PoG: WVU - Cincinnati

It was, as West Virginia head coach Bill Stewart said afterwards, "a total team win" on Saturday, as Stewart's Mountaineers dispatched of two-time defending Big East Conference champion Cincinnati 37-10 on Saturday in Morgantown. Thus, there was no shortage of worthy candidates for our top honors this week.

OFFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE GAME:

Jock Sanders.

The senior slot receiver was a big key to what was suddenly a more productive Mountaineer offense than that of recent weeks.

Sanders had six receptions for 95 yards and two touchdowns. After being bottled up with a lot of short gains in recent weeks, the St. Petersburg, Fla., native broke a few longer plays against Cincinnati.

Particularly impressive was his 48-yard touchdown reception, which came on a typical short screen to the wide side of the field.

Sanders showed impressive strength and balance to break through a pair of arm tackle attempts from Bearcat defenders before displaying his breakaway speed to get to the sidelines and easily outrun his white-clad opposition.

It helped that the WVU offense was able to attack vertically a bit more than in recent weeks (thanks to better protection from the offensive line, among other reasons), meaning the UC defense couldn't cheat up towards the line and take away the effectiveness of the quick-hitter screens.

But make no mistake -- Sanders made plays happen as well on his own. It was his best game in some time, and high-quality play from the senior would go a long way towards helping West Virginia secure its best-possible finish in the final three games of the regular season.

DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE GAME:

Keith Tandy.

On a defense full of standout players, the junior from Kentucky is quickly becoming one of the best.

Yet again, he pulled in another interception (this one in the end zone on the first play of the second quarter, ending a drive that could have brought UC back within 14-7 when the outcome was still somewhat in doubt.

But that wasn't all the cornerback would do on this particular Saturday. He broke up a staggering four passes and had five tackles (all solo efforts), including one takedown for a loss of one yard.

On what was a highlight-reel play in the first quarter, he obliterated Bearcats receiver D.J. Woods on a screen pass attempt on a third-and-one in the first quarter, separating Woods (who was, according to Mountaineer players, talking a bit of trash during pregame warmups) from the football.

Tandy's development into a stellar player on the opposite side of the field from the more highly-regarded Brandon Hogan might be one of the biggest keys to the success of what has been a downright dominant WVU defense all year long.

With only three games left in their season, the Mountaineers have yet to surrender more than 21 points to any opponent. They're the only team in the Football Bowl Subdivision that can say that.

Tandy's performance was part of what was a perfect storm for West Virginia on this particular day. Its defense was so good against the run that Cincinnati coach Butch Jones was gun-shy about giving the ball to Isaiah Pead, a solid running back. Pead had only three carries at halftime.

Given the way the team's offense jumped ahead early, that forced the Bearcats to throw often. Tandy and Hogan (who also had a pick) continued to make sure that was a losing proposition for the visitors, who were held to only 281 yards of offense.

GAME BALLS:

  • Sidney Glover.

    The ball-hawking safety, often overshadowed by the play of Robert Sands, showed that he is still a force to be reckoned with.

    The senior from Warren, Ohio, led the way with six total tackles (five of them solo stops). He sacked UC quarterback Zach Collaros once for a loss of eight yards -- one of his two tackles for loss on the day.

    On top of that, Glover forced and recovered a fumble from Collaros on that sack and was credited with another quarterback hurry.

    While Glover clearly made plenty of plays around the line of scrimmage, he was also part of a secondary that made the Bearcats' passing attack struggle all day long.

    Given the early hole Cincinnati found itself in, it had to throw early and often. That didn't work out, given the two interceptions Collaros threw and the fact that the visitors gained only 4.9 yards per attempt through the air (compared to almost seven yards per attempt for WVU).

    West Virginia's secondary has played at a high level all year long, and its safeties are a big reason for that. They will continue to be key as the Mountaineers hope to finish the last three weeks of the regular season strong.

  • Shawne Alston.

    Without even trying to, the Mountaineers may have found themselves a reserve running back worthy of some extra carries.

    With Noel Devine "not feeling well" according to WVU officials (he was not held out by team trainers at any point), Alston and Trey Johnson got opportunities beyond those they normally would have.

    Alston, particularly, responded in a big way. He rivaled the senior Devine (who had 77 yards on 18 attempts) by gaining 75 yards on 17 carries for a 4.4 yard average.

    He was a workhorse, taking the ball on 10 of 12 plays on a bulldozing drive (a total of zero pass plays were called on the possession)that spanned the third and fourth quarters before stalling at the Bearcats' 1-yard line.

    That's finally possible for the sophomore from Hampton, Va., who dealt with swelling in his knee earlier this season but is finally healthy. With a performance like Saturday's, West Virginia running backs coach Chris Beatty may have to find a way to get Alston the ball a bit more often in the final three weeks of the regular season.

  • (Almost) Error-Free Football.

    Some said head coach Bill Stewart and his staff were just making excuses when they said the biggest problem in WVU's last two outings -- a pair of losses to Syracuse and Connecticut -- were self-inflicted wounds.

    Critical penalties left the team's maligned offense in bad down-and-distance situations. Turnovers ended drives, all but taking sure-fire points off the board in some situations (and all but giving the opposition points in others).

    For whatever reason, the Mountaineers played their cleanest game of the season against the Bearcats, and the result was its most dominant performance of the year.

    West Virginia committed only two penalties (both, notably, on the defensive side of the ball) for a mere 20 yards. One game removed from fumbling seven times in a loss to UConn, the hosts didn't put the ball on the ground once until the backups were in to salt away the game.

    The team's only "costly" turnovers (a Geno Smith interception) was on a slightly underthrown deep ball. It wasn't all that costly, as the picked-off pass almost served as a punt.

    It's cliché, but one could easily argue WVU had beaten itself in all of its three losses with turnovers, penalties (and, at LSU, a special teams miscue in the form of a punt return touchdown allowed).

    For once, the Mountaineers didn't shoot themselves in the foot. As a result, they cruised to a blowout win against the two-time defending Big East Conference champions.


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