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Run still priority for WVU

by Chris Errington

SPORTS WRITER

(September 3, 1998) MORGANTOWN -- Amos Zereoue vs. Andy Katzenmoyer? Nah. West Virginia's offensive line versus Ohio State's defensive line? No way. Ask the Mountaineers' receiving corps and they'll tell you where Saturday's game with No. 1 Ohio State will be won and lost.

"If they put everyone in there to stop Amos, we're probably going to have to win the game," Shawn Foreman said.

And Foreman is quite confident the WVU receivers can.

"We've got so many great athletes that someone's going to get open."

Maybe, but ...

Foreman, David Saunders, Khori Ivy and Pat Greene will go head-to-head with the heart of Ohio State's defense -- its ultra-talented secondary.

There's:

Antoine Winfield -- One of the best cornerbacks in the country, he's considered a front-runner for the Thorpe Award, given to the nation's best defensive back.

Gary Berry -- He's a blazing fast cornerback who's considered the best athlete in the secondary.

Damon Moore -- One of the nation's best safeties, Moore has started 24 of the past 25 games for the Buckeyes. It's not yet known if he will be academically eligible.

Ahmed Plummer -- Started all 13 games last year and tied for team lead in interceptions with five.

Still, "if they (play man-to-man defense) they'll pay," Saunders said, "because they can't cover us all game like that."

Despite the WVU receivers' claims and Ohio State's commitment to stopping running back Zereoue, don't expect head coach Don Nehlen to get pass-happy.

In an otherwise nearly even matchup, the Mountaineers could have a definite advantage along the front line. WVU's offensive line has been touted as one of the nation's best, while the Buckeyes' defensive line may be somewhat of a weak link.

The Ohio State front four features three sophomores on a group that allowed opponents 119 rushing yards per game in 1997.

"We still need to use the run to open up the pass," senior center Eric de Groh said.

"That's what we've done in the past and that's what I expect us to do against Ohio State," de Groh said.

The numbers back up de Groh.

WVU's offensive line that includes Solomon Page, Randy Dunnigan, Bryan Pukenas and Brock Holland, averages 6-foot-4 1/2, 301 pounds and has 10 years of combined starting experience prior to this season. Ohio State's front four only averages 6-4, 265 with three years of starting experience.

"We look forward to putting some of the offensive burden on ourselves," de Groh said of his linemates. "We're supposed to be one of the team's strengths. Now it's time to go out there and prove it."

One player the Mountaineers may not have an answer for is Katzenmoyer.

The 'Big Kat' is quick enough to track running backs sideline to sideline from his linebacker spot, is so strong at 6-4, 255 pounds that he usually commands two players on each play to block him, and is considered by many to be this year's Ôonly' Butkus Award candidate.

"This is the best defense we've faced since the Ô96 (North) Carolina team (in the Gator Bowl)," Zereoue said. "Katzenmoyer is the mainstay of that defense. This is nothing new to me, just another challenge."

Assigned to the hazardous duty of blocking Katzenmoyer will be 6-2, 240-pound fullback Anthony Green. Green will be making his first start at fullback against the Buckeyes.

An even bigger concern for West Virginia is depth. Nehlen said he believes his starters are good enough to play with any team, and while he knows any injury could prove costly, an injury to starting quarterback Marc Bulger could be deadly.

Bulger is well ahead of where he was a year ago both mentally and physically (he's added 20 pounds to his 6-3, 210-pound frame) Nehlen said, but his backups aren't.

First-year QB Andy Keating has just recently resumed practicing after suffering from what Nehlen called a disease spread by a tick, Brad Lewis has never played a down of college football and JaJuan Seider has thrown just 15 passes in his career.

Game time for Saturday is 8 p.m.