Eastlake is the senior member of the Bearcats' young offensive line, and will be one of the big keys as Cincinnati attempts to make some headway against West Virginia's stout defensive front. He'll often square off against Dykes, who is brimming with confidence after his two-sack performance against Connecticut.
Cincinnati has moved the ball better than expected this year, and a good chunk of that credit goes to Eastlake, a senior with 32 consecutive starts at left tackle. He has helped shepherd his callow teammates (who have fewer combined starts –29 – than Eastlake by himself) through some tough early growing periods.
Although Eastlake has faced some strong opponents, including those at Penn State and Louisville, he will be lining up opposite a very difficult foe in Dykes, who is quickly making a name for himself. Dykes combines the strength to stuff the run with the quickness and moves to put pressure on the passer, and if he is able to penetrate the Bearcat backfield, it could be a long night for quarterback Dustin Grutza.
Although Slaton and Smith will likely have a few collisions on the field as the Bearcat rookie tries to contain the Mountaineer first year player, it's not that juxtaposition that draws our interest.
|WVU 7-1, 4-0
UC 4-4, 2-2
|Wed 11/9/05 7:30 p.m.|
|Series: WVU 11-1-1|
|BCS: WVU -13 UC-??|
|Line: WVU -??|
|Stats & Trends|
Both also got off to lackluster starts, with Slaton not seeing much action in the first three games, while Smith recorded pedestrian numbers. Both then exploded as the season progressed, with Slaton's six-touchdown game against Louisville serving as his statement game. Smith has 45 tackles over the Bearcats' last six games, and also has six tackles for loss.
The success Smith has in trying to stop Slaton and the WVU running attack figures to have a big impact on the contest. If Slaton tops 100 yards, the Mountaineers will likely move to 9-1 on the season. However, if Smith can come up with a big game, the Bearcats could have a chance to pull the upset.
A final characteristic shared by the pair: cool heads in the face of quick stardom. Both appear to be handling their newfound notoriety well, which also makes them solid leaders in the eyes of their teammates.
Although WVU isn't known for its passing attack, the Mountaineers have gotten good production from Myles, who has turned wide receiver screens and the occasional deep ball into solid gains. In Mickens, he will be facing a cornerback on a hot streak in recent weeks.
With his height (6-3) and dependable presence (he's started every game this year, the only wideout to do so) Myles is something of a security blanket for quarterbacks Pat White and Adam Bednarik. West Virginia's signature screen pass, where Myles catches the ball on a horizontal hitch, then cuts behind blocks from pulling offensive linemen. Those plays have come up big for the Mountaineers in recent weeks, so it won't be a surprise to see them in this week's game plan as well.
Mickens, however, has been on a roll recently. He has broken up three passes in each of the Bearcats' last two games, and also picked off a pass against UConn to help preserve UC's win. He will certainly see a lot of Myles on Wednesday evening, and if he can slow down WVU's most reliable passcatcher, he could make the Mountaineers one-dimensional – which, as fans have seen in recent weeks, makes it much easier to defend an opponent.
THINGS TO WATCH
If the Mountaineers are playing football, then there's a pass-catching tight end on the opposite side of the field. This week, for what seems like the fiftieth game in a row, West Virginia will have to mark a tight end in the passing game.
Making the task doubly difficult is the fact that the Bearcats can field not one, but two, threats on the end of the offensive line. Brent Celek has hauled in 21 passes for 245 yards this year, while Connor Barwin has a ripping 22.5 yards per catch average this year.
It wouldn't be a surprise to see head coach Mark Dantonio deploy both targets in certain situations and use them on square ins and other mid-field routes against the West Virginia defense, which struggles to cover such patterns.
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West Virginia has been very even-keeled through much of the season, and it will be interesting to see if the Mountaineers can maintain the poise they have shown through the season's first eight games.
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While the Mountaineers might not be expected to come out breathing fire and brimstone for this contest, they can't afford to have an emotional flat line like they exhibited against East Carolina. Cincinnati, while certainly not an overpowering foe, does have the ability to move the ball, and could ride its own Senior Night emotions to a solid performance.
One thing that certainly won't help the ‘Cats, however is its pitiful home crowd. Hoping to get a boost in attendance from joining the Big East, UC has instead seen a procession of crowds in the low twenty thousands – not what they were expecting.
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With faint hopes of a bowl still alive, it also won't be surprising to see UC pull out all the stops in an attempt to steal a win. Grutza has lined up at wide receiver and caught a pass this year, and Dantonio has a reputation for running a gadget play every now and then.
West Virginia also provides the perfect opposition for springing such a surprise, as its hard-pursuing defense can sometimes leave it vulnerable to reverses or cross field throws. Jeff Casteel's troops will need to be on their guard to prevent being caught up in any potential Bearcat trickery.