WVU focused on Georgia Southern's triple-option run game
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (AP) Weeks of film study and practice may not have been enough to get West Virginia ready for how it will go after Georgia Southern's triple-option run game.
Getting defenders spaced out properly on Saturday night could be the difference between West Virginia stifling an overmatched opponent or becoming the latest major-conference victim of the underdog Eagles.
''You have to attack the dive. You have to attack the quarterback, and you have to attack the pitch man,'' said West Virginia linebacker Jared Barber. ''Everybody has to do their job every play or they'll get out on us.''
In its inaugural season in the Bowl Subdivision, Georgia Southern's 4,573 rushing yards in 2014 were second nationally to Georgia Tech. The Eagles ran the ball 80 percent of the time, and the game plan may not be much different against the Mountaineers in Morgantown.
For West Virginia, there's little comfort in the fact that Georgia Southern quarterback Kevin Ellison, a 1,000-yard rusher, will sit out the game.
''This one will definitely test our mental focus, especially in the secondary with them running the ball so much,'' said West Virginia cornerback Terrell Chestnut.
Georgia Southern lost by a combined five points at North Carolina State and Georgia Tech last year. In 2013, the Eagles stunned Florida on its home field.
''They're not going to come in here intimidated,'' said West Virginia defensive coordinator Tony Gibson.
Here are some things to watch out for when the Mountaineers and Georgia Southern meet for the first time:
NEW QB: Georgia Southern junior Favian Upshaw will get his first career start because Ellison is academically ineligible for the first two games. Upshaw played in 11 games as a backup a year ago, rushing for 385 yards and throwing for 285 more. ''He can do anything,'' said Georgia Southern coach Willie Fritz. ''We have a lot of confidence in him. He's got great composure and is very competitive.''
BORN TO RUN: The game features running backs with solid credentials from both teams. Georgia Southern's Matt Breida compiled 1,485 rushing yards as a sophomore last season, including a pair of 200-yard games. He scored 18 touchdowns and averaged a whopping 8.7 yards per carry. The West Virginia tandem of Rushel Shell (788) and Wendell Smallwood (722) combined for 1,510 yards and nine touchdowns.
YOUNG PASS CATCHERS: The Mountaineers will need plenty of help at wide receiver to make up for the graduations of second-team All-American Kevin White and Mario Alford, who combined for nearly 2,400 receiving yards and 21 touchdowns in 2014. Getting the call as a starter is freshman Jovon Durante, who had only 11 catches as a high school senior in Miami. Coach Dana Holgorsen has talked about the speedy Durante's potential but said ''until it happens in a game, I am going to reserve the right to sit here and brag about him.'' Another new starter is sophomore Shelton Gibson, who caught four passes last season and emerged as a kickoff returner at midseason.
SPECIAL TEAMS ON WATCH: West Virginia was terrible returning punt and kickoffs last season, and the watch is on for any improvement. K.J. Dillon is expected to handle both duties for the Mountaineers, who averaged a measly 3 yards per punt return a year ago.
QB'S HOME DEBUT: West Virginia quarterback Skyler Howard will make his first start at Mountaineer Field after subbing for the injured Clint Trickett in two games at the end of last season - a win at Iowa State and a Liberty Bowl loss to Texas A&M. ''He knows how to execute this offense,'' said West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen. ''He has a chip on his shoulder, and he is ready to play.''