Thursday Night Football

Thursday Night Football

What Bettors Need to Know: West Virginia at Colorado
By CHRIS MARAKOVITZ

Line Moves

The line opened at with visiting West Virginia favored by 3 points and then it dipped to 2 ½. It was back to 3 by Wednesday.

The over/under was initially set at 56 1/2 and has since moved up to 57.

Long-Term Deal

West Virginia eliminated any speculation about the depth of its commitment to new coach Bill Stewart by signing Stewart to a six-year contract starting at $800,000 this year and increasing $50,000 annually.

Stewart will be coaching his first game with his newfound security, after the deal was just announced this week.

Dissing the Buffs

After defeating in-state rival Colorado State 38-17 in the opener, Colorado looked sloppy two weeks ago in barely defeating Eastern Washington 31-24.

The Buffaloes trailed 21-7 at the half and only secured victory with a late interception return for a touchdown.

“I don’t like to talk bad about teams, but they aren’t going to get far in the Big-12. They aren’t playing like a Big-12 team. They’re playing like a Big Sky team,” Eastern Washington defensive back Ryan Kelley told reporters after the game.

Colorado coach Dan Hawkins hinted that his team’s poor performance had more to do with complacency.

“We always tell our guys not to get caught up in the decal on the side of the helmet,” said Hawkins. “(But) it’s hard a lot of times when you have young guys.”

When it’s Time to Change...You’ve got to Re-arrange

West Virginia opened the season in a state of transition from the spread offense of former coach Rich Rodriguez to a more pass-oriented pro-style offense. The change comes with an entirely new set of terminology for players to master.

The difficulties of this transition were evident in the team’s 24-3 loss to East Carolina. This marked the first time since a 45-3 loss to Miami in 2001 (Rodriguez’s first year) that the Mountaineers failed to score a touchdown.

While West Virginia has one of the most heralded offensive lines in the country, they are accustomed to aggressive run-blocking with zone schemes as opposed to the pass-blocking skills that the new system calls for.

Mountaineer offensive linemen are making no excuses for their poor performance against East Carolina, however, and are seeking redemption against Colorado.

Devine Involvement

Stewart has indicated his intention to re-emphasize the power running game against Colorado.

In the team’s first two games, QB Pat White has thrown 51 times, by far the greatest two-game total of his three-year tenure as starter. In turn, explosive running back Noel Devine is averaging just 10.5 carries a game.

“He needs to get the ball more,” says Stewart.

Look for a heavy dose of Devine on Thursday. Stewart has also hinted that we can expect the option to emerge as a new weapon for White and Devine.

Pass Heavy in Boulder

The Colorado offense has been even more conspicuously imbalanced towards the pass. QB Cody Hawkins has thrown for 475 yards with two TD’s and a 71.8 completion percentage.

Meanwhile, the running game is averaging just 3.5 yards per carry - 90th in the nation.

Freshman 15

Colorado Freshman running back Darrell Scott was one of the most highly touted recruits in the nation out of St. Bonaventure High School in Ventura, California. In his junior year Scott rushed for over 3000 yards, a ridiculous 9.5 yards per carry, and 45 touchdowns.

After showing up at camp twenty pounds over his playing weight of 205, Scott has already lost fifteen pounds. Despite not being in his best shape, he has been the Buffs’ leading rusher thus far and has shown flashes of what many believe is the greatness to come. 

"I'm getting faster each week, and when I get to 205, if I get to 205, it's going to be bad. It's going to be like high school all over again with my speed,” Scott said this week.

A Tale of Two Ds

Defense has been a bright spot for Colorado so far. The Buffs are allowing an average of just 59 yards on the ground and held Eastern Washington to three points in the second half.

West Virginia, on the other hand, has appeared lost on defense, particularly by their recent standards. Through the first two games, against Villanova and Eastern Washington no less, the Mountaineers have allowed teams to convert 15 of 30 third down attempts.

Of particular concern is a young secondary that allowed Villanova to go 21-for-27 through the air for 266 yards and East Carolina 22-for-28 for 236.

This could be troublesome against Colorado’s pass-happy offense.

Altitude

Several Mountaineer players have become enamored with a special training box left over from the Rodriguez era that is supposed to make players more accustomed to high altitude conditions.

West Virginia coach Stewart downplays the issue and states that he does not expect Boulder’s mile-high altitude to present a problem.

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Re: Thursday Night Football

West Virginia at Colorado
By Christian Alexander

#21 West Virginia (1-1, 0-0 Big East) at Colorado (2-0, 0-0 Big 12)
Folsom Stadium (Natural Grass)
Sports.com Line: West Virginia -3, O/U 57

It seems year after year in college football it gets harder and harder to tell exactly what you’re going to get from a team on a given week. To an extent, I suppose that’s always been true, but it certainly seems the widespread parity in the game has really accelerated the problem. To say the least, it has made handicapping much more difficult.

Last Thursday night was a perfect example of just how unpredictable teams can be.

Coming off of their season opener against Division 1-AA McNeese State – a game which saw North Carolina have to rally for a 35-27 win over the Cowboys from the Southland Conference – few would have predicted that UNC was primed to break out for an impressive road victory at Rutgers. After all, the Tar Heels had not won a road game outside of the state of North Carolina since a 38-35 win at Arizona State in 2002.

But that’s just what coach Butch Davis and the Tar Heels did. As five point underdogs, North Carolina dismantled the Scarlet Knights in every phase of the game en route to a 44-12 woodshed beating.

Bet you didn’t see that one coming. Don’t worry, neither did I. Coming off a week one loss to Fresno State which I felt was a lot closer than the final score (24-7) indicated, I had Rutgers pegged for a nice bounce back win at home.

Obviously it’s never a sure thing and of course I realized UNC had a chance to stay within five and maybe even pull out a win if things broke their way. But a blowout and one in which Rutgers was pretty much dominated on both sides of the ball??? No, I never did see that one coming. I guess that’s why they call it gambling.

So with a 2-1 Thursday night record under my belt, let’s close the book on Week 3 and take a look at this week’s game.

This week we finally get a chance to get off the east coast and head west, venturing into Rocky Mountain territory as West Virginia travels to Colorado.

This is the third year for coach Dan Hawkins in Boulder and slowly but surely the coach is turning things around for the Buffaloes. Due to scandal and bad play, the Colorado program had basically flat lined when Hawkins arrived on the scene after a wildly successful stint at Boise State where he had established the Broncos as a national threat.

After a rocky 2-10 season in 2006, Hawkins started to make progress last year as Colorado finished 6-7. This year, while it hasn’t always been pretty, the Buffaloes are off to a perfect 2-0 start.

And when I say it hasn’t always been pretty, I mean it’s sometimes been downright ugly. Take the Buffaloes last outing when they faced Division 1-AA Eastern Washington.

Colorado clearly wasn’t ready to play and before they knew it were staring at a 21-7 halftime deficit to the Eagles from the Big Sky conference. Fortunately for Hawkins, his son - starting QB Cody Hawkins - was able to get the offense moving and the Buffaloes rallied for a 31-24 win. Cody Hawkins finished the game with 261 yards and three touchdowns but also had an interception returned for a touchdown.

One would think that Colorado can’t afford a slow start this week as they are facing a team with a ton of offensive firepower in West Virginia. That said, now that coach Rich Rodriguez has departed for Michigan, the Mountaineers don’t seem to have the same punch on offense, despite having Heisman candidate Pat White back at QB.

In fact, in the two games thus far under new head coach Bill Stewart, WVU has not run for 200 yards, a figure they regularly passed sometime around halftime under Rodriguez.  Granted, RB Steve Slaton isn’t running the ball for West Virginia any longer and FB Owen Schmitt isn’t opening big holes but the aforementioned White is certainly there as is a Slaton clone, RB Noel Devine.

The problem seems to be that West Virginia is clearly transitioning into a different type of team under Stewart. When programs fall on hard times and make a coaching change – as Colorado did with Hawkins – it is expected the new coach will implement a new system and after a couple years progress will be seen.

However, West Virginia clearly wasn’t a program in shambles when Stewart took over at the end of last season. Far from it. They were just a highly successful program that had their coached plucked by one of the premiere college football powers in the entire nation.

So, after beating Oklahoma in last year's Fiesta Bowl, I think most people assumed the Mountaineers would continue rolling under Stewart, who had been an assistant under Rodriguez.

However, Stewart is trying to change the identity of West Virginia a bit, especially on offense where the coach is in the midst of a change to a more pro-style offense that would rather throw than pass.

All that seemed fine in the season opening romp over Villanova where White threw five touchdown passes in a 48-21 route. Unfortunately, the next timeout things didn’t go nearly as smoothly as West Virginia was held without a touchdown for the first time since losing 45-3 to Miami in 2001, Rich Rodriguez's first season. East Carolina ended up coasting to a 24-3 win and the Mountaineers went back to the drawing board to try to get things straight in a hurry.

Colorado returns 15 starters from their 2007 squad, including six on offense and eight on defense. Thus far the Buffs are 1-0 ATS as they covered a 12 point spread against rival Colorado State in a 38-17 win to start the year.

West Virginia returns 13 starters from 2007, including eight on offense but just four on defense. The Mountaineers are 0-1 so far against the spread after losing outright to East Carolina as 10.5 point

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Re: Thursday Night Football

(21) West Virginia (1-1, 0-1 ATS) at Colorado (2-0, 1-0 ATS)

West Virginia, which took last weekend off after a stunning upset loss at East Carolina, travels to Folsom Field in Boulder, Colo., for a nationally televised non-conference matchup against the Buffaloes.

West Virginia, then ranked No. 8 and considered a possible national title contender, got steamrolled 24-3 at East Carolina as a 7½-point road chalk on Sept. 6. Star QB Patrick White rushed for 97 yards to pace a ground attack that totaled 179 yards, but he threw for just 72 yards and led just one scoring drive – on a second-quarter field goal. The Mountaineers lost the turnover battle 2-0, were outgained 386-251 and were on the short end of a 36-24 difference in time of possession.

Colorado, which also had last weekend off, barely held off Division I-AA Eastern Washington 31-24 in a non-lined home game on Sept. 6. The Buffs trailed 21-7 at halftime and needed 17 fourth-quarter points to avoid the upset, capped by an interception return for a TD in the final two minutes. QB Cody Hawkins (28 of 38, 261 yards, 3 TDs, 1 INT) was steady, though his lone pick was returned for a TD in the second quarter. Colorado allowed just 47 rushing yards but yielded 303 through the air.

This is the first-ever meeting between these schools.

The loss at East Carolina aside, the Mountaineers have still won 14 of their last 17 games on the highway (11-5-1 ATS) and are on positive pointspread streaks of 9-4-1 as a road favorite, 5-1 after a loss of more than 20 points and 5-1 following a non-cover. The Buffaloes, conversely, are on ATS slides of 3-7 as a home pup and 2-7 after a SU win.

The over for West Virginia is on runs of 4-0 after a SU loss, 5-1 after a bye week and 5-1 in Thursday contests. Also, the total has also gone high in four of Colorado’s last five lined games and is on a 4-0 run following a SU win, though the under is 10-2 in the Buffs’ last 12 non-conference tilts and 4-0 in its last four in September.

ATS ADVANTAGE: OVER

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Tips and Trends

#21 West Virginia at Colorado

West Virginia (-3, O/U 56.5): The Mountaineers will try and rebound from the thrashing they took at the hands of East Carolina. For some reason new head coach Bill Stewart is trying to throw the football more this season, despite having one of the best running quarterbacks ever in Pat White. West Virginia hasn't topped 200 yards rushing in either game, a mark they would sometimes surpass by halftime a season ago. To get their offense going, the Mountaineers will try to get the ball in the hands of slotback Jock Sanders, who the coaching staff thinks can be a difference maker. Defensively, West Virginia looked lost against ECU, blowing assignments and missing a lot of tackles.

West Virginia is 13-6 ATS in its last 19 road games.
The OVER is 5-1 in West Virginia?s last 6 Thursday games.

Key Injuries - LB Reed Williams (shoulder) is probable.

PROJECTED SCORE: 31 (Side Play of the Day)

Colorado: After beating in-state rival Colorado State, the Buffs needed a late rally to get by Division 1-AA Eastern Washington. Colorado is one the youngest teams in college football and it showed in a classic sandwich game with Eastern Washington, as the Buffs fell behind early and looked unmotivated. Colorado will try to keep Pat White under wraps tonight and it will do so with a rush defense that's allowing just 59 yards per game so far this season. Cody Hawkins looks more comfortable in his second year under center. He'll try to slice through a reeling Mountaineers secondary, much like ECU's Patrick Pinkney was able to do two weeks ago.

Colorado is 2-7 ATS in their last 9 games following a SU win.
The OVER is 4-1 in Colorado's last 5 games overall.

Key Injuries - CB Jimmy Smith (back) is probable.
LB Shaun Mohler (shoulder) is probable.

PROJECTED SCORE: 24

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