By John Antonik for MSNsportsNET.com
December 3, 2009
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – If you want to get a true measure of how good Rutgers is just go watch the South Florida game. The West Virginia coaches have watched it over and over again.
||Jock Sanders caught four passes for 47 yards last year against Rutgers.
Bill Amatucci photo
B.J. Daniels - the guy who West Virginia couldn’t seem to get its hands on - was stuck in mud against Rutgers. He completed just 7 of 17 passes for 129 yards with two interceptions against the Scarlet Knights. He was also sacked six times.
As for the South Florida running game that was so effective against West Virginia? Try 32 attempts for 30 yards against Rutgers. The Bulls’ longest run was a measly 11 yards.
Everywhere Daniels went two or three Rutgers players went with him. Rutgers coach Greg Schiano is known for his willingness to bring pressure, but against South Florida he used a combination of some pressure and some spying on Daniels to stop the Bulls.
“With the quarterback they were playing against it had a little bit more spy technique instead of all-out blitz,” said West Virginia offensive coordinator Jeff Mullen.
The problem, as Mullen sees it, is how will Schiano attack West Virginia’s offense? Will he bring all-out pressure as he has in the past, or will he put defenders back in coverage and try and get the Mountaineers’ playmakers down on the ground in space?
Mullen said they got something totally different from Schiano during last year’s 24-17 victory in Morgantown.
“In last year’s game he flipped the script and didn’t bring one (blitz) – he might have brought one or two in third and short situations but in the normal down and distance situations he decided to play the South Florida defense from ’07,” Mullen said. “We are certainly planning for both.”
Offensive line coach Dave Johnson said the Rutgers front is a lot different than what the Mountaineers faced last week with Pitt - both in size of the players and the way the Scarlet Knights attack offenses.
“It’s a different front because they are constantly moving where Pittsburgh put their guys in techniques and just came hard,” Johnson said. “It’s a different type of philosophy so the skills and the talents are different in those guys.”
Defensive end George Johnson and Jonathan Freeny have combined for 14 sacks and 21 ½ tackles for losses. In all, Rutgers has made an impressive 122 negative yardage plays this year.
Rutgers also had some success last year against West Virginia by holding the Mountaineers to just 17 first downs and 333 yards of offense. Noel Devine managed just 55 yards on 19 carries and the Scarlet Knights were able to knock Pat White out of the game in the third quarter. Last Friday, Louisville wide receiver Doug Beaumont was taken off the field on a stretcher after being hit by Rutgers safety Zaire Kitchen.
“The thing I’ve come to find out about this league, as opposed to the Atlantic Coast Conference, is that every team is physical,” said Mullen. “There are a lot of teams that are physical in the ACC, but every team is physical in the Big East and every week you better bring it.”
The Scarlet Knights (8-3, 3-3) also bring it on offense with 215-pound running back Joe Martinek and 215-pound freshman wide receiver Mohamed Sanu, who doubles as the team’s quarterback in the wildcat formation. Sanu ran for a season-high 148 yards and scored a pair of touchdowns against Louisville.
“He was a high school quarterback so he knows what he’s doing,” said West Virginia defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel. “They run the zone read, they run the Q-counter, power, jet sweep; they’ve run draw, they’ve sprinted (out), they’ve run option … you name it they’ve run it out of that.”
And while Martinek may not be a home run hitter, he is a load to bring down. The sophomore ran for 147 yards in a 34-13 win at Maryland earlier this year and shows a team-best 874 yards rushing and nine touchdowns. He is coming off a 22-carry, 90-yard performance at Louisville last Friday.
“He has a very strong lower body and is probably a little faster than he’s given credit for,” said Casteel. “He’s the kind of guy that wears you down as the game goes on. That three or four yard gain turns into a five, six or seven yard gain in the third and fourth quarter.”
A strong, reliable running game has given freshman quarterback Tom Savage time to grow in Rutgers’ system. Schiano was forced to play Savage in the season opener against Cincinnati and the coach wisely got his freshman valuable playing time in home wins against Howard, Florida International and Texas Southern. Now that experience is starting to pay off.
Savage threw for 248 yards in the loss to Pitt and had three TD passes in Rutgers’ come-from-behind victory over Connecticut on Oct. 31.
Most recently against Louisville, Savage completed 10 of 16 passes for 163 yards and a touchdown. For the year, he is 126 of 231 for 1,764 yards and 11 touchdowns. Savage has thrown just four interceptions.
“He’s a big kid with a strong arm and runs well,” said Casteel. “He has the ability to elude the rush. It’s not that he looks to run but he will run and has the ability to run away from some people.”
Casteel is also leery of senior wide receiver Tim Brown, who leads the Scarlet Knights with 51 catches for 1,051 yards and eight touchdowns. It was Brown’s 81-yard catch and run for a touchdown with 22 seconds left that gave Rutgers a 28-24 come-from-behind victory over Connecticut.
Brown has played well against West Virginia in the past.
“He may be the fastest receiver in the league,” said Casteel. “He beat us on a long touchdown in our triple-overtime game here. In fact, I think that was his first career receiving touchdown. Our guys are well aware of him. He’s a big play guy not only catching the ball but also doing some things running the football.”
The Mountaineer players know Rutgers has the West Virginia game circled on its schedule, the Scarlet Knights last winning against WVU in 1994 in Piscataway. Since then West Virginia has won the last 14 straight.
ESPN (Dave Pasch and Chris Spielman) will televise the game nationally. Kick off is set for noon.