Here is the fourth installment in a series of seven previewing UConn's Big East Conference opponents this season.
West Virginia Mountaineers
Head Coach: Rich Rodriguez (5th season, 28-21)
2004 season: 8-4 overall, 4-2 Big East, Gator Bowl
Basic Offense: Spread
Basic Defense: 3-3 stack
Starters Returning: 10 (3 offense, 3 defense, 4 specialists)
2004 I-A offensive rankings: Rushing: 7th (252.8 ypg) Passing: 104th (166.1 ypg)
2004 I-A defensive rankings: Rushing: 50th (141.1 ypg) Passing: 32nd (198.3 ypg)
Outlook: Last season, the Mountaineers were the Big East favorite for a seat at the BCS table, but the team stumbled and finished a disappointing 8-4. This year, expectations are drastically lower and the 2005 team is among head coach Rich Rodriguez's youngest at West Virginia.
Most anticipate a return to the "Rod-Ball" days of 2002 and 2003, but missing are game-breakers like Chris Henry and Kay-Jay Harris. Leaders such as Travis Garrett, Dan Mozes, Jeremy Hines, Garin Justice and Ernest Hunter should help with stability.
Star quarterback Rasheed Marshall has graduated and that places Adam Bednarik as the odds-on favorite to take over. Bednarik is a prototypical passer for the spread offense, but the question marks at receiver will loom large. The most productive returning wideout is Brandon Myles, who caught all of six balls last season. At tailback, the story is depth and the Mountaineers have a lot of it. Expect to see heralded high-school phenom Jason Gwaltney early and often.
WVU boasts plenty of experience on defense. Johnny Dingle, a Florida transfer, is a fine addition to a competent defensive line led by end Ernest Hunter. The secondary has a good stock of talent and is deep enough to run the season, but the same cannot be said at linebacker, where new looks could appear each week. Rodriguez has called the linebacking corps a concern.
Overall, the Mountaineers have enough talent to make a run at the Big East championship, but the youth and experience of that talent make a third or fourth-place finish more realistic.
UConn Scouting Report
On paper, UConn matches up similarly to West Virginia, with untested, but talented players at key positions. The teams meet November 2 in Morgantown, and it should be an interesting contest because of those circumstances.
UConn might be able to blitz Bednarik and stack eight in the box to force him into passing situations. Gwaltney, one of the best freshmen running backs in the country, is expected to put up big yards this season.
It's expected most teams will test UConn junior quarterback Matt Bonislawski with an abundance of defensive looks and schemes, and not allow tailbacks Cornell Brockington or Terry Caulley to have a field day coming out of the backfield.
West Virginia's defensive line should be solid with Dingle and Hunter and the secondary is a talented group, but short passes across the middle against inexperienced linebackers might prove effective.
UConn lost, 31-19, last season to West Virginia, but this is nowhere near the same Mountaineers team. Bednarik is inexperienced, they are light at wide receiver and the linebackers are untested.
UConn can keep it close, and possibly win this game, if they establish the running game and Bonislawski minimizes his mistakes throwing the ball. Defensively, shutting down Gwaltney is the key.
UConn fans should expect a nip-and-tuck game heading into the fourth quarter in Morgantown this season and if UConn follows its game plan, getting a big conference road win might happen.
Coming Saturday: A look at the 2005 Rutgers Scarlet Knights.
Note: The staff at WVSports.com helped compile this preview.
Adam Gorney covers UConn sports for Rivals.com and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.