West Virginia faces another ground challenge
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MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — West Virginia will go up against the nation's fifth-leading rusher Saturday when it faces Louisville running back Bilal Powell.
The 6-foot-1, 215-pound senior bruiser is shining under first-year coach Charlie Strong, averaging more than 134 yards per game — far better than his first three seasons combined.
"I had a chance to recruit him out of high school ... and Bilal played outstanding that night," Strong said. "I told him when I got here, 'I saw you play in high school, and I hope to see that same effort here as I saw in that game that night.'"
"He's played outstanding this whole season."
Powell has 1,207 yards and has had five games of more than 140 yards. He has been one of the main reasons Louisville has been rejuvenated: At 5-5 with two regular season games remaining, the Cardinals have its best shot at a bowl game since 2006.
"Everything they do is different. (Louisville's coaching staff) is trying to develop the run game, and pass second," West Virginia linebacker Anthony Leonard said. "They have a great running back and a great line, and that counts for a lot of what they're doing."
The Mountaineers are no stranger to playing against top running backs. Already this season, West Virginia has faced four backs in the top 40, including Connecticut running back Jordan Todman, second on that list.
Of those four, only LSU's Stevan Ridley was able to rush for more than his average. Only Ridley, Todman and Marshall's Martin Ward have rushed for more than 100 yards against the Mountaineers.
Overall, West Virginia is giving up 95 yards per game on the ground, seventh-best in the country.
"Our goal is to come and be better than we were last week. So, on the track we're on, we're not going to be tougher and more aggressive and execute better," Leonard said. "We're going against a great running back and a great line, and it's pretty much going to be bone on bone out there this week."
The Mountaineers believe Powell might be the toughest back their defense will see this season. Powell is bigger than Todman and slightly quicker than Ridley.
"They have a cycle of backs, about two or three, that can come in and run it," West Virginia safety Sidney Glover said. "But, we go into each game with the goal to slow down the run game. That's going to be our goal this week."
Louisville's Victor Anderson and Jeremy Wright compliment Powell, adding 200 yards on the ground apiece this season. Mountaineers coach Bill Stewart said he is unsure how Louisville's first-year coaching staff will go about facing West Virginia's 3-3-5 defense.
"They are so explosive," Stewart said. "These guys really make plays. They're big-time game breakers."
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