As you know, as always with any football game, there are a bunch of things to pay attention to. But, as I like to do before every game West Virginia participates in, here are five things that you should pay special attention to in this game. And, this isn't just some other game. No, it is the Backyard Brawl.
1. Tough turf: Everyone understands the field at Heinz Field --- the actual field --- is ripped apart, slippery, chewed-up and in general poor shape. Seems every writer has written something about it. But, how does that practically impact this game? Obviously, the field goal game will be impacted, but so too will be the kickoff game and probably the ability of offensive players to cut. It isn't a stretch to say that whichever team has the skill guys who slip and fall the least could go a long way toward winning this game. Yes, the field could become that much of a factor.
2. Front men: As this season was set to get underway, many people might have thought this game, without question, would end up being a battle of the running backs. Not so --- as Noel Devine and Dion Lewis haven't had the spectacular seasons that many anticipated. So, if you are looking for a battle between two units, here is one to watch: Which defensive line plays better? Sure, that isn't very sexy, but then again, this is the Backyard Brawl, not some spread-them-out, throw-it-around 7-on-7 game. Seems to me that these two groups of guys (one a three-man front, the other a four-man front) will be the key to the game and the matchup you should pay most attention to.
3. Devine ain't fine: Everyone knows Devine had been battling that toe thing since back in the LSU game. Then, the injury report came out on Wednesday night and listed him as probable. No surprise at all. But here is the strange part --- with an ankle injury. With that said, could this be the breakout game for Shawne Alston? Could this be a game where the kid puts himself on the map with a great showing on a national TV platform? Who knows the real status of Devine, but if he is dinged up, look for Alston to get his chances.
4. To the Max: In watching some Pitt games this season, it is glaringly obvious that the Panthers lost a huge portion of their defense when linebacker Dan Mason was injured. Simply put, the kid was a stud. His replacement, Max Gruder, is a big dropoff. A decent football player, but not anywhere close to what Mason brings. So, if you are West Virginia, you have to attack this kid. Will Jeff Mullen be able to make Gruder a liability? We will see.
5. Finish: The Mountaineers have scored just 32 fourth-quarter points all season. As a comparison, they've scored 100 in the first quarter, 61 in the second and 54 in the third. West Virginia also scored 3 in overtime (a field goal at Marshall). It is with those numbers, that you can see the WVU offense has a problem finishing. If this game is tight at the end -- which most Backyard Brawls tend to be -- the offense might be asked to step away from character and score some late-game points.
Lastly, Happy Thanksgiving.