It's official. It's Brawl week. Get your West Virginia jokes ready as we have just a few days left until the Panthers and Mountaineers clash for the 104th time on the gridiron. Could this be the last time both schools meet as conference opponents? Both sides hope so. Is this the last time the two schools will meet for a while? Perhaps. For now, let's focus on this year's Mountaineers.
When you think of a Dana Holgorsen coached offense, it revolves around the quarterback throwing. A lot. Holgorsen, after all, is a disciple of Mike Leach, who gave Big 12 defensive coordinators nightmares with his Air Raid offense. That offense has translated to success for West Virginia, although not as much as they would like. There were the inexplicable losses to Syracuse and Louisville, a blowout prime-time loss to No. 1 LSU, and close wins over Maryland and Cincinnati. Minus the LSU game, all these results would've been unheard of in Morgantown four years ago.On offense, West Virginia has one of the top players in the country in total offense in quarterback Geno Smith, who ranks 6th in FBS in total offense and 7th in passing. As a team, WVU is 13th in total offense and tied for 16th in scoring offense at 36 points a game. Geno is not just a passer, but a good runner as well if forced out of the pocket, making him particularly dangerous if Pitt doesn't tackle well. Considering he passed for over 450 yards against LSU's defense, Pitt needs to focus on shutting him down.
The running game should be an area the Panthers look to control when on defense. West Virginia is 97th in total rushing, including a whopping 32 yards on the ground against Cincinnati last weekend. On average, WVU rushers are averaging just 3.7 yards a carry. Leading the way for WVU is freshman Dustin Garrison with 600 yards on 109 carries. Then there's also Shawne Alston with 298 yards and eight TDs. Garrison, who has started six games for West Virginia this season, should get the start. But Alston will get his carries as well, and Andrew Buie and Vernard Roberts could also see time in the backfield.
The receiving unit has seen their numbers go up dramatically with the coaching change. Stedman Bailey is already a 1,000-yard receiver with Tavon Austin not far behind at 907 yards. Both are quick receivers who can get behind the secondary if the defenders are out of position. Also keep an eye on sophomore Ivan McCartney. He's currently the third leading receiver for West Virginia and has started almost every game for the Mountaineers this season. Other names to watch are Tyler Urban and Devin Brown. As a whole, the Pitt secondary is going to have their hands full. The Panthers have done well against some of the better QB's on their schedule (B.J. Daniels, Zach Collaros, Tommy Rees), and they'll have to continue that success on Friday.
The offensive line has a good amount of experience thanks to a combined 70 starts between Don Barclay and Joe Madsen at left tackle and center respectively (Madsen has also seen starting time at right guard). The other positions are redshirt junior Jeff Braun at left guard, redshirt senior Tyler Rader at right guard, and redshirt freshman Pat Eger at right tackle. Unlike Pitt who has used seven (seven!?!) different starting offensive line combinations this season, West Virginia has had the same unit starting for them each game this season. The least amount of experience lies on the right side of the line, so that is where Aaron Donald and Brandon Lindsey should line up to have the best chance at getting to Geno Smith. This line is allowing around two sacks a game and six tackles for loss.
For Pitt to get the upper hand on this offense, they must force turnovers. In the Mountaineers' three losses, they have a turnover margin of -7. The rest of their games: +8. The Panthers' best hope may be to stop the running game early to force West Virginia to become one-dimensional. West Virginia hasn't excelled in the running game throughout the season, so that can be an area Pitt exploits.