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WVU Looks to Continue Dominance of Rutgers

October 28, 2011
By JIM ELLIOTT , The Intelligencer / Wheeling News-Register

MORGANTOWN - As they prepare for Saturday's game, West Virginia and Rutgers are in the same boat. It's one that's taking on a little bit of water.

Both teams played last Friday night and were beaten in games most felt they'd win. The Scarlet Knights lost to a Louisville team that hadn't won in a month. West Virginia was blown out by a Syracuse team the oddsmakers thought they'd beat by 20.

''We're going to have to bounce back and there's no time to lick our wounds because we've got a very, very good West Virginia team coming into town,'' Rutgers coach Greg Schiano said. ''I imagine a very angry West Virginia team.''

There's little doubt the Mountaineers will still be nail-spitting mad by the time they get to Piscataway, but thinking about last week isn't going to help anyone this week.

Schiano's teams have never beaten West Virginia - the Mountaineers have won 16 straight in the series - which is probably why he spent most of the week talking about them like they're on their way to some sort of championship.

''We're going to have play our very, very best to have an opportunity to win,'' Schiano said. ''Our best might not be good enough.

''This is by far the best skill we've faced. Not even close. They have four wide receivers that are as good as we've played. Geno (Smith), the quarterback, is playing at a very, very high level. Their offensive line is experienced. This will be a big test.''

It was one that Syracuse passed with relative ease. And Rutgers beat Syracuse on Oct. 1. That offensive line Schiano likes so much was under constant pressure from the Syracuse blitz, allowed four sacks, and failed to open up many holes for the Mountaineers running game, which is ranked 100th in the country these days.

West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen figures the Orange stumbled onto something others might try to copy by blitzing his team three of every four plays. In the NCAA, when the blood hits the water, the sharks start feeding.

''Sixteen of Syracuse's first 24 blitzes were different blitzes,'' he said. ''That's something I've never seen in college football and that's a tribute to Syracuse doing some good stuff defensively ...''

That was a defense that coming in wasn't particularly good at anything, the numbers said. The Scarlet Knights, meanwhile, are first in the Big East - and ninth in the country - in scoring defense, giving up 16 points per game. They're also the best in the conference at pass defense, interceptions, pass effiency defense, red zone defense and turnovers gained (where, again, they're tops in the land with 25).

''We're getting better,'' Schiano said. ''We're not anywhere near as good as we're going to be. We took a step back last week. Hopefully we can use that maybe one step back, two steps forward.''

With all of those numbers in place, you can bet Rutgers has every intention of going after Smith with the idea of getting to him like Syracuse did. After all, the Scarlet Knights are certainly no dummies. They're ranked No. 2 in the nation in Academic Progress Rate, the fourth straight year they've been in the top three.

''Rutgers is a pressure team,'' WVU running backs coach Robert Gillespie said. ''The things Syracuse did against us pressure-wise, Rutgers does the same things. Playing a team like Syracuse last week only prepares us for Rutgers. Whatever Rutgers does against us, it really doesn't matter. It's all about us getting better at what we do.''

Offensively, Rutgers is actually worse than West Virginia at running the ball. There aren't a lot of teams that can say that. Jawan Jamison is the leading ballcarrier with 124 carries for 376 yards and one touchdown, a 3.0-yards-per-carry average.

The quarterback position has been an interesting one. Chas Dodd began the season as the starter but has been replaced the last three games by freshman Gary Nova, a Don Bosco Prep product. Dodd completed 67 of 127 passes for 754 yards and Nova is 73 of 132 for 890 yards, but he threw three interceptions in the loss against Louisville. Still, Schiano's sticking with him.

Through all of that, receiver Mohama Sanu has had no trouble putting up numbers. He's caught 65 passes for 683 yards and six touchdowns.

''He's a good football player,'' WVU defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel said.

West Virginia's defensive numbers took a significant hit in that 26-point loss to the Orange. They'll try to get them back in line a little Saturday.

''I've got a feeling both teams are going to come out of the gate pretty hot,'' Schiano said. ''Just my experience. Two teams that are - didn't expect to be entering the game the way they were, I'm sure there's going to be a very, very locked-in two teams on that field. Now, maybe that'll lead to some anxiousness, I don't know, we'll see. I hope not, at least not on our part.''