The Mountaineers are flying high coming off a Thanksgiving night win at home against rival Pittsburgh (45-13) in what they call the "Backyard Brawl". Quarterback Pat White rushed for 220 yards and a score and he showed the national TV audience that he is one of the most exciting young players in the college game. Running back Steve Slaton rushed for 179 yards and added three scores as the Mountaineers pilled up 451 yards on the ground.
The Mountaineers want to do two things – run the football and play great defense. And this season that has been a very successful formula. Slaton leads the team in rushing with 876 yards and 13 scores. White, who has shared the quarterback duties with Adam Bednarik, has rushed for 738 yards and five touchdowns. Passing the football he is 49/90 for 619 yards, six touchdown passes and four interceptions. Meanwhile, Bednarik is 55/75 for 532 yards, four touchdown passes and only two interceptions. Brandon Myles leads the team in receptions with 29. He has 455 receiving yards and three touchdown receptions.
USF blew a golden opportunity and lost to UConn 15-10. The loss eliminates the Bulls for the Big East Title. Connecticut's Lou Allen rushed for a career-high 101 yards and a touchdown, Darius Butler returned a kickoff 90 yards for a score and the Huskies' defense held USF rushing attack to 83 yards in the win. USF quarterback Pat Julmiste was 10-26 for 168 yards, one touchdown pass and three interceptions. The Bulls defense certainly played good enough to win, only allowing one offensive touchdown and 241 yards of total offense.
Like their opening season loss at Penn State, big plays against the Bulls killed them. They gave up a 60-yard TD run in the first quarter and a 90-yard kickoff return for a score in the second quarter. On the flip side USF could not convert when given the opportunity. A 75-yard touchdown pass was nullified due to a penalty. Then, late in the game, Amarri Jackson returned a punt 37 yards to inside the UConn ten yard line but the Bulls failed to score. Then they tried a trick play on fourth and goal and the Huskies came up with a big sack. Once the Bulls got the ball back Julmiste heaved a long throw down the sideline into the endzone and it was intercepted, the fifth USF turnover of the game.
The bottom line is that the Bulls made too many mistakes, had too many turnovers, didn't capitalize on scoring opportunities and gave up big plays in the running game (defense) and special teams. You can't win on the road, in the cold, against a quality opponent that plays good defense like UConn when you make all those mistakes.
West Virginia must be careful of this game because USF is a very good home team and the Mountaineers are coming off an emotional win against a huge rival (Pitt). For USF, they are coming off a disappointing loss on the road at UConn. A win against the Huskies last weekend would have made this the Big East title game. Instead, West Virginia has wrapped up the conference title and the Bulls will now be playing for pride. The key to the game will be rushing the football. What team is more effective in this department should win. The Mountaineers have a double threat with quarterback Pat White and running back Steve Slaton. If you have not seen White in action yet then you are in for a treat. He has great speed and quickness from the position and could be the most talented ever that West Virginia Head Coach Rich Rodriguez has coached. That's saying something.
Meanwhile South Florida has one of the best backs in the country in Andre Hall. Both teams play great defense but it's West Virginia that leads the conference in rushing and scoring defense. West Virginia's Slaton leads the Big East in rushing at 119.7 yards per game while Hall is second with 118.1 yards per game. The X-factor is White. USF must spy him and not allow him to get into the Bulls secondary.
There is no guarantee that the Bulls will go to a Bowl game, win or lose. That will be extra incentive for Jim Leavitt and his players to somehow get the job done on Saturday night. USF needs to play with the same passion and looseness that they did when they upset Louisville earlier this year. They need to play to win and be very aggressive on the offensive side of the ball. West Virginia will try and stop Hall and the USF run game. They will try and force Julmiste to beat them by loading up the box and stopping the run. Offensively, they will feed off the running game with Slaton. Turnovers will be critical and could dictate who wins and loses this game.
Total Defense – Big East Conference
(2) WV – 300.1
(3) USF – 316.6
Rushing Defense – Big East Conference
(1) WV – 94.3
(4) USF (128)
Scoring Defense – Big East Conference
(1) WV - 16.6
(2) USF – 17.4
Total Offense – Big East Conference
(3) WV – 389.5
(4) USF - 366.6
Rushing Offense – Big East Conference
(1) WV - 258.1
(2) USF – 215.1
Turnover Margin – Big East Conference
(1) WV +10
(2) USF +8
Big East Standings
West Virginia (6-0)(9-1)
South Florida (4-2)(6-4)