WVU defense aims for passing grade against Florida

January 01, 1994|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,Staff Writer The New York Times contributed to this article.

NEW ORLEANS -- West Virginia's defense will be on alert when it faces Florida, which has one of the nation's premier passing attacks.

Only two teams scored more than three touchdowns against West Virginia, and Florida was held to fewer than four touchdowns only three times. The Gators threw for more than 300 yards in eight of their 11 regular-season games. The Mountaineers gave up that many yards only twice.

The Mountaineers' average of 230.9 passing yards allowed per game was inflated by the 471 racked up by Maryland, which in a comeback that fell short, scored 37 points, the most allowed by West Virginia. In their final game, the Mountaineers allowed Boston College's Glenn Foley 348 yards.

"Of the passing attacks we've faced, they [Florida] are most similar to Boston College," West Virginia coach Don Nehlen said. "They want to put it in the air 40-45 times. A lot of teams throw from fright, but they [the Gators] really know what they want to do with their passing game."

Florida coach Steve Spurrier will usually have four wide-outs. West Virginia knows it will be stretched to new limits.

"They try to spread you out, no question," Mountaineer defensive coordinator Steve Dunlap said. "Sometimes they line up with four wide receivers, sometimes with no backs and five receivers. They're going to throw the ball. We've just got to be ready for it."

Welcome back, Allan

When Nehlen was passing out credit for the Mountaineers' perfect regular-season record, he didn't overlook the return of strength coach Allan Johnson, who also laid much of the weight-room foundation for the 1988 team that went 11-0.

Coincidence or not, Johnson was away from West Virginia during its four-year absence from bowls. In between his stints with the Mountaineers, he was the strength and conditioning coach for

the Orioles.

Nothing gets past Gilmore

Florida free safety Michael Gilmore has 33 unassisted tackles and four interceptions, but football is not his first priority. A zoology/pre-med major who has a 3.7 cumulative grade-point average, he was the only Floridian who was a finalist for one of the Rhodes Scholarships that go to U.S. collegians.

"I was devastated when I got my first B [as a sophomore], but I knew it would come sooner or later," Gilmore said.

Miscellaneous

Nehlen may or may not celebrate his 58th birthday today. "After the game, I'll probably feel a lot older or a lot younger," he said. . . . The Mountaineers left New Orleans to spend last night at an undisclosed location in Mississippi. "I know they won't get into trouble where they're going because I've never heard of it," Nehlen said.

SUGAR BOWL

No. 8 Florida (10-2) vs. No. 3 West Virginia (11-0)

Site: New Orleans

Time: 8:30 tonight

TV: Channels 13, 7

Line: Florida by 6 1/2

Series: West Virginia leads, 1-0

Coaches: Don Nehlen is 103-55-4 in 14 seasons at West Virginia, including a 2-4 record in bowls. Steve Spurrier is 37-10 in four seasons at Florida and 1-1 in bowls.

West Virginia stats: Jake Kelchner completed 97 of 147 passes for 1,565 yards and 11 touchdowns. RB Robert Walker ranked second in the Big East with 1,191 rushing yards on 201 carries (5.9 avg.) with 11 touchdowns. Mike Baker led the Mountaineers with 38 receptions for 668 yards (17.6 avg.) and five touchdowns.

Florida stats: The Gators rank fourth in the nation with 339.3 passing yards per game behind QBs Terry Dean and Danny Wuerffel. Dean completed 118 of 200 passes for 1,651 yards and 17 touchdowns. Wuerffel suffered a season-ending knee injury against Florida State. RB Errict Rhett leads Florida with 1,289 yards on 247 carries (5.2 avg.) and 11 touchdowns. Rhett set a Florida career rushing record with 4,164 yards. WR Jack Jackson had 51 catches for 959 yards (18.8 avg.) and 11 touchdowns. Willie Jackson had 49 receptions (for 13.8 avg.) and six touchdowns.

Outlook: West Virginia and the Sugar Bowl are involved in a marriage that neither side wanted. The Mountaineers had hoped to play Nebraska in the Orange Bowl, but were left out of the national title game picture when Florida State finished ahead of West Virginia in the coalition poll. West Virginia bypassed the Cotton Bowl and elected to play here because of the Sugar Bowl's $4.1 million payday. The Sugar Bowl, however, wanted Notre Dame. The Mountaineers scored their biggest wins in the final two weeks, beating Miami and then rallying from a 14-3 deficit in the fourth quarter to defeat Boston College, 17-14. Florida lost only to unbeaten Auburn and once-beaten Florida State. West Virginia, which is making its first bowl appearance since the 1989 season, has lost its last three bowl games. Florida is appearing in the Sugar Bowl for the second time in three years. The Gators lost to Notre Dame, 39-28, in 1992.

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