Sat 11/13/10 12:00 PM
UConn L 13-16
TV: Big East
Syracuse L 7-31
Series: WVU 14-3-1
First Meeting: 1921
Last Meeting: 2009
WVU – None.
Cincinnati – QB Zach Collaros (Leg), Probable; DL Derek Wolfe (Neck), Probable; DL Ryan Paxson (Ankle), Questionable; TE Jared Rains (Leg), Questionable; DB Brent Black (Knee), Questionable; LB Alex Delisi (Knee), Questionable; RB Darrin Williams (Ankle), Out; TE Travis Kelce (Out for Season – Suspension); WR Vidal Hazelton (Leg), Out for Season.
WVU Offense vs. Cincinnati defense
This looks, for the second game in a row, like a fine on-paper match-up. Cincinnati is allowing a Big East-worst 24.4 points per game. But then WVU was stifled by itself and a Connecticut defense allowing the most yardage in the league. The Bearcats, alas, have the Big East's second-worst total defensive yardage numbers at 354 per outing. This could mean any myriad of things. A certainty, though, is that if the Mountaineers fumble seven times, lose three to four or toss three interceptions, it's quite likely they will lose. If they don't, and execute well, it appears Cincinnati's pass defense is most suspect. The ‘Cats are coming up on 2,000 yards allowed aerially, and are giving up almost two touchdown passes per game. UC isn't getting many interceptions, and corners Cameron Cheatham and Reuben Johnson aren't the most agile or athletic in the conference. Too, Cincinnati has lost former starting corner Dominique Battle to a season-ending knee injury and its free safety is fifth on the team in tackles.
Another issue is pressure. Cincinnati has allowed quarterbacks vast amount of time, which is leading to a whopping 67.5-percent opposing completion rate. Blitzes aren't getting home, receivers are running unabated, and teams are getting into quite manageable third downs. A 15-to-three touchdown-to-interception ratio for signalcallers are league worsts on both ends. It would seem, then, that because West Virginia is more effective at pass than run blocking, Geno Smith should have time to find wideouts. It reasons that the sophomore won't again force passes like he did against Syracuse, and that the Mountaineer receivers are a bit more talented than their counterparts in this game. WVU should be able to throw, and throw well. That's good, because the run game has been inconsistent at best and far below average at worst. It has mangled blocking assignments, been blown off the ball, fumbled in both its own and the opposing red zone, not ran physically, not ran downhill and generally been a malaise compared to what it was even at times last season.
That might not change this game. Cincinnati is decent against the rush, allowing just 110 yards per game and giving up more than 100 just three times this year. Middle linebacker J.K. Shaffer leads the team with 69 tackles, 4.5 for loss. He gets to the ball well, is a sure tackler and significantly upgrades a unit that otherwise starters a pair of promising but undeveloped ‘backers in Maalik Bomar and Walter Stewart. Bomer is second on the team in tackles with 48, while Stewart has 45. Any of the three can will be utilized to bring additional pressure, though with the line issues it hasn't always been as effective as head coach Butch Jones would like. The line, lead by end Dan Giordano (team-best eight TFLs with 4.5 sacks), flashes more quickness than raw power. It has solid size in the middle in tackles Derek Wolfe (6-6, 295 lbs.) and John Hughes (6-4, 303 lbs.), but lacks depth and the size-speed blend for which top fronts are noted. There are depth issues sprinkled throughout the two-deep (there are no senior starters), and this is, frankly, a defense that hasn't played to potential and has yet to showcase either consistent playmaking or the ability to get off the field or stop teams in key situations. UC isn't forcing turnovers, and indeed has the lowest number in the league with seven. The Bearcats might be able to hold down West Virginia's running game – but at the expense of giving up the pass. With head coach Bill Stewart and offensive coordinator Jeff Mullen having mulled over the playbook and perhaps simplified or at least established what the Mountaineers will try to do on that side, it would seem WVU should be able to find something that works against this unit. If not, it doesn't get any easier the remainder of the season.
|By The Numbers|
|Scoring Offense 24.5 ppg||Scoring Defense 24.4 ppg|
|Rushing Offense 156.8 ypg||Rushing Defense 110.1 ypg|
|Passing Offense 212.8 ypg||Passing Defense 244.4 ypg|
WVU Defense vs. Cincinnati Offense
This could be a bit tougher test than most fans would expect. Cincinnati seems to have hit its rushing stride with the return of tailback Isaiah Peed. Peed ran for 169 yards in a close loss to Oklahoma, and has averaged 116 yards per game over his last five since a return. WVU showed little intensity in giving up 183 yards to Syracuse, but did rebound well in allowing only 112 against Connecticut despite getting almost no help from its offense. It will certainly be stretched against Cincinnati, as the Bearcats like to throw deep and slide the pocket with mobile quarterback Zach Collaros. The junior, who missed the last game because of a knee injury, is expected to play Saturday. He has thrown for a league-best 274 yards per game, with 20 touchdowns against four interceptions. Collaros moves well while continuing to look downfield, and though he won't beat teams purely by running, he can pick up first downs and scramble to gain valuable time for a set of very good receivers.
His main target is Armon Binns. The senior has the most receptions (47) and touchdowns (seven) in the Big East and possesses great hands, good body control and an ability to seal off a defender and utilize space. Fellow wideout D.J. Woods has 45 catches – giving one an idea of the balance and sheer number of times UC completes passes – for 93 yards per outing. The deep threat is Marcus Barnett. At 6-1, Barnett is two inches shorter than Binns, but he has excellent strides and a penchant for bringing down long passes. His 15.4 yard average per catch is a team-best. West Virginia hasn't faced a trio of receivers this talented thus far this year. Add in a good tailback, a quarterback who can use his feet to hurt defenses and the ability to convert third downs and move the sticks and it would seem this offense is exceptional. However, much like the Mountaineers, there are two key components that have severely hindered Cincinnati's ability to score, and to keep other teams from getting short fields.
The primary issue is turnovers. UC has turned the ball over 15 times, a number second only to one other Big East team which has 17 – West Virginia. The Bearcats, too, are struggling in the red zone, barely converting more than 75 percent (21 of 27 chances) into scores, and many of those were field goals. This is a team that, like WVU at times, seems to move well for stretches, especially between the 20-yard-lines, then surrenders lost yardage, turnovers and field position. Cincinnati's line play has left a bit to be desired, mainly in pass protection. It has blocked decently for Peed, but allowed Collaros to be sacked 24 times for more than 200 yards in losses. Collaros moves fine, and isn't one to hold onto the ball for extended periods (he rarely needs to with the Cincy skill at receiver), and the ‘Cats typically are not in unmanageable downs and distances. So the lack of protection is a bit surprising. Facing West Virginia's 3-3-5 odd stack, UC could easily be more confused than against most foes. Look for WVU defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel to use a variety of pressure and try to force the ball out quickly. The Mountaineers have shown they can bottle the run against most any foe. If that holds up and the blitzes are effective, the headache that could be the West Virginia corners against UC's receivers might not materialize. The Mountaineers, because of experience, venue and very good backend play out of the free safety, get a nod here – but it's closer than most would anticipate.
|By The Numbers|
|Scoring Defense 13.6 ppg||Scoring Offense 27.4 ppg|
|Rushing Defense 99.9 ypg||Rushing Offense 157.2 ypg|
|Passing Defense 150.6 ypg||Passing Offense 268 ypg|
Advantage: West Virginia
WVU Special Teams vs. Cincinnati Special Teams
Both teams have among the least explosive special teams in the Big East. Both average fewer than 10 yards per punt return, with the Bearcats getting a bit of an edge by allowing just 4.9 yards per return. WVU hasn't broken kickoff returns with anything resembling consistency, and yet has been gashed some – though not as bad as last season. UC placekicker Jacob Rogers has connected on eight of 10 field goal attempts (misses from 48 and 52 yards), while punter Pat O'Donnell averages 42.6 yards per punt, with 13 being downed inside the opposing 20-yard line. WVU's Tyler Bitancurt is nine of 12 on field goals, while the Mountaineer punting unit has been average. Bearcat return man D.J. Woods was expected to have a big year, thus far unrealized. Look for steady, if unspectacular play. Neither team should anticipate a major return, while both should expect good coverage from itself and the opposition. In all, this is among the more baldn special teams match-ups of the season.
|By The Numbers|
|Net Punting 36.9 yards||Net Punting 37.2 yards|
|KO Returns 17.4 yards per return||KO Returns 20.5 yards per return|
|Punt Returns 8.9 yards per return||Punt Returns 9.4 yards per return|
PICKS TO CLICK
On Offense: Geno Smith.
On Defense: Sidney Glover.
The hope here is that West Virginia has found, via a prolonged review session and self-scout, something it can consistently do well on offensive. A week off for mental and physical relaxation and refocus might aid the Mountaineers as well, and the opponent doesn't appear to have too many incredible weapons – at least on paper. The home venue, some simplified, tougher play and an ability to perhaps complete a game without giving up multiple turnovers should secure a win. Something tells me WVU scores 30 points this week. That would be enough.
WVU – 30 Cincinnati – 21