Fearless Picks: WVU - UConn

Our panel sees the Mountaineers rebounding from last week's setback, and share some thoughts on the direction of this year's squad.

PICKIN' AND GRINNIN'

Much like West Virginia's performance against Syracuse, there wasn't much for the pickers to hang their hats on last week. Greg made a two-position jump in the rankings, and that was pretty much it it terms of highlights.


NOSE PICKING

Wildly over-optimistic scoring estimates for West Virginia were the order of the week, as only three panelists missed by fewer than 20 points. Brian capture the booby prize with a 33-point miss of the final score.


Patrick Southern Last Week: L Season: 6-1 Pt Diff: 84
Before the season began, a lot of folks might have thought this game would go a long way towards determining the Big East Conference champion. It still might, but what's at stake immediately is much less clear. UConn is simply trying to get its first league win and climb out of its lonely place at the bottom of the Big East standings, while the Mountaineers are hoping to avoid falling out of contention for the conference crown.

West Virginia's offense hardly acquitted itself well against Syracuse, but Connecticut's defense comes in struggling a bit. That is to say nothing of the Huskies' offense, which was sputtering before, but came to a complete halt in an embarrassing 26-0 loss at the hands of Louisville -- the first time Randy Edsall's program has been shut out since 2005.

Unless UConn running back Jordan Todman can go off in a big way, there's little reason to expect the hosts' offense to fare much better this week against what is still a stout WVU defense. It might not be pretty (the Mountaineers' wins in recent seasons rarely have been) but head coach Bill Stewart's squad will find a way to move to 6-2.

Pick: West Virginia 24-10
 
Keenan Cummings Last Week: L Season: 6-1 Pt Diff: 92
After a shocking loss at home to rival Syracuse, there's been a lot of reflection this week. Why didn't we do this, why didn't we do that ...

Well the time for reflection is over. It's time to play football.

It's now or never, put up or shut up for this year's version of the Mountaineers. I'm usually not critical, but this is a must-win game to keep any chance of a conference championship alive and a must-win for Coach Stew.

And that's exactly what I expect the Mountaineers to do against a struggling Huskies team that's never tasted victory against the Gold and Blue.

Pick: West Virginia 31-14
 
Matt Keller Last Week: L Season: 6-1 Pt Diff: 102
This has always been a very good on-paper game for West Virginia. And, typically, the Mountaineers have executed effectively enough to win. If it tackles well, WVU should be able to at least slow the running game enough to force whatever quarterback plays into uncomfortable situations. It's then that the turnovers and mistakes begin to mount. On offense -- it's certainly more puzzling. It's difficult to scout a game when, from week-to-week, there's no indication of what WVU will do -- and not in a great way. The Mountaineers could come out winging the ball all over the lot. It appears they could do so against a young, still-developing secondary. They could run some additional power sets, give Devine an added blocker or go with more of the Lindamood-Clarke looks. What most would really desire to know is, if a key situation presents itself, what does West Virginia do offensively? The question in this game might not be scoring more than Connecticut (WVU should be able to do that), but scoring enough on its own merit to showcase some nugget of what it migrates toward when a game's on the line.
Pick: West Virginia 24-16
 
Chris Richardson Last Week: L Season: 6-1 Pt Diff: 105
Even though it's a short week with one day less of preparation, it has already felt like the Syracuse game was months ago. The unexpected loss to the Orange has brought all the naysayers out of the woodwork, and while there is certainly reason for concern, I just don't see the logic in calling for heads to roll at this point in the season. If you think that firing Bill Stewart in October would magically cure West Virginia's shortcomings on the field, then you are sadly mistaken.

Connecticut week comes at the perfect time for the Mountaineers. The Huskies, a trendy preseason pick by a handful of national pundits to win the Big East, have fallen flat on their face, to the point that UConn coach Randy Edsall found himself defending his job status this week (a fact that is every bit as absurd as the aforementioned Stewart situation). The Huskies have had trouble scoring points, which doesn't bode well when one considers they have yet to play a defense on the level of WVU's. Good time for a bounce back.

Pick: West Virginia 23-9
 
Greg Hunter Last Week: L Season: 6-1 Pt Diff: 111
Connecticut hasn't lived up to all of its preseason hype, but those lofty expectations were probably premature, as the Huskies are very young – they start nine sophomores and just five seniors. If WVU makes mistakes, UConn is certainly good enough to pull off an upset, particularly at home. Such self-destruction was WVU's undoing against Syracuse, but the Huskies don't have the experienced defense the Orange were able to put on the field.
Pick: West Virginia 27-17
 
Taylor Jones Last Week: L Season: 6-1 Pt Diff: 119
After West Virginia's disappointing loss to Syracuse last week, the team will have to realize just how important every game in the remainder of their season is. I don't believe that they will overlook any of their remaining games after the issue that seemed to provide against the Orange. I hope and believe that Geno Smith will be able to bounce back from the disappointing loss and come back as the leader that he has proven to be. The Mountaineer defense will have to continue to stop their opponents as the Huskies will no doubt try and gain yards on the ground. I have faith that the team will be able to bounce back and play the type of football that they showcased early in the season.
Pick: West Virginia 28-21
 
Cam Huffman Last Week: L Season: 6-1 Pt Diff: 120
I don't know what to think of this team anymore. Just when I thought it had found its stride, some glaring weakness were exposed, and the Mountaineers suffered one of the most head-scratching losses in years. The only tactic left is to flip a coin. It's heads. WVU bounces back with a critical road win.
Pick: West Virginia 23-15
 
Bill Gleason Last Week: L Season: 6-1 Pt Diff: 132
As long as the West Virginia offensive line continues to get dominated by each and every line they play, and the running backs continue to dive on the ground at the least hint of contact, the entire weight of the offense is going to fall on the shoulders of Geno Smith.

Smith has taken a ton of heat for his three-interception performance this past weekend, but a simple review of the game tells a different story. On Smith's first interception, (which was not televised live so that ESPN could televise the final three qualifiers in the Nationwide Series Race at Gateway Park and lament their start-and-park status), replays from the end zone clearly show Smith's intended target display a puzzling case of alligator arms, leaving the Syracuse defender wide open for the gift. On Smith's second interception, Bradley Starks stopped running his route in the back of the end zone, leaving the Syracuse safety free to jump the route in front of him for a touchdown saving interception. And finally, on the third pick Smith was battered from behind while in his throwing motion, causing the ball to fall a good 15 yards short of its target.

Were it not for the fact that this UConn team is mired in disarray, a result of the team's best quarterback having the judgment skills of, well, Jeremiah Masoli, this game with the Huskies would be a huge defining moment for this team. As it stands, it still is. The question will be, can this coaching staff coax some heart, hustle, blocking and tackling out of this team? They sure couldn't do it this past weekend, as the Mountaineers were physically dominated on their home field and really showed no signs of the ability to do anything about it.

Until this team starts delivering blows and stops just taking them, games that should not even be close will continue to be nail biters, and there will be more inexcusable puzzling losses. I'm going with WVU, but my confidence is not high.

Pick: West Virginia 20-13
 
Andy Easton Last Week: L Season: 5-2 Pt Diff: 103
After last week's mishap in Morgantown I am left wondering where this team and program is going. Are we headed in the right direction or are we going to be just an average team in a weak conference? This week may give us some answers as the Mountaineers travel to Connecticut to play a team averaging 49 points at home.

The Mountaineers seem to lack that killer instinct to attack teams and step on their throats at the end of the game. This week, WVU will do just enough to win.

Pick: West Virginia 23-13
 
Brian Jolliff Last Week: L Season: 5-2 Pt Diff: 128
One thing that kept running through my thoughts as I left the 14-19 head-scratcher behind me was that this is exactly how I felt after the 13-21 debacle in 2006 against USF. In that game, West Virginia outgained the Bulls in yardage, controlled the possessions, had more first downs... but also had three interceptions. Perhaps Syracuse is on a rebuilding path that will turn them into a USF-like foe in the coming years... maybe not... but the feeling after the game was the same.

Now West Virginia is on to 3-4 UConn, with all three wins at home and all four losses coming on the road, with Vanderbilt as perhaps their best victory of the year. The question this week is not so much how UConn responds after throwing up a goose egg against Louisville, but how a capricious WVU offense takes the field. Is it a lack of leadership, lack of coaching, lack of talent, or a lack of desire that seems to be holding this team back from being good? I honestly don't know, but it appears to me that the Mountaineers should have enough in all four departments, but what remains to be seen is if this staff and team has the heart to be great. I still believe.

Pick: West Virginia 27-17
 
Jane Donovan Last Week: L Season: 5-2 Pt Diff: 129
The UConn game comes at a crossroads for this Mountaineer team. Will they put the Syracuse nightmare behind them, rise to the challenge, and be the team we know they are capable of being? Or will they crumble into dust, allowing the ghost of Marvin Graves to haunt them this Halloween and through the rest of the season? Will the WVU "fan base" finally get a grip? Tune in Friday night at 8 p.m. for the next episode of "As the Mountaineer World Turns."

My money is on rising to the challenge.

Pick: West Virginia 27-10

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