Week 4 Thursday Night Spotlight
Thursday September 18th, 8:30 p.m. EST (ESPN)
(21) West Virginia Mountaineers at Colorado Buffaloes
Last week, the Mountaineers and Pat White simply got it handed to them by Patrick Pinkney and the ECU Pirates, 24-3. It was a display that has come all too familiar for West Virginia football fans—their team failing to live up to their lofty preseason expectations. Their running back of a quarterback Pat White is surely one of the most overhyped players in college football. Don’t get me wrong he’s fun to watch run in the open field and he’s ultra-elusive, but the guy simply cannot attack the football field through the air. He’s a playmaker, but he will never be as good of a passer as he is a runner. West Virginia has to put passes in the playbook to try and keep defenses honest, but any good defensive coordinator with the right personnel will be able to shut White down(he only had 72 passing yards against ECU).
This Thursday night matchup should figure to be one of this weekend’s most entertaining games. The biggest match-up to watch in this game will be whether or not West Virginia can run the ball against a stiff Colorado defense that has only allowed 59 yards per game over their first two contests. The Buffaloes’ front seven features one of the most talented defensive linemen in college football, defensive tackle George Hypolite. He led the Buffaloes’ defense last season with six sacks and I’d look for him to cause problems for Pat White and company. Look for him to get after the quarterback early and often. Another Colorado player you should watch for is linebacker Jeff Smart, who leads the team with 20 tackles this season. Defensive backs Ryan Walters and Cha’pelle Brown will roam the secondary for the Buffs. Brown led the Buffs defense in pass breakups last season.
On offense, the centerpiece of the Buffaloes offense is without question their gifted signal-caller, Cody Hawkins, who is the son of head coach Dan Hawkins. When Cody was first named the starting quarterback at CU, I was suspicious and figured he was just getting the job because he was the coaches’ son. He turned out to prove me wrong in a big way last season, tossing for over 2,600 yards through the air while completing over 56 percent of his passes during the 2007-2008 season. He’s posted stellar numbers early in the 2008 campaign, completing 71.6 percent of his passes for 475 yards, four TDs, and two INTs.
His favorite target is receiver Scotty McKnight, who leads the team with 11 catches for 157 yards and 1 touchdown. Another dangerous receiver for the Buffaloes is Mr. All-Purpose himself, Josh Smith. The sophomore is a big-play threat for Colorado on special teams. He’s averaged 50 yards per return on kickoffs this season and has already taken one the distance. The California native also has averaged 19 yards per punt return, extremely impressive numbers to say the least.
The Buffaloes' backfield features one of the most hyped recruits of the 2008 college football season, freshman running back Darrell Scott from Ventura, California. The stud tailback chewed up over 3,000 yards during his junior season and was a nightmare for opposing defenses to tackle throughout his entire high school career. The freshman phenom already has 24 attempts on the ground for 93 yards and a touchdown. He has also hauled in three passes for 33 yards, averaging 11 yards per catch. The Buffs’ ground game has struggled this season and their offensive line must open up holes if the Buffaloes wish to have balance in their offense. Rodney Stewart and Demetrius Sumler will also be toting the mail for the Buffaloes. Sumler rushed for over 300 yards last season.
The Buffaloes ground attack has struggled this year, only averaging 3.5 yards per carry so it will be interesting to see if the offensive line can start clearing some holes for their talented running backs.
If the Mountaineers want to stop the Buffaloes’ offense, they will look to their top three tacklers, safety Quinton Andrews, linebacker J.T. Thomas, and linebacker Mortty Ivy. Ivy is the Mountaineers’ do-it-all playmaker on defense, and moved to strong side linebacker in the spring.
This year he has been at it again, posting eye-popping numbers through the first two games, 14 tackles, 2 sacks, 1 fumble recovery, and 1 interception that he returned 30 yards for a touchdown. Andrews is currently tied for the team lead in tackles with 16 with J.T. Thomas.
Thomas has also blocked a kick and has racked up 2.5 sacks on the season.
Speaking of talented running backs, by far the most talented running back in this game is senior quarterback Patrick White of West Virginia. Sure, he’s not a conventional running back because he is listed as a quarterback, but make no mistake about it folks, White is a burner in the open field and can take it the distance on any given occasion. His speed in the open field makes him very difficult to defend and he is a master of the “zone-read” option. While his speed is his greatest asset, it’s also arguably his only asset. He has struggled mightily when teams force him to throw the football down the field, because he simply lacks accuracy and touch on his throws. As big of a playmaker he is, White has also had the tendency to fumble the ball in big games—he had two fumbles against ECU. One of those was one of the more bizarre fumbles ever—White dove out of bounds, placed the ball in bounds before he landed, and the ball just stopped completely. Of course, ECU recovered and it was a crucial turning point in that football game. If West Virginia wants to win this game, Pat White must take care of his “ball security” issues, in the words of Jay Bilas.
White’s running mate is arguably more dangerous in the open field, because of his uncanny acceleration. His name is Noel Devine, a sophomore who was a YouTube sensation well before he set foot on the West Virginia campus because of his electrifying runs in high school. Devine already has rattled off 141 yards on the ground, averaging a dizzying 6.7 yards per carry this season. Devine is what makes the zone-read at West Virginia a nearly unstoppable staple in the Mountaineers offense. He will help to keep defenses honest and from just keying in on Pat White.
Devine is also a threat on the Mountaineers’ kick return unit, which Colorado will have to be aware of. Also, look for Pat White to get the ball in the hands of running back Jock Sanders, who is WVU’s leading receiver with 11 catches and two touchdowns.
Before the season there were talks of opening up the offense for Pat White to throw more passes down the field and I think that would be a huge mistake. The Mountaineers need to keep their playbook to the simple passes that Pat White is comfortable with, like the bubble screen. Asking him to throw more passes down the field is to ask him to flirt with the weakest part of his game and that could mean interceptions for the Mountaineers. If West Virginia wants to win, it should stick to the option and the zone-read, because the combination of defending Pat White and Noel Devine in the same backfield as running threats is near unstoppable. West Virginia just needs to ask itself: Why would we change something that has been so successful for us over the years? If West Virginia does just that, they have as good of a chance as having two 1,000 yard rushers at season’s end as anybody in the country.
Final analysis: This is a huge game for both teams, I think it’s bigger for West Virginia because they have already been embarrassed once on a national stage this season. The ECU loss was a crushing blow to a program with unrealistically high hopes this season. Colorado is announcing this game as a “blackout” game in which fans are encouraged to wear black, so this atmosphere will be rowdy and hostile. Under the lights on ESPN, it is a great opportunity for both teams to capture college football fans’ attention.
I think Pat White and Noel Devine will definitely put up some points on Colorado, which allowed 24 points to quarterback Matt Nichols and Eastern Washington. Although, it must be noted that Eastern Washington could also sling the rock through the air(Nichols threw for over 3,700 yards in 2007-2008); it’s been well documented in this article that White has struggled with that.
On the other hand, Colorado allowed running back Gartrell Johnson of Colorado State to rush for 95 yards against them. Sure he's not as good as Pat White or Noel Devine, but he's pretty darn good. It will be tough for the Buffaloes to stop two of the best running backs college football has to offer. I think Pat White and Noel Devine rush for over 100 yards a piece, but it won’t be enough because Colorado will continue to ride the hot hand of quarterback Cody Hawkins to victory. This will be the game in which the nation is introduced to Darrell Scott, a running back phenom who is sure to terrorize opposing defenses in the Big 12 as soon as his offensive line blocks for him. Colorado wins this one in a classic.
The pick: Colorado 28 West Virginia 24