WVC football: West Virginia State goes for back-to-back wins
Today's homecoming game at Lakin Field in Institute is a matchup of two teams heading in opposite directions, and for the first time in a while, it is West Virginia State's stock that is on an uptick.
Fresh off a road win at Seton Hill last Saturday - its first road victory since 2008 - State welcomes West Liberty for a 1:30 p.m. contest.
The Hilltoppers have lost two conference games in a row (to Fairmont State and Glenville State) after winning their league opener over West Virginia Wesleyan.
"They're a little bit up and down this year," State coach Earl Monroe said of West Liberty. "They're a big-play offense, they have great schemes on offense, they run great routes, they'll get in trips formations and give you a ton of different looks and routes. We've got to read those flood routes and not read underneath because then they'll beat you over the top.
"We have to break on the ball, make tackles, keep the ball in front of us and eliminate big plays."
So far, the State defense has done a much better job of that. The Jackets have given up an average of 22.3 points per game against Division II opponents this year. While not the 1985 Bears, it's better than last season's 34.7 average, and it's easy to see the Jackets defense is giving the offense a much better chance of making the plays necessary to win.
However, in order to keep those numbers down, State will have to deal with an 11-week grind of a season that includes no bye week. Instead, the Yellow Jackets played two Division I FCS schools and took the guaranteed money.
"Our bye week every two years moves up a week," Monroe said. "We were able to get a guaranteed game in that early week this year. When you have some time off and you get on a roll, you wish you would play. But then it seems like in those years when you've got bumps and bruises, you always seem to need one."
The Jackets (2-3 overall, 1-1 West Virginia Conference) sure do have those with injuries starting to pile up on defense and with quarterback Ricky Phillips a bit hobbled after being injured in last week's win.
Banged up or not, Phillips is expected to go today and State will likely need him to stay above .500 in the WVC.
With only two teams left undefeated in league play (Shepherd 3-0, Glenville State 2-0), State could be poised to make some noise on a bigger scale.
"You can't look at who beat who last week to figure out what you're going to do," Monroe said. "There are so many styles of defenses and offenses, it becomes matchups against that team on that particular week that will decide games. If you're not good against the run, you don't want to go play UC or be anywhere near Jordan Roberts. If you're doing well against the pass you match up better with some teams, that's part of the parity and part of what's going on.
"Teams like Shepherd that are balanced and can do both end up rising to the top. It's a battle to get there and we've got some awfully tough schemes and teams to face left on our schedule."
Speaking of making waves, the University of Charleston was but six points away from handing the Rams their first loss of the season back on Sept. 22, a loss that remains the only blemish on UC's record (4-1, 2-1) thus far.
The wins have come even while starting quarterback Maurice Leak has in and out of the lineup with injuries since the second game of the season.
Freshman John Knox has stepped in and done a serviceable job, and he seemed to take a big step forward last week in a 30-10 win over Fairmont State.
"It was a good win, a good team win," UC coach Pat Kirkland said. "I thought at times we were hitting on all cylinders on offense and defense for first time in awhile. It was a good conference win over a good Fairmont team."
Leak's availability remains in question this week as he remains day-to-day.
Of course, any quarterback would be more at ease with Jordan Roberts in the backfield. The senior running back set UC's career rushing mark last week and is second in the conference with 107.8 rushing yards per game.
Kirkland said the entire offense has stepped up to help Knox out.
"It's good to see," Kirkland said. "Other guys on offense and on the team have helped John. Obviously there's Jordan Roberts to hand the ball to, but [receivers] Shaq Williams and Chris Maxwell each had tremendous games last week and that's a help as well."
Charleston could be in for a big Homecoming day in all facets as it hosts winless Seton Hill (0-5, 0-3) at 2 p.m. today.
The Griffins allow the second most points in the league (38 per game) and score the least amount in the league (14.6).
"Seton Hill is obviously struggling a little bit record-wise this year," Kirkland said. "They had a very close game last week where State came back and beat them. Their offense is talented, their quarterback is a senior and they have an ability to put points on the board. We've got to make sure we come out hitting on all cylinders."