The Rutgers University football program will face its greatest challenge of its 2011-12 season Saturday as West Virginia University, ranked No. 24 in the USA Today/Coaches Poll and No. 25 in the AP Poll and Bowl Championship Series standings, visits High Point Solutions Stadium for Big East Conference contest in Piscataway, NJ. The Scarlet Knights (5-2, 2-1 Big East) will be trying to snap a 16-game losing streak the the Mountaineers (5-2, 1-1), who last Friday was routed at Syracuse University, 49-23.
For those Rutgers football fans who don't know much about WVU, here's a brief scouting report.
First-year head coach Dana Holgorsen, who was the offensive coordinator of Oklahoma State University last season, took over a program that fits well with his high-octane style. Holgorsen, who is considered an offensive genius, helped the Cowboys finish last season No. 1 in total offense. So far, the Mountaineers have the fifth-best passing offense in the nation.
Last week, the Mountaineers were stunned on the road by the Orange. However, despite the loss WVU remains nationally ranked and still is the favorite to win the Big East title. Earlier in the season, Sept. 24, the Mountaineers lost to the nation's top program, Louisiana State University, 47-21. A week before, Sept. 17, WVU won at the University of Maryland, 37-31. The lone Mountaineers' Big East victory came against the University of Connecticut, Oct. 8, 43-16.
Junior quarterback Geno Smith leads a prolific West Virginia offense, which enters the game with the 13th-best scoring offense in the nation (38.3 points per game). Currently, Smith is tops in the league with 356.71 passing yards per game and a 149.88 passing-efficiency rating.
Smith's top target is sophomore wide out Stedman Bailey, who has five straight games with 100 or more receiving yards, and has the second-most catches on the team (41). Meanwhile, junior Tavon Austin has a team-best 48 receptions and is second in the nation in all purpose yards (183.0). The Mountaineers' leading rusher is freshman running back Dustin Garrison, who has 494-rushing yards and five touchdowns on the season.
Overall, West Virginia leads the league in total yards per game (489.1) and is second in points per game (38.3). The Mountaineers pass the ball a lot more than they run it. Entering Saturday's contest, WVU has the fifth-best passing offense in the nation, but is ranked 100 out of 120 Football Bowl Subdivision programs in rushing.
Senior defensive tackle Julian Miller, who ranks second in the FBS in collegiate sacks (23), leads a Mountaineer defense that ranks 21st in the nation. However, despite its high ranking WVU has the league's worst rushing defense allowing 190 yards per game.
Last week, the Mountaineer defense gave up a season-high 49 points to a Syracuse offense that ranks 92nd in the nation.
If the Orange showed anything last week, it was that WVU isn't a perfect football team. However, the Mountaineers are the most talented program in the Big East and will find a way to score point and confuse freshman quarterback Gary Nova. For Rutgers to earn an upset victory Saturday, it will need to run the ball and hope that Nova doesn't crack under pressure if the game is close late.