Not Done Yet

In the wake of back-to-back losses, West Virginia's players and coaches had spent two weeks hearing about what they supposedly could and could not do. The Mountaineers responded by unleashing perhaps their most dominant performance of the season, thrashing two-time defending Big East champion Cincinnati 37-10 at Milan Puskar Stadium on Saturday.

WVU's offense and defense were simply overpowering throughout, and the visitors, under first-year head coach Butch Jones, never were really in contention.

West Virginia jumped out to a 30-0 lead before halftime, scoring touchdowns on four of its first eight possessions of the game while stymying the Bearcats' multi-threat offense, which failed to convert on a single third down play, had only 281 yards of offense, committed four turnovers and surrendered a safety.

"That was a total team victory," said Mountaineer head coach Bill Stewart, conducting his postgame press conference while his players were still audibly celebrating in their locker room.

"I had hoped to make some adjustments, and we did. We did a complete overhaul and found some things we needed to do better, and we did today."

It was a much-needed rout for Stewart and company, as the coaching staff had faced considerable criticism after dropping consecutive Big East contests to Syracuse and Connecticut.

While Stewart said earlier this week that he didn't notice such disparagement, one person tried to make sure the coach knew how he or she felt. An airplane that flew around Milan Puskar Stadium in the hours before kickoff carried a sign large enough for much of Morgantown to read: "Mr. Luck. Leave No Doubt. And Fire Luther."

Whoever was hoping for Stewart to lose his job at the hands of WVU athletic director Oliver Luck didn't get any ammunition to help his or her cause on this particular Saturday.

"If you're going to kill a lion, you'd better do it through its heart," Stewart, clearly satisfied, said. "Persistence paid off the most today. It all starts with heart."

That heart allowed the Mountaineers' feet, legs, hands and arms to make plays all over the field, particularly in what was a dominant first half.

West Virginia (6-3, 2-2) had 219 yards of offense by halftime. Its quarterback, Geno Smith, had tossed four touchdown passes by intermission -- two each to sophomore Tavon Austin and senior Jock Sanders.

After a Bearcats player touched a Gregg Pugnetti punt on the first possession of the game, WVU's J.T. Thomas recovered to give his team's offense new life. One play later, Smith made sure Cincinnati would rue its miscue, finding a wide open Austin for a 32-yard scoring pass to make it 7-0.

Two possessions later, the Mountaineers edged ahead further. Smith and Austin connected again, this time in the back of the end zone for a 10 yard touchdown on a third-and-7 play.

The visitors were driving as the first quarter ended, but on the first play of the second period, UC quarterback Zach Collaros threw an ugly fade pass that hung in the air long enough to allow WVU's Keith Tandy to get under the ball and haul it in just before going out of bounds for a touchback.

After an exchange of punts gave West Virginia solid field position, its offense again struck quickly. Smith hit Sanders on a quick screen pass, and the senior slot receiver broke through a pair of arm tackle attempts from Bearcat defenders before breaking free for a 48-yard touchdown.

This game recap presented by The Book Exchange
That made it 21-0 near the midpoint of the second quarter, but the Mountaineers weren't done yet. Collaros was picked off again, this time by Brandon Hogan, on the second play of his team's ensuing possession. Hogan returned the ball to the UC 13-yard line, and a personal foul on Collaros pushed it all the way to his team's 6-yard line.

Three plays later, Smith made Cincinnati pay again. He found Sanders for a 5-yard scoring toss that made it 28-0, and for WVU, the rout was officially on.

Its defense continued to keep UC's play-makers in check. It sacked Collaros five times and held the Bearcats' star running back Isaiah Pead only 11 yards rushing by halftime. The Mountaineers' rush defense was solid enough to cause Jones' offensive staff to only go to the ground on six of the visitors' 36 first half plays.

The WVU defense got on the scoreboard in the second quarter when a third-and-10 play for Cincinnati ended with Collaros under pressure in his own end zone. As he was about to be pulled down, he tossed the football in desperation, but referees flagged him for intentional grounding, resulting in a safety.

All told, six of the Bearcats' nine first half possessions lasted four or fewer plays. Cincinnati (3-6, 1-3) didn't score until Jacob Rogers hit a 49-yard field goal on the final play of the half to make the score 30-3 as the teams went into their respective locker rooms.

UC had only three drives of more than 36 yards all afternoon. It was held to 10 or fewer yards on eight of its 15 possessions.

"It is a game of momentum, and we had zero momentum plays," said Jones, the Bearcats' first-year head man and a former Mountaineer receivers coach.

"We were behind all game and this is a very difficult team to come from behind and win [against], especially here at Mountaineer Field."

Pead would make one big play after the break, bursting clear for a 53-yard touchdown run on a fourth-and-2 play on his team's first possession of the third quarter to make it 30-10.

But West Virginia immediately answered back with a nine-play, 80-yard drive that culminated in a 13-yard Noel Devine rushing score to make it 37-10 and put any thoughts of a comeback to rest.

That happened because the Bearcats never got the chance to put together many long drives, because WVU's defense took care of business on third downs. UC didn't move the chains on any of its 12 third down plays -- a big reason the Mountaineers ran 84 plays on offense to Cincinnati's 61 and possessed the ball for almost 14:00 more than their opposition.

"Defensively, West Virginia did a great job on third down," Jones said. "We could not possess the ball."

The Mountaineers, however did. They rolled up 419 yards of total offense, including 245 on the ground (just one game after it registered a season-high 254 rushing yards at UConn).

Devine and Shawne Alston, who saw extended action, had 77 and 75 yards rushing, respectively. Both averaged better than four yards per carry. Indeed, two other WVU running backs (Ryan Clarke and Trey Johnson) also had at least five carries apiece, and they, too, were able to earn more than four yards per tote.

Smith completed 15 of 25 passes for 174 yards and four touchdowns. He was picked off once. His UC counterpart, Collaros, was 25-of-45 for 221 yards and two interceptions.

West Virginia will hit the road this week, traveling to Papa John's Cardinal Stadium for another Big East matchup with Louisville. The Cardinals, who lost 24-21 in overtime to South Florida, will be hoping to become bowl eligible, as the Mountaineers did with their win over Cincinnati on Saturday.

While U of L will be trying to become bowl eligible, West Virginia will be hoping to continue its desperate drive towards a possible Big East title in the midst of a logjam in the conference standings.

Stewart, who has faced his share of heat in recent weeks, closed his press conference by saying his team would fight that battle together.

"One pulse. One team. One heartbeat," said the Mountaineers' head coach, before walking away from the podium victorious.

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