It was tough to pick just one player from the WVU defense to earn our top honors, as the overall effort was nothing short of stellar. But one Mountaineer cornerback stood out, as he played every bit as well Thursday night as he had played poorly against USF last year in Tampa.


Keith Tandy.

It's often said that every cornerback has to get flat-out embarrassed at least once before they can truly become great.

Tandy put that theory to the test in a big way in last season's 30-19 loss to the Bulls, becoming a sort of personal punching bag for South Florida receiver Carlton Mitchell. The cornerback from Kentucky was on the wrong side of several bombs from B.J. Daniels to Mitchell.

He's grown tremendously since, and came full circle with perhaps his best all-around game as a Mountaineer on Thursday night.

Tandy had a team-leading 10 total tackles, six of which were solo stops on the quick-hitter tosses USF seemed to favor. No other West Virginia player had more than seven tackles. He forced a second quarter fumble from Bulls receiver Dontavia Bogan and intercepted a Daniels pass in the second half.

It was Tandy's fourth interception in WVU's last three games, and all four picks have come off deflections. The same player who was a scapegoat a poor defensive effort against South Florida in 2009 has become perhaps the most opportunistic player on a stout defense.

To a man, West Virginia players said Tandy is more confident this season than he has ever been before, and it showed against an opponent where some of his worst failures as a college football player were in the back of his mind throughout.


Geno Smith.

It wasn't the Mountaineer offense's finest hour by any stretch, but Smith continued to show incredible poise and maturity for a quarterback who is just six games into his career as a starting signal-caller at the college level.

He was 24-of-31 passing for 219 yards and two touchdowns. Smith didn't throw an interception.

In the process, he tied a school record for consecutive completions, hitting on 13 passes in a row between the second and third quarters. If not for a Jock Sanders drop in the end zone, he would have bested Marc Bulger's record for accuracy, set in a 1999 game against East Carolina.

Geno Smith
Indeed, several of the sophomore's incomplete passes were the result of deliberate throwaways or dropped balls. He was staggeringly accurate almost all night long.

Smith still has room for improvement, as he took three sacks -- at least two of which were in situations he probably held the ball too long and could have thrown it away to avoid the lost yardage. But that's the definition of splitting hairs for a young quarterback who has led his team's offense so effectively.

As pundits often say, Smith can "make all the throws." He's grown in his ability to read defenses and react appropriately, as WVU head coach Bill Stewart pointed to the Florida native's poise on a third-and-17 situation where he saw USF drop eight men into zone coverage.

On that play, Smith calmly waited in the pocket and hit Tavon Austin at the perfect time on a dig route for 29 yards. A few plays later, West Virginia had a field goal to make it 20-6.

That was just one sign of Smith's continued evolution as a quarterback. In the third year of the multiple-threat offense of Stewart and coordinator Jeff Mullen, Smith has become the perfect player to lead what is, if nothing else, a versatile attack.


  • Robert Sands.

    If it wasn't for Tandy's heroic effort, it would be easy to make Sands our defensive player of the game. As it was, it was still another outstanding performance from the junior from Florida.

    Sands had five total tackles and was credited with half of a tackle for loss. But it was his ability to stick with his receiver in coverage and make a play on the football that went a long way towards securing the outcome.

    Sands snared an interception of Daniels just before halftime and returned it all the way to South Florida's 7-yard line. That set up the hook-and-lateral play that made the score 17-3 at halftime and ended any thoughts of a comeback by the visitors.

    Beyond that highlight-reel play, Sands quietly did his job at the back end of the Mountaineers' defense. He was, as usual, all over the field. He generated tremendous pressure on Daniels on the occasions he blitzed and did a stellar job in coverage when he sat back.

    West Virginia hasn't had many players that combine his skill set and size into such a lethal combination at safety. Sands was a big reason Daniels wasn't even close to as effective as he was against WVU last season.

  • Third down defense.

    There's not much to say here, beyond the fact that the Mountaineers continue to dominate things when they have a chance to get off the field.

    South Florida was a paltry 1-of-11 on third downs. As a result, it simply couldn't sustain drives for long enough to seriously threaten to take control of the game.

    More often than not, the team that wins on third down wins football games. That general rule applied again on Thursday night, as success on third downs was a big reason why the WVU defense had another banner night.

  • Wide receiver play.

    Even when the Bulls decided to drop eight men into coverage at times, they struggled to defend against Smith and the Mountaineer passing game.

    That was because wide receivers like Tavon Austin, Bradley Starks and J.D. Woods did a stellar job of making themselves available to receiver passes from Smith.

    Each showed solid route-running ability in different facets of the passing game. Woods was a solid underneath threat, giving Smith a viable option further through his progressions, particularly in the early stages of the game.

    Starks again showed he is capable of taking the top off opposing defenses, beating jams at the line of scrimmage and breaking free for big gains.

    Austin wasn't able to show his athleticism after the catch as much as normal, but he still did a more than adequate job of running routes and catching balls in the middle of the field.

    That helped make things possible for the WVU offense, which was limited by the way USF focused on slowing down running back Noel Devine and slot receiver Jock Sanders.

    The wideouts showed that this season's offense is more multi-faceted than those of the past and can still find ways to win football games, even when Devine and Sanders aren't tearing their way through the opposition for big plays.

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