Pack ready for a surprise

Staff WriterDecember 25, 2010 

Ambush strategies have become as much a part of college football bowl games as protracted halftime shows.

N.C. State coach Tom O'Brien said he's fairly certain West Virginia will uncork some new wrinkles in Tuesday's Champs Sports Bowl in Orlando (6:30 p.m. ESPN).

"It's just a question of what, where and when," O'Brien said.

While trick plays and unconventional tactics are more noticeable to fans when they occur on offense and on special teams, coaches tend to worry more about the defensive bombshells, a legitimate threat with the No. 22 Mountaineers (9-3, 5-2 Big East).

With one of the nation's most experienced and versatile defenses, West Virginia is perfectly equipped to make the game an uncomfortable adventure for N.C. State quarterback Russell Wilson and the Wolfpack's improved but still fairly young offensive line.

The West Virginia base defensive package - a 3-3-5 alignment - is unusual enough in itself.

"But they have so much experience, and so many players capable of filling different roles, that they can show a lot of complicated looks," O'Brien said.

Wilson, a redshirt junior, and the Wolfpack (8-4, 5-3 ACC) have had only one flat offensive performance - a 14-13 loss at Clemson on Oct. 6 - that was due in part to the expertise of the Tigers defensive backs.

Wilson still completed 22 of 36 passes with one touchdown pass and one interception, but Clemson did a good job of containing the Pack's small throng of receivers.

If anything, West Virginia has more secondary personnel and quickness than Clemson.

Mountaineers foes averaged only 12.8 points a game. Ten of the 12 were limited to less than 20, and not one scored more than Marshall's 21 in a 24-21 West Virginia win on Sept. 10.

Cornerback Keith Tandy alone had six interceptions for West Virginia, and 12 other defenders were credited with pass breakups. Seven defensive backs play regularly, and five of those are juniors or seniors.

N.C. State receiver Jarvis Williams is confident Wilson won't be caught by surprise coverage schemes and blitz packages.

"There's nothing we haven't seen over the course of the season," Williams said. "We'll be ready."

But it's a near lock that West Virginia will test Wilson's ability to break down defenses and find receivers in crowded surroundings.

"Communication and recognition are going to be very important," O'Brien said. "We can't afford to get confused."

And that's even if the Mountaineers stay with their normal routine.

caulton.tudor@newobserver.com or 919-829-8946

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