Crystal Ball 2005 - Cincinnati

CINCINNATI, OHIO – Playing on a second straight Wednesday evening before a nationwide ESPN2 television audience, visiting West Virginia returned to its power running game to throttle Big East foe Cincinnati, 36-10, at Cincinnati's Nippert Stadium. The Mountaineers, who cracked the Harris rankings for the first time this season at No. 24, improved their Big East record to 4-2 and their overall record to 7-3. Cincinnati saw its Big East record drop to 1-4 and 3-6 overall.

Freshmen sensation Jason Gwaltney ran for 208 yards to run his season total to 1,210 yards, breaking Avon Cobourne's freshman season rushing record at WVU. Pernell Williams added 104 yards as the Mountaineers tallied 332 total yards on the ground, en route to 461 yards of total offense. The Mountaineer defense held the Bearcats to 275 total yards. West Virginia held a decided advantage in time of possession, 36:29 to 23:31, and sacked UC quarterback Todd Spitzer four times – a season high – while intercepting Spitzer twice.

West Virginia set the tone for the game early. Starting at its own 33-yard line, the Mountaineers ran seven times to move into Cincinnati red zone. Gwaltney carried five times and Williams twice on the drive, with the big gainer a Gwaltney burst for 31 yards. On second and goal from the six-yard line, the Long Island native scooted around the right side of the line and dove across the goal line, hitting the pylon to stake WVU to an early 7-0 lead.

On the subsequent kick-off, UC returner Mike Daniels bobbled the boot and had to fall on the ball at the UC 11-yard line. Spitzer dropped back to pass on first down and was blindsided by blitzing WVU spur Mike Lorello at the UC two, barely hanging onto the ball. Two plays later the Bearcats faced fourth and 17 and punted. Anthony Mims caught the punt at the UC 48-yard line and returned the kick to the Bearcats' 34.

The Mountaineers continued their offensive assault, as Mountaineer quarterback Adam Bednarik hit freshman wide receiver Darius Reynaud for a gain of 18 to the UC 16. Gwaltney then shouldered the load, carrying three straight times to the UC three, putting the visitors in point blank scoring range. On second and goal, Bednarik fooled practically the entire Bearcats defense with a well-executed fake handoff to Gwaltney. As the big freshman headed into the left side of the line, Bednarik kept the ball and cut back to his right and outraced UC cornerback Antoine Horton to the corner of the end zone on the naked bootleg play. The second WVU touchdown of the night gave the Mountaineers a 14-0 lead at the 8:14 mark of the first stanza.

UC showed some offensive hope on their second possession. Starting at the UC 29-yard line, Spitzer hit veteran wideouts Earnest Jackson and Derick Ross on consecutive throws to move UC to midfield. Sophomore tailback Butler Benton then found a seam in the Mountaineers' 3-3-5 defense to give UC another first down at the WVU 38. Spitzer then tried to force a pass into the hands of wideout Antwuan Giddens, but WVU cornerback Dee McCann stepped in front of Giddens and picked the ball off to thwart the drive.

West Virginia immediately capitalized on the mistake, as Bednarik completed passes to tight end Louis Davis for 13 yards and to wideout Rayshawn Bolden for 16 yards. Mixing in Gwaltney runs of seven, 11 and six yards, WVU moved to the Bearcats' 28-yard line. The drive then stalled at the UC 21, where freshman kicker Pat McAfee converted a field goal to increase the Mountaineer's lead to 17-0 shortly.

An exchange of possessions followed before UC got on the scoreboard. A screen pass to Bradley Glatthaar, the other half of Cincinnati's sophomore tailbacking tandem, picked up 32 yards. Hard running by Glatthaar and Spitzer, along with completions to tight end Brent Celek and junior wideout Bill Poland moved the Bearcats to the WVU 22-yard line. The West Virginia defense then throttled the UC drive and limited the Bearcats to a 39-yard Kevin Lovell field goal, making the score 17-3 with 10:15 left in the half.

WVU appeared to be on its way to its third touchdown of the half on its next possession, as Gwaltney continued to pick up solid gains on running plays and Bednarik hit Brandon Myles in stride for a gain of 23 yards to the UC 36-yard line. However, a controversial call served to put a halt to the scoring effort. Bednarik attempted a bubbles screen pass to Vaughn Rivers that was incomplete. The officials ruled the play a lateral, however, and UC linebacker Leo Morgan alertly pounced on the ball to give the Bearcats possession at their own 39-yard line. Replays were deemed inconclusive and the ruling on the field was allowed to stand, much to the consternation of Mountaineer head coach Rich Rodriguez, who vehemently argued against the call.

UC failed to capitalize on the disputed turnover and WVU got the ball back moments later at its own 26-yard line. Relying again on their star freshman, Gwaltney responded by racking up 32 yards on five straight carries to the Bearcats' 42-yard line. Bednarik then connected with Myles for a pick-up of 14, and Williams gained 13 yards on two carries before the drive stalled at the UC 15. McAfee successfully booted his second field goal attempt in the game and WVU led 20-3 at halftime.

UC came out of the locker room determined to get back into the game and appeared to do just that by taking the second half kick-off and marching 71 yards to paydirt in 11 plays. Benton tallied 24 yards on five carries, Spitzer hit Celek for a gain of nine yards and then hit Jackson for a third down pick-up of 17 yards. From the WVU 21-yard line, Spitzer scrambled for a gain of seven yards to the WVU 14 and a late hit tacked on seven more yards to the WVU seven. On third and goal from the two-yard line, Benton blasted through the WVU defensive front and UC enjoyed its first touchdown of the evening while cutting WVU's lead in half, 20-10. However, UC would draw no closer the rest of the night.

Resting Gwaltney on the next offensive series, the Mountaineers showcased their depth at tailback as Williams became the workhorse of the next WVU scoring drive. Picking up 47 of the 73 yards during the march, Williams demonstrated both speed and power by running around and through UC defenders on several occasions. Bednarik completions to Dewayne Thompson and Joe Hunter accounted for the other 26 yards during the march. Williams capped the drive with a cutback run from the six as WVU stretched its lead to 27-10 with 7:08 left in the third quarter.

Two possessions later WVU ended any faint hope of a UC comeback. Starting from its own 35, UC ran the ball four straight plays to move to the WVU 48. On second down, Spitzer tried to connect with Ross down the WVU sideline but overthrew his intended target. Senior free safety Jahmile Addae latched onto the errant pass and headed upfield. Getting several key blocks, Addae returned the interception to the UC 29-yard line.

WVU again unleashed Gwaltney on the Bearcats defense and the nation's leading freshman ball carrier thrilled WVU fans and the national television audience with a highlight reel run. Starting to his left, Gwaltney found no running room and reversed field. Picking up a crushing hit on UC cornerback John Bowie by tight end Josh Bailey, Gwaltney sprinted down the UC sideline. At the 10-yard line, Gwaltney encountered Bearcats free safety Dominic Ross. Bowling over Ross, Gwaltney rumbled into the end zone to put the game out of reach at 34-10. The play was reminiscent of former WVU tailback Quincy Wilson's memorable catch-and-run for a touchdown against Miami in the Orange Bowl in 2003 in which Wilson flattened and hurdled a Hurricanes defender on his way to the end zone.

Cincinnati then tried to catch up by going to the air, and an energized WVU defense provided some highlights of its own by recording back-to-back sacks of Spitzer. First Craig Wilson, then Johnny Dingle wrapped up the UC quarterback, creating a fourth and 33 situation. UC then self-destructed, as punter Chet Ervin bobbled the snap from center and WVU's Eric Wicks pounced on Ervin in the end zone for a safety, capping the Mountaineers' scoring for the evening. A late UC touchdown run by reserve senior running back Carl Jones provided the final points in the 36-17 West Virginia triumph.

"We were able to get the running game going pretty good tonight and that allowed us to open up the passing game a little bit, too, "said Rodriguez after the game. "We don't have to throw a lot of passes to be successful, but when the running game is firing like it was tonight it gives us the ability to throw it with a little more confidence."

Asked about his talented freshman running back, Rodriguez said, "Believe it or not, we saw about four or five plays where Jason made the wrong reads and missed chances to pick up big yardage. But, being the player he is, he turned a couple of those misses into decent runs anyway. Jason's still learning our system. I know that's hard for some people to believe, but he still has a lot to learn. When he fully understands our offense and his reads he'll be even better. I'm just glad he's on our side," quipped the obviously delighted Rodriguez.

"If he has more to learn I want no part of his [Gwaltney's] education process," lamented a dejected Bearcats coach Mark Dantonio following the game. "He's just an animal. We couldn't stop him no matter what we tried. Eight in the box, nine in the box, ten . . . maybe if we had fourteen in the box we could slow him down, but I doubt it. If he stays healthy and stays around then its just flat-out scary what he could do before he's finished at West Virginia."

Asked about the upcoming Backyard Brawl against old rival Pittsburgh Rodriguez said, "We'll have to play our best game of the year to beat them. Palko's just been unstoppable all year and Dave [Wannstedt, first year Pitt head coach] has his guys playing together real well. I'm glad we've got ‘em at our place and not up there. I hope our fans enjoy a little turkey and then bundle up and come out to Mountaineer Field because we'll need a great twelfth man Thanksgiving night to help us."

Pittsburgh is ranked 15th in the latest Harris poll. Should West Virginia win it would likely tie for second place in the conference standings. A loss would likely relegate the Mountaineers to third place in the league and a probable berth in the Meineke Car Care Bowl in Charlotte's Erickson Stadium against an ACC opponent.

PASSING – WVU Bednarik 9-16-129-0 CIN Spitzer 9-21-115-0

RUSHING – WVU Gwaltney 28-208-2 Williams 19-104-1 Bednarik 3-13-1 Schmitt 2-7 TOTALS 52-332-4 CIN Benton 16-62-1 Glatthaar 10-59 Moore 5-11 D Jones 3-8 C Jones 4-20-1 TOTALS 38-160-1

RECEIVING – WVU Reynaud 2-28 Davis 1-13 Bolden 2-27 Myles 2-37 Thompson 1-15 Hunter 1-9 TOTALS 9-129-0 CIN Jackson 3-34 Ross 1-14 Giddens 1-8 Celek 2-16 Poland 1-11 Glatthaar 1-32 TOTALS 9-115-0

DISCLAIMER: The contents of this article are intended for entertainment purposes only. No criticism, direct or implied, is intended. The author assumes no responsibility for any errors or inconsistencies and has produced the series strictly for the enjoyment of Mountaineer football fans during the agonizing summer months without WVU football.

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