In the Trenches

  • November 24, 2009 11:16 AM
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By John Antonik for MSNsportsNET.com
November 24, 2009

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Despite living behind enemy lines, Cranberry, Pa.’s Donny Barclay has always had an affinity for West Virginia University. That interest in West Virginia was first nurtured by his uncle Al Pisula, a four-year starting defensive tackle for the Mountaineers and a No 1 Pitt hater.

  Sophomore offensive tackle Don Barclay says he knows half the players on Pitt's team.
All-Pro Photography/Dale Sparks photo

Pisula’s personal beef with Pitt was fueled by four straight losses to the Panthers from 1976-79, some by lopsided margins.

“He hates them,” laughed Barclay. “He really does.”

Like all Pittsburgh turncoats, Barclay gets his fair share of abuse whenever he goes home.

“I probably know close to half of the team because half the team is from Pittsburgh,” Barclay said. “Hopefully we win this.”

Barclay and his four offensive line buddies will have a lot to say about that. In West Virginia losses to Pitt in 2007 and 2008, the Panthers controlled both lines of scrimmage. Much has been made the last two years about the Svengali-like defensive plans assembled by Pitt’s coaches, but the reality is that both games really came down to a matter of getting those tough yards that win football games.

Pitt got them and West Virginia didn’t.

“Which running back is going to break tackles? Maybe a catch and someone breaks a tackle and runs for 50 yards,” Barclay said. “Hopefully we can rise to the occasion. That comes from us up front. We’ve got to help create that kind of stuff.”

Barclay said the secret to Pitt’s success against West Virginia is not really that much of a secret at all.

“They got good penetration which stops the zone,” he explained. “They also play the backside a little different than some other teams and they stack the box a lot. They put eight or nine in the box and it’s hard to run when you’re trying to block nine guys.”

Pitt’s plan has been simple: get everyone up on the line of scrimmage to stop the running game and dare West Virginia to throw over top. Then when the Mountaineers are out in space, get their playmakers on the ground.

That approach has worked well for the Panthers. Two years ago in Morgantown, West Virginia had 283 total yards in a 13-9 loss. Last year, the Mountaineers managed 300 yards in a 19-15 Panther victory.

West Virginia actually moved the football fairly well between the 20s last year at Heinz Field. Inside the 20 it was a different story, however. A touchdown instead of a field goal or a field goal instead of a turnover could have made a difference in the outcome of the game.

“We were in there a couple of times and all we were able to get were a couple of field goals,” Barclay said. “You’ve got to get points in these types of games because it’s probably going to be low scoring.”

The task will not be any easier Friday for Barclay and the boys. West Virginia has faced some nice defensive fronts this year, Auburn and South Florida immediately coming to mind, but Pitt’s front-four of Jabaal Sheard, Mick Williams, Gus Mastakas and Greg Romeus is probably the best the Mountaineers will see this year.

Williams is particularly impressive with 13 tackles for losses and three sacks as an inside guy.

“Mick Williams likes to do it all – spin, bull rush – so we’ve just got to be prepared and be on our toes for anything that they bring at us,” Barclay said.

On the outside where Barclay lines up at left tackle is playmaking junior Greg Romeus. He leads the Panthers with 7 ½ sacks to go with 10 tackles for losses. Pitt’s defense has already managed 117 negative yardage plays and 19 turnovers in 10 games so far this year.

“They’re really good. They are a downhill defensive front and they play smash-mouth football,” Barclay said. “They’re not hiding anything. We’ve got a good test coming.”

Barclay’s group has been tested quite frequently this year. West Virginia’s five offensive line starters Barclay, Eric Jobe, Joey Madsen, Josh Jenkins and Selvish Capers have taken nearly all of the snaps. Some games this group has played very effectively, others not so effectively.

“We’re playing 70-80 snaps every game,” Barclay said. “We didn’t actually realize it until the other day when Josh and I were sitting on the bench and Coach Stew came over and told us that. We were sitting there thinking, ‘Yeah that’s a lot.’ We’re not using that as an excuse. We love it and we want more.”

But those 700-800 snaps were taking their toll, especially after the Cincinnati game when all of the bumps and bruises were beginning to overlap. Barclay says the extra week off has really been a blessing to the guys up front.

“I feel really good right now. All of those aches and pains from being in the cold pool (are gone). It definitely makes a difference,” Barclay said. “I didn’t have any major problems before. It’s just getting the sore legs out.”

The Mountaineers will definitely need some fresh legs Friday night against Pitt. The Panthers will be coming into Morgantown as the favorites.

“They are going to come at us and I think we have to mix it up a little bit and hopefully that will open up some things for Noel (Devine),” Barclay said.