West Virginia vs. East Carolina: What To Watch for in an Interesting Match-Up

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West Virginia vs. East Carolina: What To Watch for in an Interesting Match-Up
(Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

In my article "2009 WVU Football: Struggles Early, Sweeps the Big East," I called for the Mountaineers to fall to the East Carolina Pirates by 17-14.  At the end of this piece, I'll update that score, even though "Struggles" was written a mere 10 days ago. 

Of course, 10 days is a lifetime in the predictions business.

My sources for this article are: Phil Steele, The Sporting News, Lindy's, Scout.com, and various comments to my articles as well as the guys sitting to my right at Crockett's in Morgantown last Saturday evening.

*****

On paper, East Carolina's offense looks unbeatable.  In reality, with exception to the first half of the Appalachian State game, it can be stopped cold. 

You'd think steamroller with the starting five linemen returning, Kentucky transfer Brandon Jackson at running back, and Patrick Pinkney leading the crew.  However, the FCS Mountaineers gave them a tough time.

Not so with the FBS Mountaineers.  Pinkney has receivers who can get open in a second, similar to the guys from Liberty.

ECU will run and pass at will on WVU unless the West Virginia defense figures out what they did wrong against an FCS midpacker.

*****

Everyone has complaints about West Virginia's kickoff coverage, and like Congress and health care, no one has any solutions. 

Here's mine: look at special teams in total.  Phil Steele has an empirically derived formula—as only Phil Steele can—used to obtain a ranking of all aspects of special teams.

That means field goals, punting, returning, and coverage.

As I understand it, and I the engineer can't even begin to fathom it all, the Mountaineers in 2008 were ranked 42nd out of the 120 FCS teams that played last year.  Not bad.

The strongest elements of West Virginia's total special teams were punting and kicking, thank you Pat McAfee.  That looks to continue since field goal kicker Tyler Bitancurt and punter Scott Koslowski seem to both show big-time, accurate legs.

Kickoff coverage is of course the big problem area.  As a resolution of that issue is reached, our entire special teams game will improve dramatically.

The obvious questions to ask now are: a) who was No. 1? (Cincinnati) and b) where did East Carolina stand? (32nd).  And, most importantly, where will an average kickoff coverage team take the special team's total ranking? (Into the mid 20s, my best guess.)

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East Carolina's defensive front seven have all returned.  If Liberty made the Mountaineer offensive line look weak, holding Noel Devine under the 200 yards he should have easily gotten, the Pirates will astound and confuse the West Virginia big men.

However, all is not lost, my friends.  West Virginia quarterback Jarrett Brown will find Jock Sanders and Alric Arnett all day. 

To hell with bubble screens.  West Virginia is going vertical to stay in this high scoring, entertaining game.

If they're covered and he's forced out of the pocket, Jarrett will simply put the team on his huge shoulders and take it downfield.  It doesn't get much better than that.

*****

As I alluded to earlier in this piece, I was looking for a low-scoring affair.  Touchdowns would be as a result of big defensive plays, I said, and East Carolina would kick a field goal with minutes to spare to win it.

That was before I saw the WVU defense have a difficult time with Liberty and Appalachian State with a reserve QB hang 24 on East Carolina.

Jarrett Brown might throw for 300 yards in this contest, but East Carolina will have the more balanced offense.  The Pirates' ability to run and therefore keep the Mountaineers D on the field will create a late "suck wind" situation for the WVU stoppers.

If all that plays out, West Virginia loses by three.

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