Nov 30, 2013; Morgantown, WV, USA; West Virginia Mountaineers running back Charles Sims (3) runs with the ball for a touchdown during the third quarter of the game against Iowa State Cyclones at Milan Puskar Stadium. The Iowa State Cyclones defeated West Virginia Mountaineers 52-44 in the third overtime. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Alabama football: Breaking Down The West Virginia Mountaineers

Alabama football is upon us, and one thing you can count on with the first game of the season is backstory.  The Alabama and West Virginia game is no different.  Here is just a sample of, in the words of Coach Saban, clutter:

  1. Coach Saban coaches against team from his home state.
  2. Trickett’s first kiss was Saban’s daughter.
  3. West Virginia to wear special uniforms for the Alabama game.
  4. Opposing Quarterback’s both transferred from FSU.

Why so much attention to aspects of the matchup outside the actual game?

Foremost, the actual game isn’t supposed to be that close.  The spread has floated around 26 points.  However, West Virginia’s faithful have started to believe that their team can shock the world.  So let’s take a deeper look at West Virginia and see what they plan to do to prove everybody wrong and upset the No. 2 team in the nation.

Offense

Mountaineer’s head coach Dana Holgorsen is famous for his offensive prowess.  His style of the Hurry-Up No-Huddle offense produced over 410 yards of offense per game last year.  The Mountaineers also average 74.3 plays per game.  That is more than 10 plays per game over what Alabama averaged.  All those plays didn’t add to points on the scoreboard, where they averaged 26.3 points per game.  That ranked 79th out of 125 Div I FBS programs.

One concern Tide fans have is the youth and inexperience at the cornerback position.  But unless quarterback Clint Trickett takes a huge step forward, he will struggle to stretch the defense.  Trickett averaged around six yards per attempt last year, which is actually fewer than Blake Sims averages, although on far fewer attempts.  Compare that to McCarron’s nine yards per attempt and you start to get a picture.  This inconsistency led coach Holgorsen to use three different quarterbacks last year; all of whom threw as many interceptions as touchdowns.

WVU’s biggest threat is their running backs.  They believe that they have five guys that can play, and Holgorsen will move them out into the slot in order to create mismatches with linebackers in coverage.  The core to the WVU offense working well is misdirection and tempo.  WVU may be similar to Auburn, but Trickett just isn’t Nick Marshall.  However, if Alabama’s defense is able to contain this offense, then many fans will feel like Saban is turning the corner on solving this problem.

Strengths:  Tempo, depth at running back, redshirt senior at quarterback

Weaknesses: Turnovers, red zone efficiency

Defense

WVU’s defense is unlike anything the Tide has seen lately.  Its a 3-3-5, which means three defensive linemen, three linebackers, and five defensive backs.  As a base defense it’s unique; however this formation is what Alabama runs in its nickel package.  At Alabama, this package is used in obvious passing downs. It’s potentially weak against the run, with the replacement of a linebacker for a defensive back; usually a safety, depending on the personnel.

What West Virginia does is attack the offensive line in order to create penetration into the backfield and disrupt the play or throw off timing.  They are counting on speed and quick reactions to stop the offense.

Their strength on defense is built around the linebacker corps. Two of their top returning starters, Brandon Golson and Nick Kwiatkoski, anchor that group.  One leader that WVU was counting on in the defensive backfield will have to sit this game out.  Icky Banks, a senior and three year starter, will be suspended for the first three games of the season.

As impressive as the Mountaineer offense was in gaining 410 yards per game last year, their defense gave up an average of 455 yards per game.  This seems to point to an overall trend in the Big 12; just have the defense keep the offense from scoring once or twice, and the offense will outscore the other team.  It’s almost a college version of the Arena league

That seems to be what this defense is built for, and a defense that attacks the gaps between the offensive line could cause trouble for a inexperienced group at Alabama, including a true freshman at left tackle.

Strengths: Speed, aggressive attacking the ball, unique blitzing

Weaknesses: Misdirection plays, screens, power running

Verdict

West Virginia has a chance to stay close through the early stages of the game.  A win against Alabama would wipe 2013’s 4-8 record off the slate.  In order to do that, the Mountaineers have to have a monster game from the quarterback with almost zero turnovers. Combining that with a defense that confuses the offensive line and a new quarterback that is trying to avoid negative plays or turnovers could create a long night for Alabama fans.

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