No. 25 West Virginia focused on containing Rutgers’ passing game
Published: Friday, October 28, 2011
Updated: Friday, October 28, 2011 04:10
With both West Virginia and Rutgers losing conference games last week, Saturday's matchup between the two teams has become drastically more important than it appeared one week ago.
Rutgers head coach Greg Schiano explained how a lack of a conference championship game forces each week to become a de facto title game.
"In this league, every (game) is big," Schiano said. "We don't have a championship game at the end of the year, so you're playing a Big East championship every week."
Historically, Rutgers hasn't fared well against West Virginia, winning only four times in 39 tries. All four of those victories, however, came when the Scarlet Knights were the home team – the last of which occurred in 1994.
Matchups like this week create what Schiano believes is an ideal setting for college football.
"We have a very, very good West Virginia team coming into town – and I imagine a very angry West Virginia team," he said. "It should be a great game, great college football atmosphere, and I'm looking forward to it."
West Virginia head coach Dana Holgorsen made it clear his team will have to fare better with the external factors presented by a road game than it did last week against Syracuse.
"They're going to be fired up about playing at home, and they're going to be fired up about playing the Mountaineers," Holgorsen said.
"We're going to get their best shot. If we want to win a championship this year, then we've got to be able to handle that," he said. "We didn't handle it last week, and we need to be able to handle it this week."
Rutgers will look to wreak havoc on West Virginia junior quarterback Geno Smith for the second consecutive week.
The Scarlet Knights have recorded 24 sacks this season already, including a nine-sack performance early in the year against North Carolina Central.
"We know what they're going to do – they're going to pressure us, and we just have to be able to handle it better," Holgorsen said. "A week of practice can probably get us to the point where we'll handle it a little better."
The Rutgers defense does an exceptional job of forcing opposing offenses to make mistakes. The Scarlet Knights lead the country with 15 interceptions and are ranked No. 7 in the nation with 10 fumble recoveries – statistics of which Holgorsen is well aware.
"The thing most impressive about their defense is how hard they play and how aggressive they are to attack the ball and get the ball out," he said.
"They lead the nation in turnovers – they've got 25 of them, and we've got eight, if I'm not mistaken. They do a good job of that."
For Rutgers, the offensive side of the ball relies heavily on the play of junior wide receiver Mohamed Sanu.
Sanu leads the Big East with 65 catches and has racked up 684 yards and six
touchdowns so far this season.
Earlier in the year, Sanu tallied a conference record of 16 receptions against Ohio, and is coming off a 10-catch, 128-yard performance last week against Louisville.
"They move (Sanu) around, and it makes it tough to know where he is all the time," said West Virginia defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel.
"You know one thing, though: Wherever the ball is, it's probably going in his direction."
Junior safety Terence Garvin explained some of the challenges a receiver like
Sanu's caliber presents.
"We have to challenge him," he said. "We have to try to do our best to keep the ball out of his hands and keep him from making plays."
"We're going to do what we do, but we still know he's out there. We see him, we're going to have to make adjustments."
For West Virginia, it will be key for the defense to get pressure on Rutgers true freshman quarterback Gary Nova.
Nova, who made his first start three weeks ago against Pittsburgh, passed for 207 yards last week in the loss to Louisville and has shown poise this season in leading Rutgers to victories over
Syracuse and Navy.
Nova will rely heavily on Sanu to make plays and bail him out in big time spots. Nova will also attempt to incorporate a Rutgers running game that is currently averaging just fewer than 92 yards per game.
Freshman Jawan Jamison is the Scarlet Knights' leading rusher with 376 yards and a touchdown, but he averages a rather pedestrian three yards per carry.
Fellow freshman running back Savon Huggins (136 yards, five touchdowns) figures to see substantial time in the backfield as well.