Clawed

After turning a number of East Carolina turnovers into Blue and Gold scores a week ago in Greenville, WVU head coach Rich Rodriguez and his staff continually preached the value of taking care of the ball in this week's practices.

Apparently many Mountaineers slept through the sermon, as WVU turned the ball over five times and put on one of the poorest offensive performances in recent memory en route to an ugly 15-13 loss to the University of Cincinnati.

"Offensively, we didn't execute and had no rhythm. I did a very poor job play calling today," Rodriguez lamented after the error-filled performance. "To give them that many chances and not have us capitalize on our own chances was very disappointing."

The comedy of errors began after West Virginia stopped the Bearcats on the opening drive of the game. Cincinnati punter Chet Ervin punted the ball 39 yards to the WVU 30 where Adam Jones was waiting. With UC linebacker Jason Russell barreling in to make a stop, Jones failed to signal for a fair catch and was pounded to the Astro Play surface. The ball popped loose, and Jamey Murphy recovered for the Bearcats at the Mountaineer 25. Four plays later Ervin nailed a 44 yard field goal, and Cincinnati took an early 3-0 lead.

Junior running back Kay Jay Harris hauled in the ensuing Bearcat kickoff, and returned it 30 yards to the WVU 36 yard line to give the offense solid field position. On the very next play from scrimmage, however, the slippery pigskin flew from Quincy Wilson's arms, and Cincinnati was again able to gain possession. This time UC was not able to turn the miscue into points as holder Collin Carey threw away an attempted fake to give the Mountaineers possession at their own 25.

After two unsuccessful Mountaineer possessions, it was Cincinnati's turn to join the turnover festival. Quarterback Gino Guidugli failed to find the handle on the football, and Leandre Washington fell on the football to take advantage of the Bearcats' first miscue. The Mountaineers again could find no way to gain ground, and were forced to give the ball back to the white clad Bearcats. A sloppy opening period came to an end with Cincinnati's next possession. Quarter number two brought about more of the same, as neither team seemed to want the ball in its hands. On West Virginia's first opportunity of the new quarter, Cincinnati's Daven Holly intercepted Rasheed Marshall. On the play, Marshall appeared to be trying to throw the ball away, but was unable to get the ball out of bounds. Holly ahppily gathered in the wounded duck along the WVU sideline.

As the teams seemed to be trying to match each other mistake for mistake, the Bearcats returned the WVU favor three plays later when quarterback Gino Guidugli again put the ball on turf and Grant Wiley recovered on the UC 31 yard line. This time it was the men in blue and gold who failed to capitalize on the opponent's mistake. After moving the ball only four yards on three plays, Brad Cooper was wide right on a 44-yard field goal attempt.

The steady rain that had been saturating the field began to lessen at that point, but the circus that was being held on Mountaineer Field would only get worse.

Grant Wiley and crew held the Bearcats to a three and out, and West Virginia took over at their own 39-yard line. The possession would be short lived, however, as Quincy Wilson coughed up yet another fumble on the drive's first play, and UC took over at the WVU 43 yard line. After a short drive Ervin split the uprights with a 43-yard boot, and Cincinnati extended their first half lead to 6-0.

As was the pattern throughout the entire first half, it was then Cincy's turn to shoot themselves in the foot. After holding the Blue and Gold to a three-and-out, Cincinnati's Thaddeus Lewis matched Adam Jones' special teams mistake by fumbling a Todd James punt. Local favorite Scott Gyorko recovered for the Mountaineers who took possession at the Bearcat 35 yard-line.

The Mountaineers finally capitalized on one of the Bearcats' gifts on the ensuing drive. After moving the ball to the UC 11, Rasheed Marshall found Chris Henry in the endzone on a timing patter to record WVU's first score of the contest.

The Bearcats answered quickly with the first sustained drive of the afternoon. On the strength of Guidugli's arm and the running attack of Richard Hall, Cincinnati drove the ball 79 yards for their first touchdown. A three-yard scoring strike from Guidugli to Cedrick Dawley gave UC a 12-7 lead that they would take into the lockeroom at the half. When the halftime gun had sounded and the smoke had cleared, the first half stats looked more like Pony League numbers than Division I football. The two squads combined to record seven turnovers, including three lost fumbles for each school. There were a total of nine penalties for 60 yards. The half contained almost everything that can happen in a football game, but very little of it was positive.

As the teams took the field to begin the second half of action, the rain had cleared, but little else had changed. After yet another WVU drive was stalled, the Cincinnati began with solid field position at the West Virginia 44. It was like watching the movie Groundhog Day, as Grant Wiley forced Cincinnati's Richard Hall to put the ball on the turf yet again, and Lance Frazier recovered at the WVU 40 yard line. The Mountaineers, as they had done the entire afternoon, again struggled to move the football and were forced to punt it away.

WVU finally retook the lead midway through the third quarter after another change of punts. Travis Garvin took a screen pass along the sideline, cut between two blocks and raced 48 yards down the sideline for a touchdown to put WVU ahead 13-12. As befitted the game, however, the extra point attempt was wide, leaving WVU clinging to a one point lead.

Neither team could get anything going on offense as the two squads battled for field position throughout the rest of the quater. However, the Bearcats managed to sustain one more drive late in the period, which culminated in Ervin's third field goal of the game. That gave the Bearcats the lead at 15-13.

The final period provided little action as neither team could mount much of an attack. The turnover story did not change, however, as Cincinnati would lose another fumble without the home team finding a way to take advantage. The Bearcats had a chance to put the game away in the fourth, but Derick Ross fumbled the ball on the way to the endzone, and Adam Lehnortt fell on the pigskin to keep the West Virginia hopes alive.

Unfortunately for WVU supporters, Rasheed Marshall and company could not find a rhythm, and mounted no more than a minimal attack at the Conference USA foe. The final chance for West Virginia to pull it off came on the leg of Mountaineer place kicker Brad Cooper. With 2:23 left on the clock, the junior came on to try a 48-yard attempt to put the Mountaineers back in front. The entire stadium held its breath as Cooper trotted on for the long try, but WVU's offensive futility continued as Cooper's boot came up about a foot short and a couple of feet wide. The Cincinnati fans let out a roar as the kick sailed wide right, and the Bearcats' upset bid came to fruition.


BlueGoldNews Top Stories