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 Offense vs West Virginia Defense
Ask any West Virginia Mountaineer fan what concerns them most about this years start, they would probably say the offensive scheme and lack of experience and intensity shown by the defense. Defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel didn't follow Rich Rodriguez to Michigan, which means his 3-3-5 stack, ultra dynamic defense remains the choice in Morgantown. Ask Oklahoma how the 3-3-5 defense was last year. So why is the production down this year? Why does West Virginia rank 71st against the run, 95th against the pass and 85th in total defense? Experience. Casteel has work to do with seven starters gone off of last year's team. There has also been some concern about the tackling, lack of intensity and too much thinking, not enough reacting. To give you some perspective, West Virginia was 7th in the nation last year in total defense.This year the defense has given up 392 yards/game while the Buffs defense has given up just over 300, ranking them #45 in the country. Last year the Mountaineers gave up 301 yards/game. That is a huge difference.
You would probably have to say the linebackers are the strength of this team. Probably the best statistical linebacker is Reed Williams who returned last week from injury. Williams had a 107 tackles last year. Mountainlair told us to watch out for LB Morty Ivy who had 89 total tackles last year and has had 14 tackles this year. As Mountainlair said about Ivy, "You should keep you eyes on Morty Ivy at linebacker. If he's having a good game, you aren't." Many predict Ivy to be a All Big East player. Sophomore LB J.T. Thomas leads the team in tackles with 16. Thomas really excelled at the end of last year and his production has not declined. The best word to describe these three linebackers is active. WVU will play like "their hair is on fire" to try and out quick the offense, making it difficult to predict and difficult to scheme against.
This will be the most unique defense the Buffs face this year. Don't expect the defensive lineman to be extremely productive as the Mountaineers like to attack with speed from the linebacker or safety position to try and develop mismatches. The Mountaineers also lost DL Johnny Dingle and Keilen Dykes which may affect the productivity of the linebackers due to the importance of the front three whom are counted on for occupying the OL rather than penetration in the backfield.
The weakest part of this team has to be the secondary not because they lack talent but they lost 4 of their 5 starters from last year. As you can imagine, losing 4 DB starters on a 3-3-5 defense could be more difficult than most teams due to the fact that the Mountaineers ask much more of their safeties than most teams ask. The secondary definitely remains a work in progress. And it didn't help when safety Charles Pugh was kicked off the team due to credit card theft. The one definite force in the secondary is "bandit safety" Quinton Andrews. So far this year he is tied for the team lead in tackles at 16 with JT Thomas. He has a reputation as a feared hitter and one of the more athletic Mountaineers. The rest of the secondary is still a work in progress with Mountainlair identifying corner back Ellis Lankster as the best of the group in terms of coverage. West Virginia ranks 95th in pass defense giving up 254 yards a game.
Well, looking at some of the numbers, the Buffs should be excited to go against a team that ranks 85th in total defense. At the same time, CU is 70th in total offense so they aren't necessarily world beaters. The Buffs get back Devin Head at starting guard, who was suspended for the EWU game, and starting TE Riar Geer from injury. Geer instantly adds another weapon to the Buffs offense as well as a solid blocker which will be important when WVU shifts up the safeties to blitz. Fundamentally, the key to the game will be how the offensive line of the Buffs handles the speed attack of WVU. We heard big OT Ryan Miller note the reason the Buffs struggled against EWU was their quickness. My comment back to Miller is hopefully you figured out how to deal with speed over the past week and a half because the Mountaineers will not be any slower. West Virginia wants to put CU in a position to feel uncomfortable and force turnovers.
If I were Dan Hawkins, here is how I would attack the Mountaineers. We all know that the Mountaineers, just like every other team in college football, takes on a different style of offense when they are behind. Clearly, the Buffs defense has been the key to the first two weeks wins but this week will be dependent on the offense. The defense won't win this game by itself. The CU offense will have to score early and put Pat White in throwing situations thus making him slightly less potent. I think the Buffs spread this team out right away and try to throw all over them. ECU and Villanova had success threw the air, let's follow their footsteps. Let's get the back 8 defenders in a back peddle early and playing on their toes. You tire this defense by wearing down the back 8 not the front three. All signs point to WVU trying to be the aggressor this game. The best way to make them sit back on their heels is screen passes, quick hot reads and strong execution in the passing game. Once we do that, the running game attack will thrive. Air it out coach Hawkins.