WVU football: Mountaineers need help from wide receivers to stop pass rush
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- West Virginia's football issues against Syracuse's blitzes last week were not limited to the protection from the offensive line and running backs, or Geno Smith's ability to throw the ball before he was hit.
The receivers play a part in handling pressure and they didn't play it very well against the Orange.
"Receivers adjusting routes is one area of it and receivers making plays downfield is something that we've talked about for a long time," Coach Dana Holgorsen said.
If the No. 25 Mountaineers (5-2, 1-1 Big East) are to have greater success Saturday against Rutgers (5-2, 2-1), the receivers will have to help.
Smith was sacked four times and hit many other times against the Orange.
Holgorsen said the receivers didn't help discourage or defeat the blitz because they didn't do nearly enough on fade routes and didn't adjust their routes when they spotted a blitz.
Kickoff at 3:30 p.m. from High Point Solutions Stadium will be telecast regionally by ABC. Fifteen percent of the nation will see the Mountaineers and the Scarlet Knights.
"They have to give the quarterback somewhere to go with ball quick," inside receivers coach Shannon Dawson said.
"If they don't blitz, then you can let routes develop down the field. One reason you saw Geno get hit as much as he did was we were not giving him a quick place to go to with the ball."
Dawson said receivers have to spot the blitz, or get the cue from Smith, and run to the space vacated by the blitz. If the blitz comes from the middle, then someone goes there. If it's coming from the outside, someone goes there. Others are free to just end their route early and sit in an open spot.
Defenses take measures to prevent that, but the Mountaineers have to be better at countering that.
"When teams blitz, they like to put their guys in press coverage," Smith said of when defenders bump and jam receivers at the line of scrimmage. "They want to throw the receiver's timing off. The big thing is getting a clean release off the line and getting into our routes as fast as possible so I can get the ball out of my hands as fast as possible."
WVU's receivers struggled with Syracuse's press coverage and were bumped out of bounds or out of their routes a lot. Other times they didn't alter their routes or they couldn't find the space because the Orange had the offense sufficiently confused.
Smith then had to hold onto the ball and either make throws he didn't want to make or take a hit, though be blamed himself for letting it happen as often as it did.
"That's something where I've got to come to the sideline and tell the guys to do this or that," he said. "I didn't do that as much and it's something I need to learn from and need to do a better job communicating."
It was altogether inexcusable to the coaches, who like to see the defense blitz.
"It's almost like if you're playing poker and then someone shows you their hand," Dawson said. "There's no guessing game. They're not trying to hide their cards from you. They're showing you exactly how to beat them. They're showing you they're going to put everyone here and one guy there, so your guy has to do this one thing.
"They're showing us exactly what they're going to do, so in the end it's up to us to win when they go man-to-man. We've got to win the individual battles. We've got to do a good job getting the release and fighting to get in position to catch the ball."
The Mountaineers still have outside receiver Stedman Bailey (No. 10) and inside receiver Tavon Austin (No. 28) ranked in the top 30 nationally in receiving yards per. Outside receiver Ivan McCartney is No. 73. They've combined for 124 receptions, 1,852 yards and 11 touchdowns.
They'll be opposed by Rutgers receiver Mohamed Sanu. The junior has 65 catches for 683 yards and six touchdowns. He's fourth nationally with 9.29 catches per game and tied for 16th with 97.57 receiving yards per game.
The Mountaineers allowed 229 passing yards and four touchdowns to just eight incomplete passes last week. A receiver and a tight end both had more than 60 yards receiving and tight end Nick Provo caught three touchdown passes.
Sanu had two receptions for 14 yards last season against the Mountaineers, but six catches for 105 yards and a touchdown in 2009.
"We've got to cover him," Holgorsen said. "If he's out wide, we'll be in situations where it's one-on-one with the corners. If he's inside, we've got to pass him off, much like we didn't do with the tight end last week. The guy's an eligible receiver, so we've got to cover him.
"He moves around a bunch. He'll play inside and outside. Our scheme is to have the corners and cover guys outside. If we load up the box, we'll put them in one-on-one situations. When those guys release, then you've got to have stuff in the middle and identify what routes they're running and go cover them. We didn't do a good job with that last week."
Sanu doesn't run or pass as much as he did his first two seasons, when Rutgers featured Sanu in a Wildcat formation. In his first two seasons, the 6-foot-2, 215-pound Sanu ran the ball 121 times for 655 yards and nine touchdowns and completed 7 of 16 pass attempts for 198 yards and four touchdowns.
He carried 13 times for 47 yards and threw a pass against the Mountaineers in 2009.
Sanu has carried three times for 14 yards and completed 1 of 2 passes for 9 yards this season.
"When he catches 16 balls a game," Holgorsen said, "I'd keep him at receiver, too."
Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at email@example.com or 304-319-1142.