WVU - Wes Lyons (Knee) Probable, Reed Williams (Shoulder) Probable, Brantwon Bowser (Knee) Doubtful
VU - Jared Corey (Hand) Probable
WVU offense vs. VU defense
The West Virginia offense will be led by Heisman candidate Patrick White, who will return this year as the leading rusher in all of college football, and not just for quarterbacks but for any position. White also returns as the two-time Big East offensive player of the year, having completed 66.7% of his passes for 1724 yards and 14 touchdowns.
Also leading the Mountaineer offense will be starting sophomore tailback Noel Devine. Devine saw limited action last year but when he played put up very impressive numbers. Devine averaged 8.6 yards per carry last season with six touchdowns, and took over for an injured Steve Slaton in the Fiesta Bowl, rushing for 112 yards. Devine and White will team up to form one of the most talented backfields in the country.
Up front the Mountaineers will return an experienced offensive line and arguably one of the best units in the country. Led by first team all Big East tackle Ryan Stanchek, the Mountaineers have an experienced and deep offensive line. These three should open up holes for White and Devine to run and give White time to get the ball downfield in the passing game.
The Villanova defense will be led by team captains and defensive ends Greg Miller and Dave Dalessandro. The Wildcats also return second team all conference defensive tackle and firsst team preseason all conference selection Tim Kukucka, who had 40 tackles last year and led the team with 12 tackles for a loss and seven sacks. Also returning for the Wildcats will be linebacker Osayi Osunde who led the team in tackles with 82 and was a 3rd team all conference selection.
As a team last year the Wildcats allowed 23.7 points per game, including 31 in the opening game against Maryland. The defense will return experienced players on the defensive line but that will be matched by the experience of the Mountaineer offensive line.
On offense the name of the game for the Mountaineers hasn't changed -- it's speed, speed, and more speed. Saturday will showcase the new offensive system of first year coordinator Jeff Mullen and will feature more motion and more passing downfield. The new system might have some kinks to work out but the added motion and overall team speed of the Mountaineers will be too much for the Villanova defense to handle.
By The Numbers :
Last year, WVU was ranked 15th in total offense (456 yds/game), third in rushing offense (297 yds/game) and 114th in passing offense (159 yds/game)
Last year, VU ranked 66th in total defense (374 yds/game), 29th in rushing defense (134 yds/game) and 96th in pass efficiency defense (114 rating).
WVU defense vs. VU offense
The Mountaineer defense will be the biggest question mark heading into the season. The entire secondary and defensive stalwarts upfront like Johnny Dingle and Keilen Dykes have either graduated or moved on to the NFL. While the defense may be inexperienced in some areas they do possess a lot of athleticism, along with an experienced linebacking corps led by Mortty Ivy and Reed Williams.
Williams will start for the Mountaineers come Saturday afternoon and should provide a major boost to the defense. Williams will return to the lineup after having offseason shoulder surgery and will team up with Ivy as returning starters from the most improved defense in the country last year.
While the offensive scheme of the Mountaineers may be a bit different, the philosophy on defense will be very similar to that of a year ago. WVU will still be in the 3-3-5 stack and will still bring a variety of blitzes from the linebackers and safeties. The only difference may be that the cornerbacks will play more aggressively than in years past, as new cornerbacks coach David Lockwood has stressed breaking on the ball and jamming receivers off the line.
The Villanova offense will be led by returning quarterback Antwon Young who is similar in style to White. Last season Young completed 64% of his passes and threw for 14 touchdowns and 1192 yards before tearing his ACL against William and Mary. Young participated in 100% of the Wildcats' drills in summer workouts and will be healthy and ready to go for Saturday.
As a team, the Villanova offense produced 23.7 points per game last season and rushed for 154 yards per game. Villanova will feature starting sophomore tailback Aaron Ball who hasn't had much experience in the backfield. He has run for just 247 yards in his career.
The Wildcats will return all five starters on the offensive line from last year, which should provide a major boost for Ball.
While Villanova has experience up front they still don't have the overall athleticism that WVU has. WVU's speed on defense, along with its blize scheme, could cause havoc in the backfield and force a couple turnovers.
By The Numbers :
Last year, WVU ranked fourth in total defense (262.13 yds/game), 15th in rushing defense (101.13 yds/game) and fourth in pass efficiency defense (161.00 yds/game).
Last year, VU ranked 91st in total offense (326 yds/game), 62nd in rushing offense (154 yds/game) and 82nd in passing offense (172 yds/game).
WVU special teams vs. VU special teams
WVU returns one of the great weapons in college football in punter and kicker Pat McAfee. Lat year, the Pennsylvania native averaged 41.1 yards per punt including a long punt of 71 yards. McAfee also was 11-15 on field goals, and although he struggled towards the end of the year his strong leg makes him a dangerous weapon.
On punt returns both Ellis Lanskster and Brandon Hogan will be back in a two-deep formation on return. Both are athletic and a threat to go all the way with the ball in their hands. On kickoff returns, Stewart wasn't sure who would start but he did know that Noel Devine could be back deep.
Villanova has a very proven kicker as well in Joe Marcoux. Marcoux scored 70 points last season in 11 games and was 12-18 on field goal attempts. He returns as the team's leading point producer.
McAfee is one of the best kickers in the country and is a weapon every time he steps out on the field. In the punting game he has the ability to change field position in the blink of an eye and in the kicking game he has a strong enough leg to boot field goals from 50+ yards. McAfee's leg combined with the slashers in the return game will give WVU the advantage.
By The Numbers :
Last year, WVU ranked 15th in net punting (37.8 yds/punt), 32nd in kick returns (22.5 yds/return) and 23rd in punt returns (12.0 yds/return).
Last year, VU ranked 32nd in net punting (33.9 yds/punt), second in kick returns (23.2 yds/return) and 75th in punt returns (7.7 yds/return)
Picks to Click:
On Offense: Patrick White
On Defense: Reed Williams
WVU has too much speed and athleticism on both sides of the ball for the Wildcats. Their pressure defense will help the offense with turnovers and good field position. West Virginia will start the season with a win and get Stewart's tenure at WVU off on the right foot.
WVU - 35 VU - 10