Hard Nosed Outing

Hard Nosed Outing

Rutgers' offensive line blocking is unlike that of any other power team West Virginia has faced. The value of technique and lateral movement over brut force means the Mountaineers must match accordingly.

The Scarlet Knights (5-2, 2-1 Big East) are averaging 476.9 yards of offense per game in tallying a mean of 36.1 points. The vast majority of numerical productivity comes via the pass; RU is scorching foes for nearly 300 yards per game as opposed to the 180 on the ground. But it's Ray Rice and the rushing attack that both takes pressure of quarterback Mike Teel – who will play with an injured thumb – and wears upon foes to open gaps for the pass.

The line, led by center Ryan Blaszczyk (6-4, 285 lbs.) and guards Mike Fladell (6-8, 320 lbs.) and Anthony Davis (6-6, 350 lbs.), has allowed the least amount of sacks (fewer than one per game) in the Big East and the second fewest in the NCAA while leading Rutgers to national ranks of 13th in total offense, 14th in passing offense and 35th in rushing offense. The idea, under unit coach and run game coordinator Kyle Flood, is to force opposing linemen to certain locations to allow Rice to select a vacated area to hit the crease. The technique is to extend an arm and turn a defender's pads to one side, forcing him to move laterally along the line of scrimmage and decreasing balance and stability.

That negates opposing players from the point of attack and allows better penetration of the fullback and supporting blockers into the linebackers and second level. No. 9 WVU (6-1, 1-1), which might be forced to start Keilen Dykes at nose because of his ability to hold position even against the center-guard double team, must at least stay square to the line and create a stalemate, if not slash their way into the backfield. The worry with getting penetration is that Rutgers utilizes the draw more than any other 2007 foe, and thus can slip Rice past defenders, who have taken themselves out of the play by moving upfield. The Mountaineers, then, are more likely to try to clog the middle and keep position, forcing Rice, a north-south runner, to make his gains around the end, where supporting spur and bandit players, as well as linebackers, can make the play on the back.

"It's a completely different style than Maryland," said Dykes. "They try to push you upfield, get you into the linebackers and away from the ball carrier. Rutgers tries to move you one way or the other to create holes. It's more finesse, in a way. They do a good job in what they do, in pass protection and run blocking. It will be a challenge for us. They chop block, cut. We have to be ready and have our hands ready and get off blocks."

Dykes and the rest of the linemen are dissecting film in an attempt to locate any tip-offs to the type of play called. Some linemen will set their feet a certain way, or noticeably have less weight on their hands and more on their thighs and back when dropping into a pass block set as opposed to charging off the line on a running play. If Dykes, Chris Neild, end Johnny Dingle and tackle Scooter Berry can find any signals, it will allow them to choose whether to attempt to get penetration or hold their ground.

"I look at a lot of technique stuff, like how many steps they drop back before they shoot their hands, certain things like that," Dykes said. "How they run block in certain schemes and in certain situations, things like that. I can tell by the offensive line look if they run block or pass block. If they have their feet square, they could run block. First, we have to stop Ray Rice, then worry about Teel. It's the Ray Rice show. When he got the ball (last year), he kept getting stronger and breaking tackles. It will be up to us to have as many guys as possible to the ball and slow him down. Hopefully we can do that."

Rice, behind a mammoth line averaging nearly 6-6 and totaling more than 1,500 pounds up front, needs just one yard to reach 1,000 on the season. The bruiser is averaging almost five yards per carry and has scored 13 times. He ran for 181 yards on a career-high 39 carries – 12, nine, 10 and eight in quarters one through four, respectively – in Rutgers' 30-27 upset of then-No. 2 South Florida on Thursday. The junior is an ideal fit for the Scarlet Knight offense, which uses between-the-tackles running. He won't attempt to go outside often unless bottled interiorally, but will settle for shorter gains in an attempt to tire foes for chunks of yardage later in games. Thus, a major plus would be the return of Berry to more than spot duty. The freshman played only a few snaps against Mississippi State, but is taking full contact in drills this week and is expected to play despite being bothered by a recently removed tooth that is causing jaw pain.

His return could bolster the already thin defensive front. Dykes started on the outside last game as Neild slid to nose. The 6-3, 305-pound Neild graded out at 77 percent and would be an ideal nose tackle in terms of size. But his technique, pad level and ability to use his hands still need to improve, and the latter is as important as anything else versus the Rutgers front five.

"I think I came off both feet pretty well, but I have to shoot my hands," Neild said. "I have to shoot my hands a lot better. Shooting hands and letting go of the center (were problems). I did that a couple times, once when they came off on a quick count. I gotta work on that and be ready at all times. I was put in there early (in the open week prior to MSU), and got used to working with Dykes and Dingle. It's a really different position. I think it's probably the roughest on the defense. You have to help the linebackers make plays. You have to know where you are going at all times."

Neild might be tested early to see if he can hold up under the double teams of considerable size. If not, Dykes will likely return to nose with Berry at tackle and Dingle at end, the threesome West Virginia has used for most of the season.

"We're probably better with Keilen at the nose position," WVU head coach Rich Rodriguez said. "With Scooter Berry nursing his knees and a lack of depth at the position, we needed Chris at that position. He gave us a lot of mileage. He's another big guy over 300 pounds that can hold it down in there."

Neild had three tackles against Mississippi State, though at a position perhaps least equipped to register numbers, the most impressive aspect was that he fared reasonably well against a solid BCS front that was limited to 45 yards on 33 rushes. Part of it was that, with a 28-0 first quarter WVU lead that ballooned to 31-0 on the first play of the second quarter, MSU was forced to pass and get away from its power running by tailback Anthony Dixon. Still, Neild allowed Berry to take limited snaps and further heal and also put Dykes outside, where he did not take as much of a pounding and so should be fresher this week, a key against a team on two additional days' rest that does not have to travel. The redshirt freshman should be aided by seeing a similar style offense for a second consecutive week.

"It does help, because you get used to it one week and it comes at you again a second week," Neild said, "especially with Rutgers, because they got two guards inside that are huge. The center is good. I am going to have to work hard, but I do prefer a bigger guy. I feel like I will be quicker, like on a pass play. I can move around them quicker."

Look at the center of the line play on the first few RU series, and identify who the West Virginia coaching staff started at nose. If it's Neild, look at the point of attack and see if the second-year player is holding his own and not getting forced into the linebackers, sealing them off and allowing Rice to make vertical gains. If he can hold that slot and allow Dykes to play outside, the Mountaineers will be better able to hold down Rutgers' running game. If Dykes plays nose, see who is flanking him and how much time Berry gets. These will be major aspects in, if not stopping the Knights, at least slowing them and putting WVU's finest defenders on the field for its best chance to win.

"Neild will be all right," Dykes said "The little bit that he got in, he did all right. He is getting better. If he keeps getting game experience, the better he will be. I'm not going to lie, I like end. I like making plays. The end gives you a chance to do more things, make more plays than the nose."

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