle for loss.

    It wasn't a performance full of big, momentum-changing plays like Irvin's. But that's not necessarily what the middle linebacker is asked to do in West Virginia's 3-3-5 stack defense.

    Instead, Leonard must patrol the whole field, making quick decisions about where to go. Choose wrongly and the opposing offense gets a numbers advantage. But choose correctly, as Leonard did time and time again against the Cards, and it's tough for any offense to consistently make hay.

    It's easy to forget just how far Leonard has home in his final season at WVU. He waited in the wings behind former star Reed Williams and current senior Pat Lazear. But when he got his chance, Leonard made the most of it -- and the Mountaineer defense is much better for it.

  • Keith Tandy.

    The most opportunistic player wearing a West Virginia uniform again made plays.

    Tandy yet again managed to intercept a pass, once again off a teammate's tip (this time it was Sidney Glover who did the honors). It was the junior cornerback's sixth pick of the season, and it served to end any thoughts of a late game-tying drive for Louisville.

    In a sort of homecoming game (Tandy is a native of Hopkinsville, Ky.) for the cornerback, he again played well. On top of the late interception, he had four total tackles (all solo efforts) and was credited with another pass break-up.

    He was physical once again. One week after blowing up Cincinnati receiver D.J. Woods on a screen pass, Tandy this time planted U of L tight end Cameron Graham into the turf at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium.

    While it doesn't show up in the stat sheets in any particular area, Tandy and the rest of the secondary also made sure Burke wasn't able to find his wide receivers down the field. Graham (often matched up with linebackers on his routes) accounted for 95 of Louisville's 145 passing yards.

    The hosts' three big-name receivers (Doug Beaumont, Josh Bellamy and Josh Chichester) combined for only three catches and 14 yards. That's a testament to the work Tandy and fellow cornerbacks Brandon Hogan and Pat Miller did against the wideouts.

    Of course, it was all part of an all-around stellar day for the team's defense, which is beginning to rival the 1996 unit that finished No. 1 in the nation for the mantle of best defense in school history.

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