No. 24 West Virginia ready for tough challenge against Louisville
Published: Thursday, November 3, 2011
Updated: Friday, November 4, 2011 03:11
The matchup during Saturday's game between West Virginia and Louisville almost reads like a heavyweight title fight.
Louisville, with only one conference loss, is entering the game as the challenger – coming into Saturday with two consecutive conference victories and the No. 1 defense in the Big East.
West Virginia, also with a single conference loss, comes into the game boasting the league's No. 1 offense and is looking to defeat Louisville for the fifth consecutive time.
West Virginia head coach Dana Holgorsen believes the strength behind Louisville's recent surge comes from the experience and talent of Louisville head coach Charlie Strong.
"It starts with coaching. They're well-coached," he said. "Charlie Strong has been as well respected of a defensive coordinator as there's been in the profession for the last two decades.
"The guy's won two national championships and has been a part of some good programs being the defensive coordinator. That tells you something."
Louisville's defense has been among the stingiest in the country, allowing just 295.6 yards and 16.3 points per game.
"The scheme is good, it's sound; they're well-coached, and they've got good players, so it's not surprising to see them hold people to what they've been holding people to," Holgorsen said.
While the Cardinals' defense under Strong has flourished, the offense has yet to find a consistent rhythm.
True freshman quarterback Teddy Bridgewater has thrown for 1029 yards and seven touchdowns – numbers that have been steadily increasing since he secured the starting job from junior quarterback Will Stein earlier in the season.
His favorite target thus far has been his high school teammate, freshman Michaelee Harris, who has 26 receptions for 356 yards and two touchdowns.
Josh Chichester (21 catches, 282 yards), the 6-foot-8 senior tight end, should create some mismatches with his unique combination of size and speed.
The athletic Bridgewater is a dual-threat quarterback who has garnered the full attention of the Mountaineers as they prepare for Saturday. Defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel had nothing but praise for the young player when describing the types of challenges he creates for opposing defenses.
"Obviously, he's athletic and throws a nice ball, but he has a great demeanor about him – he doesn't panic (and) always has his eyes down the field," he said. "If he wants to run it he can run it, and he's looking to throw the football when he's scrambling."
Senior defensive end Bruce Irvin hopes to get a few hits on Bridgewater early to test his composure as he faces the tough environment inside of Milan Puskar Stadium.
"He's a freshman, so hopefully he'll get rattled a couple of times," he said. "He's a good athlete; he's going to be really good in the future. We have to jump on him quick while he's a freshman and take advantage of that."
Strong will look for Bridgewater to limit the mistakes of the offense – something he feels will be extremely difficult for his team with the West Virginia crowd in attendance.
"Offensively, we are going to have to be able to control the crowd," he said. "We cannot have any penalties that are going to stall drives.
"We just have to be on our game and make sure our players stay focused. It is going to be an atmosphere where (we) are going to have to show some toughness."
Louisville ranks second-to-last nationally in penalties committed per game (8.5).
The Louisville rushing attack needs to improve from last year's contest if the Cardinals wish to come away with a victory.
In last year's game against West Virginia, then-junior kicker/punter Chris Philpott gained 21 yards on a fake punt to lead a Louisville rushing attack that finished the game with 26 yards on 30 carries.
A pair of sophomores (Jeremy Wright and Dominique Brown) as well as senior Victor Anderson will lead the Louisville ground game. The balanced trio has combined for 183 carries for 867 yards and three touchdowns so far this season.