Coach: Bill Stewart (1-1 in 2008, 2-1* in his career at West Virginia; 9-26 overall in four seasons).
In 2007: 11-2 overall, 5-2 in the Big East (tied for first in league).
Returning starters: Offense-7. Defense-4. Special teams-1
Key losses: Offense-WR Darius Reynaud, FB Owen Schmitt, TB Steve Slaton. Defense-E Johnny Dingle, NT Keilen Dykes, CB Antonio Lewis, LB Marc Magro, FS Ryan Mundy, SS Eric Wicks, CB Larry Williams.
Colorado Buffaloes Defense vs West Virginia Offense
No question that this game will come down to the Colorado defense against the West Virginia offense. There are two intangibles that could impact this match-up, West Virginia's speed and whether or not the WVU coaches actually go back to a run first, pass second offense. The Mountaineers will still come out in their power spread option offense but new offensive coordinator Jeff Mullen has tweaked the system to protect QB Pat White from injury. The offense was supposed to feature more motion and stretching the field with the pass. As you are aware, coach Bill Stewart has vowed to get back to what worked last year; power belly option/zone reads by Pat White that let his play maker make plays. If the Mountaineers don't follow their promise to revert back to the run first pass second offense, I will question the sanity of West Virginia head coach Bill Stewart. This switch could spell trouble for the Buffs Thursday night. Let's face it; Pat White and RB Noel Devine are unbelievable talents with speed to boot. Integral to stopping zone read plays are strong defensive ends, which might be the weakest part of the Buffs defense.
Continue reading after the jump...
I expect the Buffs to load the line of scrimmage and force Pat White to beat them through the air. I know, another scary proposition especially if Buffs CB Gardner McKay is out there but with the return of CB Jimmy Smith and CB Anthony Wright from injury, the Buffs will have more depth at the cornerback spot. The West Virginia wide receivers don't scare me too much after they lost last year's speedster Darius Reynaud to the NFL free agency market (bad move by Reynaud). The wide receivers this year have averaged 7.5 yards/reception. TB/WR Jock Sanders is the playmaker of the group but only has11 catches for 82 yards and 2 TDs. No Mountaineer receiver has gone over 100 yards receiving on the year as the passing game has averaged 138.5 yards in its first two games. WR Bradley Starks was thought to be a big play threat but has only caught three balls thus far. WR Wes Lyons could give the Buffs fits as he is 6'8" but has not caught a ball. Hopefully when he is on the field, the 6'2" CB Jimmy Smith is across from him. Tito Gonzales has been the starter opposite of Sanders but has not had a lot of production. Sanders has speed and talent but Pat White is not a true passing quarterback so containing him within the pocket will have to be the Buffs #1 goal. If he gets outside, he becomes a much better passer because he is now a dual threat and the defenders must respect his running ability. This Mountaineer team will go the way Pat White goes...if he dominants; they win, if he struggles like last week and only throws for 72 yards, West Virginia is in trouble.
A key development for this game will be the West Virginia offensive line. The top eight players returned from a line that that helped the Mountaineers become a top 5 rushing and a top 10 scoring team last year. Coming into the season, the line play was thought to be a strength but last week against East Carolina marked the lowest yardage output since September 14, 2006 against Maryland. The key to the ECU game was that the Pirates jumped out early on the Mountaineers and made them panic on offense. East Carolina put pressure on White with three sacks without doing anything special; only rushing 3 or 4 and letting the talented defensive line overpower the West Virginia offensive line... a shock to West Virginia nation. Right now two freshmen are pushing two veteran offensive linemen for playing time. The most surprising is left guard Greg Isander, who has not had a strong year, getting pushed by red shirt freshman Don Barclay. A 29 game starter at right guard, Jack Figner, is battling with highly touted true freshman Josh Jenkins. Hey Buffs fans, we aren't the only team with guard problems! For the Buffs to win this game, the DT combo of George Hypolite and Brandon Nicolas need to get up field penetration and disrupt Pat White because of the weakness at defensive end. With a lack of confidence at offensive guard, the highly touted Hypolite should be expected to step up on what has been a relatively quite year.
The Mountaineers are extremely solid at tackle with Ryan Stanchek probably being an All American choice. I would guess the Buffs come out in a 3 - 4 or maybe even a 4 - 4 to get more linebackers on the field for speed reasons. Simply wasting a guy on Stanchek would be useless as he will dominate any defensive end we have. We will need to make him play a speed rusher like Brad Jones to keep contain on White. Jones has been in this position most of the year and I suspect prepping him for the WVU game was one of the reasons.
For the Buffs on defense, they need to get physical upfront and make Pat White beat them through the air, not on the ground. If West Virginia wins because White had 300 yards and 4 touchdowns so be it, but last week WVU proved they couldn't rely on the pass to win. The Buffs must also limit the big play. Sanders, Devine and White are all capable of taking it to the house every single time they touch it. White averages 5.5 a carry and Devine 6.7. The defense has to keep them both under those averages to win the game. Buffs safeties Ryan Walters and Dan Dykes will be key in coming up to the line of scrimmage and spying the running duo. This will put the cornerbacks on an island but if they play the way they did in the second half against EWU, I won't be too worried. The linebackers need to be active as ever. Shaun Mohler, Jeff Smart and Brad Jones need to have career games against Noel Devine. They have to hit him before he gets started and make their presence known early. The good thing for the linebackers is there won't be a player like FB Owen Schmitt to deal with. Most WVU fans feel this is the main reason that the offense is struggling right now. It also doesn't help to lose a player like RB Steve Slaton to the NFL even though he was not needed in the rout of Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl last year.
Finally, the blue print has already been laid by ECU. The Pirates jumped out to a 10 - 0 lead and were able to get 3 quick sacks on White. By getting out of the gate fast, Devine only got 15 touches while White was held to less than 4.9 yards/carry and a dismal 72 yards through the air. East Carolina's defense was very opportunistic, putting WVU into many 3rd and long situations with the Mountaineers only converting 3 of 12 on third down, gaining only 251 total yards on offense and forcing two crucial turnovers, one of which led to a touchdown and a 17 - 3 lead. Basically, ECU forced WVU into tough situations and capitalized on it. The Buffs will need to do the same if they plan to keep the Mountaineers' offense in check.
A look at the offense later as well as a look at the intangibles which are numerous on both sides.