Before I get into the scouting report on the Mountaineers (I figured the WV native would probably qualify for the job), this will be a hard game for me to watch. I’m an NC State grad and a die hard State fan (or else I wouldn’t be here on this site) but I can’t turn my back on the Mountaineers that are such source of pride to West Virginians like myself either. So you see my dilemma… Anyway, on to the scouting report.
The West Virginia University Mountaineers finished the season 9-3 overall and tied for the Big East title with a record of 5-2. Bill Stewart is the head coach in his 3rd full season and has a record of 28-11 in Morgantown. Here is a link to Coach Stew’s “Leave No Doubt” pregame speech before the Fiesta Bowl. Even though he will be on the opposite sideline from the Wolfpack, you’ve got to admit that’s a pretty good speech. Oklahoma State offensive coordinator Dana Holgorsen will be brought in as head coach in waiting and offensive coordinator after the bowl game and will take over as the head man after the 2011 season. Here is an article with more details on the coaching change/hire.Former NCSU defensive coordinator Steve Dunlap is the assistant head coach and safeties coach for WVU.
The Pack and the ‘Eers had two common opponents in the Maryland Terrapins and the Cincinnati Bearcats. WVU beat the Terps 31-17 in Sept and Cincy 37-10 in Nov, both games were in Morgantown. The Wolfpack beat Cincy 30-19 in Sept in Carter-Finley and lost to Maryland 38-31 in the regular season finale in College Park.
WVU scores 26.7 points per game (65th in the nation) and total offense averages 376.6 yards per game (64th). On the ground, WVU averages 162.2 yards per game (49th) and through the air averages 214.4 yards per game (67th). The offensive coordinator, who will be replaced by Holgersen, is Jeff Mullen, the former QB coach at Wake Forest. WVU turned the ball over 23 times with 16 fumbles and 7 interceptions.
Despite the weapons the Mountaineers have on offense, that side of the ball has been the weakness for WVU this season. In a 20-14 loss at LSU, 2 WVU turnovers led to 10 points and had only 177 yards of total offense. Special teams were also key with 2 missed field goals and a 60 yard punt return by LSU. In the 19-14 loss to Syracuse, 2 interceptions led to 2 Cuse FGs and a 3rd int was thrown in the end zone. In a 16-13 OT loss that ended up giving UConn a BCS Fiesta Bowl bid, WVU turned the ball over 4 times including a Ryan Clarke fumble at the 4 yard line in overtime. The Mountaineers also struggled on offense in a 17-10 win over Louisville, a 20-6 win over South Florida and a 24-21 overtime comeback win over Marshall. However the Mountaineers have scored at least 35 in 3 of their last 4 games in wins over Cincy, Pitt & Rutgers.
WVU’s starting QB is #12 Geno Smith (2nd team All Big East). This season Geno is 219 of 333 passing (65.8%) for 2567 yards and 23 TD with only 6 interceptions (3 of those coming in the loss at Syracuse) and a QB rating of 149.71 (22nd in the nation). Geno does a good job of moving around in the pocket and the coaching staff has him running the QB option read more later in the season. While Geno is no Pat White (and really who is), he’s pretty mobile and has run for 158 net yards on the ground. It often seems to me if the downfield game isn’t working early, the coaches go conservative, allowing defenses to stack the box to stop the ground game and screen passes, so solid play from the secondary early could be a key for the Wolfpack. The backup is #11 true freshman Barry Brunetti, who recently posted on Twitter that he will transfer after the bowl game.
#7 Noel Devine is WVU’s leading rusher with 886 yards and 6 TDs. Devine has been slowed this year by a nagging foot injury explaining the drop off from 1289 yards as a soph and 1465 as a junior. While he doesn’t have the initial burst he used to have, a slower Noel Devine is still pretty darn fast and will have some time to heal before the bowl game. #32 Ryan Clarke fills the fullback slot left empty by runaway beer truck and Philadelphia Eagle Owen Schmitt. Clarke has been used a lot in goal line and short yardage situations and has 291 yards and 8 TDs but has some fumble issues of late. #20 Shawne Alston will see some carries (242 yards) and slot receivers Jock Sanders and Tavon Austin (more on them next) will line up in the backfield at times.
The two main threats at slot receiver are similar to Devine, small and quick. #9 Jock Sanders (2nd team All Big East) has 64 catches for 670 yards and 4 TDs as well as 75 yards and 1 TD on the ground. #1 Tavon Austin (2nd team All Big East) has 53 catches for 757 yards and 8 TDs and 153 yards and 1 TD on the ground. Other receiving targets are #10 Stedman Bailey (256 yards & 3 TD), #2 Brad Starks (317 yards & 4 TD) and #81 J.D. Woods (191 yards, 1 TD). Devine has 30 catches for 237 yards and 1 TD as well and while WVU doesn’t use the tight end much, #6 Will Johnson does have 107 yards and 2 TDs. Sanders and Austin along with Devine are very, very good in open space at making you miss, so one on one tackles should be an area for concern for the Pack defense.
The starters on the O-line are #64 Don Barclay (2nd team All Big East) and #57 Jeff Braun at tackle, #77 Josh Jenkins and #61 Eric Jobe at guard and #74 Joe Madsen at center. Madsen is academically inelligible for the bowl game (along with reserves DB Eain Smith and NT Josh Taylor), so Jobe will move to center and #72 Cole Bowers will probably get the start at guard. The O-line has given up 25 sacks this year (74th in the nation) and doesn’t appear to me to be as good as previous WVU O-lines. Although with Devine’s injury it’s a little hard to tell if they can’t hold their blocks or if Devine just can’t hit the hole as fast. This is an area, especially missing the starting center, where I think the Wolfpack defensive line and blitzers could try to find an advantage.
WVU plays a 3-3-5 defensive scheme that most teams aren’t used to seeing (although the NCSU coaching staff will have plenty of time to watch game tape) and has a very solid and very fast unit this year led by defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel. The Mountaineers only give up 12.8 points per game (2nd in the nation) and is the only team in the nation that hasn’t allowed more than 21 points in a game this season. WVU gives up 85.1 rushing yards per game (2nd in the nation) and 166.3 passing yards per game (11th). Total defense allows 251.3 yards per game (3rd). WVU forced 22 turnovers with 10 fumbles and 12 interceptions.
#90 Chris Neild (1st team All Big East) is the starting nose tackle and has 31 tackles, 4 for loss and 3 sacks. The other 2 starters on the 3 man front are #93 Scooter Berry (2nd team All Big East) with 34 tackles, 4.5 for loss and 4 sacks and #97 Julian Miller with 50 tackles, a team leading 13 for loss and 7 sacks. #11 Bruce Irvin (2nd team All Big East) is a JUCO transfer pass rush specialist that leads the team and ranks tied for 4th in the nation with 12 sacks.
The starting linebackers are #30 J.T. Thomas (1st team All Big East) with 63 tackles, 7 for loss and 2.5 sacks, #52 Najee Good with 44 tackles, 8.5 for loss and 3 sacks and #45 Anthony Leonard with 65 tackles, 6.5 for loss and 1 sack. #31 Pat Lazear, who picked off a pass to seal the 2008 Meineke Bowl win over Carolina, was injured early in the season but has gotten more playing time late in the year.
The starting corners are #8 Keith Tandy (1st team All Big East) with 54 tackles and a team hight 6 interceptions and #22 Brandon Hogan (2nd team All Big East) with 37 tackles and 3 interceptions, tore his ACL and will not be available for the bowl game. The safeties in the 3-3-5 scheme are #28 Terence Garvin with a team high 71 tackles, 4.5 for loss and 1 sack, #2 Robert Sands (1st Team All Big East) with 45 tackles, 5.5 for loss and 1 interception and #4 Sidney Glover with 59 tackles, 6 for loss and 3 sacks. Not having Hogan is a big loss and his playing time would probably go to #6 Pat Miller with 15 tackles.
With Sands at 6-5, Garvin at 6-3 and the rest of the secondary around 5-11, the size and speed of the WVU secondary should make for a very interesting matchup with the size of the Wolfpack’s wide receivers. While the Pack threw for over 300 yards 8 times this season, the Mountaineers only gave up 200 passing yards 4 times.
WVU’s placekicker is #40 Tyler Bitencurt who hit 10 of his 15 field goal attempts with a long of 43 yards and was a perfect 40 for 40 on extra points. The punter is #36 Gregg Pugnetti who averaged 41.7 yards per punt with a long of 71.
The primary punt returners are Brandon Hogan (7.8 yards per return) and Jock Sanders (12.8) and ranks 50th in the nation. The primary kickoff returners are Sanders (21.2), Tavon Austin (20.0) and Hogan (22.2) and ranks 112th in the nation. With Hogan’s knee injury, we won’t see him returning kicks but there are other options with Sanders, Austin and Devine. WVU’s kick coverage has improved some after being a definite weakness over the past few seasons.
I think it will be interesting to see how this game plays out. When the Pack has the ball, who will win the matchup between the Pack’s passing attack and the Mountaineers’ 3rd ranked defense? Russell Wilson will have to prepare for the 3-3-5 look and the O-line will have to be aware of Bruce Irvin on the rush.
On defense for the Pack, a solid game from the defensive line will go a long way to stopping Devine before he gets going. The secondary and linebackers will have to tackle in open space or else Devine, Sanders and Austin will make one move and be off to the races. Forcing turnovers should also be a key for the Pack defense.
Then there is the question of how the Mountaineer players will react to the coaching change and if they will rally around Coach Stew or if all of this will end up being a distraction.