KICKOFF: Thursday, 7:30 ET
SITE: Milan Puskar Stadium, Morgantown, W.Va.
SERIES: South Florida leads 3-2 (last meeting, 2009, 30-19 South Florida)
RECORDS: South Florida 3-2, 0-1; West Virginia 4-1, 0-0
POLLS: West Virginia (25 AP, 25 USA Today)
PREDICTION: West Virginia 31-17
KEYS TO THE GAME:
--USF must contain West Virginia RB Noel Devine. Devine is rushing for 95.0 ypg and has the ability to break off a big play. USF QB B.J. Daniels must break the habit of throwing ill-conceived passes into coverage that result in interceptions.
--West Virginia's ability to move the ball with consistency and balance could decide this affair. South Florida, in the past, has stymied the Mountaineers by holding them to fewer than 20 points the last four times the teams have played. Of course, there has been a coaching change since then. WVU would like to get RB Noel Devine unwound against the team that represents the area of Florida from which he comes. USF has stuffed Devine over the years, holding him to just 168 yards on 38 carries and no touchdowns. Defensively the Mountaineers must find a way to contain scrambling QB B.J. Daniels.
SCOUTING THE TEAMS:
--USF ranks fourth in the Big East in running the football, averaging 176.2 ypg, but will be up against a West Virginia defense that is allowing only 86.8 ypg, second stingiest in the league. RB Moise Plancher leads the Bulls with 289 yards in five games, and the offense should get a boost from sophomore Demetris Murray. QB B.J. Daniels has been spotty in his passing, completing 52.6 percent of his passes with seven interceptions against only four touchdown throws.
USF's defense is holding opponents to a league-low 155.0 ypg passing and ranks fourth in the conference overall in total yardage surrendered (301.2 ypg). The Bulls have been particularly tough in the red zone, holding opponents to nine scores in 13 trips inside their 20-yard line. Only six of the scores were touchdowns. The Bulls also have come alive in pressuring the quarterback, producing 14 sacks, third best in the conference.
West Virginia's offense seems to be getting all the parts together behind sophomore QB Geno Smith. The return to action of WR Bradley Starks last week gave Smith a deep weapon for the first time, as he tied a school record with three TD receptions among his four catches for 100 yards. That should loosen up the defense and make some running room for RB Noel Devine, who averaged 28 yards a carry against UNLV in limited duty, scoring twice. The offensive line took a large step forward but will be tested by a much better pass rush than the Mountaineers have seen in any game except for the loss against LSU.
The Mountaineers defense has been carrying the team to date, but the unit often has problems with quarterbacks like South Florida's scrambling B.J. Daniels. The Mountaineers are a better pass-rushing team than in the past with the addition of junior college transfer Bruce Irvin, who has four sacks. If they can contain Daniels, the Mountaineers probably will be able to shut down the USF offense. CB Keith Tandy is coming off a two-interception game, and the Mountaineers are No. 1 in total defense in the conference.
Bulls: USF went 2-1 on its three-game homestand and will have another stretch of three consecutive games at home after playing West Virginia and Cincinnati on the road. Starting with a visit from Rutgers on Nov. 3, the Bulls also are home against Louisville on Nov. 13 and against Pittsburgh on Nov. 20. ... QB B.J. Daniels goes into the game at West Virginia with the possibility of hitting the 1,000-yard mark in rushing. He has 960 career yards in less than 1 1/2 seasons. ... The Bulls had problems with pass protection the last two games, giving up eight sacks. They surrendered only four in their first three games combined. ... USF is 35-19 coming off a loss; the Bulls fell to Syracuse last week. But they are only 13-10 after losses since 2005, when they began competing in the Big East ... With his three sacks against Syracuse, DE Craig Marshall took over the team lead in the category with 4.0 on the season. SS Jon Lejiste has 30.
Mountaineers: West Virginia is 15-3 when Noel Devine runs for at least 100 yards in a game. ... The West Virginia defense has allowed fewer first downs than any other team in the nation this year (61). ... With his next catch, WR Jock Sanders will break a tie with former Mountaineer WR David Saunders and move alone into sixth place on the Big East's all-time receiving list. Sanders is also tied with Saunders for second place on the WVU all-time list of consecutive games with receptions at 33. ... West Virginia finished the non-conference portion of its schedule with a 4-1 record. ... West Virginia was 7-0 at home last year and has won its first three at home this year. The Mountaineers have won their last 11 home games, with the last loss on Nov. 8, 2008, to Cincinnati. ... The Mountaineers rank seventh in the country in scoring defense, giving up only 13.6 ppg, and seventh in total defense, surrendering only 254.6 ypg.
PLAYERS TO WATCH:
WR Dontavia Bogan -- Bogan has come back from an ankle injury and is leading the Bulls in receiving with 13 receptions for 231 yards. He is capable of getting the kind of big play the Bulls are going to need to juice up their offense. He has two of the team's five touchdown receptions.
DE Craig Marshall -- Marshall has found his way to the quarterback the last two games and now has a team-best four sacks on the year. He has two other tackles for loss among his 22 tackles and also has an interception.
WR Lindsey Lamar -- Lamar has only five receptions for 38 yards on the season but showed his big-play potential with a 94-yard kickoff return against Syracuse for USF's only touchdown.
DE Bruce Irvin -- The junior college transfer has become the Mountaineers' most devastating pass rusher and gives them an element they haven't had in the past against USF QB B.J. Daniels. The WVU game plan will be to make Daniels make quick decisions and not give him time to scramble in the backfield or wait until holes open.
RB Noel Devine -- Devine has been bothered for two games by a bone bruise under his big toe, held to just 34 yards by LSU and then carrying only three times against UNLV, although he did breakaway for two TDS and 84 yards. If Devine can make the Bulls commit to the run, Geno Smith should be able to use his fleet receivers to strike quickly.
WR Bradley Starks -- Injured for most of the year and without a catch, Starks came forward with a big game against UNLV as he caught four passes, three for TDs, while collecting 100 receiving yards. With Starks in there, the Mountaineers have great speed on the outside and the ability to strike quickly. His ability to go deep could open things up underneath for the two fast, quick slot receivers, Tavon Austin and Jock Sanders.