West Virginia’s rushing issues are definitely an item to track in this week’s game, but the Mountaineers’ ability to slow Virginia Tech’s ground game might be the way in which WVU can keep pace with the Hokies if their own ground attack continues to sputter.
Tech has ground out 343 yards in its first two contests, averaging 4.2 yards per carry. It hasn’t been dependent on the big play (its longest rush has been a 33-yarder and it has just two runs of 20 or more) but it has continually moved the chains, converting an excellent 50% of its third-down chances while limiting opponents to only 34.6% (9-26).
Watch for Tech to try to take advantage of West Virginia’s upfield aggressiveness with some trap plays, as well as a reverse or two that attempts to catch the Mountaineers over-pursuing. Of course, they’ll also have been watching the success screen passes have had against WVU, and figure to have some of those — as well as their partner, the draw play – in the plan of attack.
West Virginia will need to hold Tech to something in the neighborhood of a 35% success rate on third down in order to produce a counterbalance of possession chances, and that’s going to be a tough task. Success on first down, as always, will be a critical item to track.
|West Virginia (1-1) vs. Virginia Tech (2-0)||Sat Sept. 18 12:00 PM ET|
|Mountaineer Field||Morgantown, WV||TV: FS1|
|Poll: WVU–NR VT-15||Series: WVU 28-23-1||Last Game: VT 31-24|
|Twitter: @BlueGoldNews||Facebook: BlueGoldNews||Web: BlueGoldNews.com|
Tech’s 938 sacks and 410 interceptions since 1996 are both tops among FBS schools.
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The availability of tight ends could play a bigger than normal role in this game, at least from a historical perspective. Back in the 1980s and 90s (yes, I know I’m talking ancient history here for some of you), tight ends were an extension of the offensive line. Sure, there were exceptions like Mark Raugh, Anthony Becht and Lovett Purnell who were part of the passing game, but the majority of the time they were were blockers.
The 2021 game figured to be a bit different with Virginia Tech’s James Mitchell – a surefire pro prospect according to WVU head coach Neal Brown – and the Mountaineers’ Mike O’Laughlin slated to match skills against opposing defenses. That has been negated, at least on the Hokies’ side, with the news that Mitchell will miss the remainder of the season with a knee injury. Tech will use backups Drake DeIuliis and Nick Gallo to try to fill the void.
O’Laughlin is trending in the opposite direction and has practiced some this week. Could he be ready enough to fill the role in the passing game that WVU foresaw for him all the way back in the spring? And if so, how much effect will that have on WVU’s problematic run blocking?
This could be one of the hidden keys to the game.
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Brown spent a good bit of time talking about the history of the Virginia Tech rivalry during his Tuesday presser, and some of the assembled media ate than angle up. One has to think, though, that it was a bit of a smokescreen.
By playing up the history of the rivalry, did Brown deflect some attention from discussion of West Virginia’s run game woes, which have dogged WVU since he arrived? After all, coaches and players routinely say that once the first hit occurs, much of the pre-game buildup vanishes.
That’s perfectly understandable, because there’s probably not a lot he and the coaches can do at this point other than continue to practice and work on technique and teamwork. Also, as he hinted, being more physical was to be a point of emphasis during the padded practices this week, and there’s no doubt that will be required against the Tech defense.
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COVID AND COLLATERAL NOTES
Each week we’ll provide notes and tips on health precautions, travel advisories and more for the upcoming game in this space.
There are definitely some mixed messages emanating from WVU on masking this week. A renewed mask mandate has been put in place indoors in all WVU system buildings and facilities through Oct. 6, but that does not include indoor areas of Milan Puskar Stadium. From WVU’s Return To Campus site:
Because it is primarily an outdoor event, the University’s indoor mask requirement does not include areas of Milan Puskar Stadium (i.e., restrooms, suites, press box) at this time. However, the University continues to strongly encourage masks to be worn in the Hall of Traditions, suites, restrooms or other indoor areas at the stadium.
With the early noon kick, a reminder is hereby offered that traffic will be compressed into a much shorter arrival time, as opposed to last week’s 5 p.m. start that allowed for more spread out travel itineraries. With the game a sellout, traffic is expected to be an issue, so leave early and allow plenty of time to get to the game.
Also, fans are reminded that there is no shuttle bus service from the WVU Coliseum to Milan Puskar Stadium this year, due to staffing and equipment shortages caused by the pandemic.
Virginia Tech’s road trip to WVU will account for its only contest away from Lane Stadium in its first seven games this year. The Hokies will then complete the year with four of its final five regular-season games on the road.
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West Virginia’s Leddie Brown is second nationally in touchdowns scored with five. Four of those have come on the ground, on rushes of one, two, two and nine yards.
WVU head coach Neal Brown may have dropped a couple of hints as to how he might use backup quarterback Garrett Greene in the near future, as he referenced his history at Troy in his comments earlier this week.
In 2018, he used both Sawyer Smith and Kaleb Barker at the position until Barker went down with a knee injury in early October. Brown, who uses the word “intentional” in a definitive way to indicate that plans are typically made with aforethought, noted that his uses of two QBs at Troy fell into that category, and a read into his words gives the feeling that the same could apply to Greene on Saturday.
His insertion into the game against LIU came at a predetermined time, and that could have been a dress rehearsal for the way in which he could use him against Virginia Tech, or at further points down the road.
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WVU offensive lineman Doug Nester, who transferred from Virginia Tech after last season, was not made available for interviews. Teammate Josh Chandler-Semedo was asked whether Nester was helping his new team with information of the Hokies, and produced a veteran press conference answer.
“He’s getting ready for the game,” Chandler-Semedo said, with a hint of a smile on his face.
Nester was made available for questions once during fall camp, and he did allow that he had the Tech game circled on his calendar.