KICKOFF: Thursday, 8 ET, 12/1/11
SITE: Raymond James Stadium, Tampa, Fla.
SURFACE: Grass TV: ESPN
SERIES: Tied 3-3 (last meeting, 2010, West Virginia 20-6)
RECORDS: West Virginia 8-3, 4-2 Big East; USF 5-6, 1-5 Big East
POLLS: West Virginia (No. 22 AP, No. 20 USA Today)
PREDICTION: USF 21-17
KEYS TO THE GAME:
-- For West Virginia: Get stops. Both teams are capable of moving the ball with West Virginia averaging 468 yards a game and USF 434. Whichever team gets a break on special teams could be the difference.
-- For USF: Get the offense moving. It will help if QB B.J. Daniels, who sat out the loss to Louisville nursing a sore shoulder, will be able to return. If not, the Bulls are going to have to find some way to slow West Virginia's offense to keep it a low-scoring game.
SCOUTING THE TEAMS:
West Virginia is coming off a difficult game against Pittsburgh and will be facing a team that matches up defensively better with the Mountaineers. The offensive line was shuffled for the second half and improved in the Pitt game and will probably go with RG Quinton Spain and RT Curtis Feigt. Pitt got a strong pass rush out of a three-man rush. WVU will throw the ball a lot, using WR Stedman Bailey deep and SR Tavon Austin in a variety of ways on possession passes, screens and reverses.
The WVU defense is coming off its best game. Senior DT Julian Miller had four sacks in the last game but injured an ankle on the final play of the game and his availability with the quick turnaround is not known. DE Bruce Irvin has been getting a lot of attention in special blocking schemes to slow his rush. Safeties Terence Garvin and Darwin Cook have become forces in the secondary while CB Keith Tandy is among the best cover corners in the conference.
Without QB B.J. Daniels, USF is struggling to run the football, rushing for only 64 yards in the loss to Louisville. The Bulls had trouble maintaining consistency in the second half against the Cardinals. Of their eight possessions in the last two quarters only one -- their final one -- was longer than five plays.
USF followed up one of its best defensive efforts of the season in the 6-3 loss to Miami with a less-than-stellar performance against Louisville, especially in the second half. The Cardinals had 373 yards in total offense for the game and had scoring drives of 11 plays (field goal), nine plays twice (both touchdowns) and two plays (touchdown) in the second half.
Mountaineers: The Mountaineers come into the Thursday night affair with hopes a combination of factors will get them into a BCS Bowl game. Louisville has finished its season with a 5-2 league record and holds the advantage in a two-way tie with West Virginia. But West Virginia gets the edge if it beats the Bulls and Cincinnati beats Connecticut, creating three-way deadlock, assuming the Mountaineers maintain their place as the Big East's top-rated team in the BCS rankings. ... The Mountaineers recorded 10 sacks against Pitt, two short of the school record. Five of the sacks came on the game's final nine players and four of them on the last four snaps. ... RG Quinton Spain and RT Curtis Feigt were inserted into the offensive line for the second half of the Pitt game when the offensive line wasn't blocking well and played well. Feigt, from Germany, had played only a few plays in the Norfolk State game this year. ... P Corey Smith replaced struggling P Dan Molinari in the second quarter of the Pitt game and averaged 57.2 yards on four punts.
Bulls: USF needs a victory to be eligible for the postseason and extend its streak of bow appearances to seven in a row. ... USF has had only two losing seasons since it started playing football. One was in the program's first year, a 5-6 mark in 1997. The other was in 2004, when they were 4-7. The Bulls were 6-6 in 2005 and won at least eight games over the next five seasons. ... Despite managing only 311 yards against Louisville, USF remains the second-most productive offense in the conference. The Bulls are averaging just under 435 yards a game. ... The Bulls have yet to lose two in a row in the brief, six-game series with West Virginia. ... Junior RB Demetris Murray became the first non-quarterback to throw a touchdown pass for the Bulls since Albert Jackson did it in 2005 when he threw a 37-yard strike to WR Deonte Welch in the third quarter. ... Sophomore QB Bobby Eveld got his first start of the year and was 20-of-35 passing for 210 yards with one touchdown and one interception.
PLAYERS TO WATCH:
QB Geno Smith -- Smith shattered a number of single season passing records in the Pitt game. He broke marks previous held by QB Marc Bulger: Passing yards, 3,636; completions, 291; pass attempts, 448. He has two more games to build on those records. The WVU offense goes as he makes it go. Against Pitt he showed more of a willingness to run, something Coach Dana Holgorsen had tried to restrain earlier in the year as he had no experienced replacement.
SR Tavon Austin -- Austin broke David Saunders single-season record for pass receptions in a season in the Pitt game when caught 10 to get to 82 for the year. Austin also became WVU's second 1,000-yard receiver this year with 1,074 yards. Bailey is at 1,117 yards. A dangerous returner, Austin was taken out of the punt returns in the Pitt game because he was letting too many of them bounce.
WR Stedman Bailey -- Bailey has become the most dangerous receiver in the Big East as just a sophomore. Against Pitt he broke David Saunders single season WVU record for receiving yardage with 1,086 yards. Bailey caught three passes for 80 yards, including a 63-yard touchdown, his 11th of the year. Bailey is the primary deep threat.
LB DeDe Lattimore -- Lattimore had another strong game with 11 tackles in the loss to Louisville. He leads the team in total tackles (87) and in sacks (7.0). He has been in double figures in tackles in four of the last five games.
DE Ryne Giddins -- Giddins (6.0 sacks) has the ability to get pressure on the quarterback from the outside.
WR Deonte Welch -- He has the capability of making a big play in the receiving game, which may be what the Bulls need to loosen up their running game. Welch had four catches for 67 yards against Louisville, including a 37-yard reception from RB Demetris Murray.
WR Brad Starks (knee, out), DT Julian Miller (leg, probable).
QB B.J. Daniels (shoulder, probable).
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