WVU-Syracuse: Lessons from the South Florida Autopsy

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WVU-Syracuse: Lessons from the South Florida Autopsy

IconWest Virginia travels to Syracuse to play l'Orange in the Carrier Dome on Saturday.

Statistically speaking, Syracuse is one of the worst teams in the NCAA. In particular, they're dreadful against the run—which WVU typically excels at.

In last year's victory over Syracuse, WVU QB Pat White ran for 247 yards and four TDs. Coach Rich Rodriguez inserted a "counter" play for that game, and the team ran it four times.

The result?

Four scores for White...and holes so big they challenged our understanding of the space-time continuum.

This year, White may not play against Syracuse, having suffered a deep-thigh bruise that kept him out of the second half of the loss to South Florida last Friday. No matter—backup QB Jarrett Brown was good enough to beat Rutgers last year, and is probably good enough to beat Syracuse this year.

How can Syracuse stop WVU's running attack?

In the words of Pitt coach Dave Wannstache—uttered at halftime of yet another blowout to WVU, in which White and Steve Slaton made the Pitt defenders look as speedy and agile as shrubbery:

"We have to run faster!"

Genius! Great hire, University of Pittsburgh Board of Trustees!

Unless Syracuse coach Greg "Why on Earth did I take this job?" Robinson can shave several tenths-of-seconds off his defenders' 40 times before kickoff, the best the Orange can do is watch the video of the WVU-South Florida game for tips.

I reviewed the first four WVU offensive (and I do mean offensive) series, and here's what I saw:

Wideout Disadvantage

WVU started two small true freshmen at wideout, Jock Sanders and Brandon Hogan.

The primary responsibility of wideouts in WVU's offense is to spring backs for big runs with effective downfield blocking. Instead, these two little guys were overpowered by the strong South Florida D-backs, who were able to come off their blocks and swarm to the line.

Further, the WRs were rarely sent on deep routes, which would have at least taken the D-backs away from the line.

Line-Play Disadvantage

I can't count how many times I saw a WVU offensive lineman lunging at a South Florida defender in open space...only to have the speedy defender nimbly sidestep the block as the lineman crashed to the ground like a mighty Sequoia.

Additionally, the South Florida defensive line manhandled the WVU O-line.

WVU went for it on a fourth-and-three in the first quarter. The Mountaineers had a good play called—WR Dorrell Jalloh ran up to the first-down marker and turned around, open. White rolled toward him...but South Florida DE George Selvie—who was double-teamed—managed to collapse the end of the line, and White was forced to hurry his pass.

Jolloh had to go to the ground to catch the ball, and wasn't far enough upfield to get the first down.

In Other Words

South Florida's fast guys were stronger than WVU's fast guys, and South Florida's strong guys were faster than WVU's strong guys.

Stuck at the Line

WVU hurt itself by repeatedly throwing lateral passes, running parallel to the line, and trying a reverse that was caught for a loss.

It was like a truck stuck in the mud—WVU couldn't get going because it spent too much time in its own backfield, bolloxing up its own works.

In the first four series, WVU went downfield only once—a 20-yard pass attempt to a triple-covered Darius Reynaud, which was broken up even though White delivered a nice ball.

The I's Have It

WVU's biggest gain in the first four series came on a 13-yard Slaton run out of the I-formation, with White under center and Slaton running up the middle.

The hole opened because the right tackle allowed his man to come into the backfield as the center and guard sealed left.

To celebrate this success, WVU went right back into a shotgun, split-back look on the next play, handing off to Slaton. Again, South Florida defenders took advantage of the time to fill holes, leaving Slaton dancing for daylight and getting blasted in the gut by a tackler who jarred the ball loose.

South Florida recovered.

Syracuse probably doesn't have the defensive talent to contain WVU's offense. But South Florida has proved—two years in a row—that it can be done with good athletes. 

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