Sat 11/11 Noon
Morgantown, W. Va.
Milan Puskar Stadium
UofL L 34-44
Syracuse W 17-3
Last Meeting: 2005
Five of Cincinnati's games this year have lasted 3:10 or less. Although the Bearcats aren't a ground juggernaut (they average just 3.5 yards per carry), UC has kept games moving by calling nearly 150 more runs than passes. And when it does drop back to throw, the majority of calls are for shorter routes that often result in completions – again keeping the clock moving. UC has completed 61% of its passes to date.
Now, add in West Virginia's ground-hugging attack, and the recipe is certainly there for another shortened contest. That's good news for the Bearcats, which obviously want to limit WVU to as few possessions as possible. The key will be for WVU to continue its wildly efficient ways in turning possessions into points.
RACE TO THE TOP
Averaging 151.9 yards per game, Steve Slaton reached the 1,000-yard mark for a season faster than any back in Mountaineer history. In the win at Connecticut, Slaton crossed the 1,000-yard threshold on his 17th carry of the game, his 149th carry of the 2006 season. That was three carries faster than Robert Walker and Artie Owens, who each reached 1,000 yards on their 152nd carry.
|WVU 7-1, 2-1
UC 5-4, 2-2
|Sat 11/11 Noon|
|Series: WVU 12-1-1|
|BCS: WVU 10th - UC N/A|
|Harris: WVU 10th - UC N/A|
|Line: WVU -19|
The first is the status of his injured wrists. Despite head coach Rich Rodriguez' blatant efforts to stonewall the issue, the fact is that Slaton isn't 100%. Is he well enough to play? Certainly. But saying it isn't a factor is like saying Tom Cruise isn't a nut job.
The second is his teammate in the backfield, Patrick White. Of course, White won't be intentionally taking carries away from Slaton. But if defenses load up against the tailback, then it's White's job to keep the ball and attack the weaknesses left behind. And that means fewer chances for the superback. WVU has also taken to throwing the ball to Slaton, and while that will certainly result in more yards for the Mountaineers, those markers won't go into his rushing totals.
Put all these things together, and it's not a foregone conclusion that Slaton will become the single-season record holder. However, I wouldn't bet against him.
CHANGE OF FORTUNES
Until Rutgers knocked off Louisville on Thursday night, concern was running high about West Virginia's level of interest in this game. That's not to say the Mountaineers didn't care, or weren't going to try, against the Bearcats, but there's no doubt that despite the best efforts of Rich Rodriguez and some of the senior leaders, there was a definite pall over the Puskar Center.
With Rutgers' win, however, there's every reason for a refreshing breeze to clear away any lingering clouds. West Virginia now has every chance to get back into the race for the conference championship and the attendant BCS berth. Yes, the national title is out of the picture. But another mondo bowl game against an excellent foe in the national spotlight is not. It would certainly be a shame to let that chance slip by, but in order to get that shot West Virginia must win its final four games. Cincinnati is certainly capable of defeating WVU, and the Mountaineers should know that anything less than their best effort could result in another dispiriting defeat. However, WVU should also realize that another trip to a big bowl is again within its grasp – and the chances are far better than they were just 24 hours ago.
Catching foes off guard is, in large part, about breaking your own tendencies. Will the Bearcats do that with their passing game against the Mountaineers?
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|UC Official Site|
This game could be a critical one in the development of free safety Quinton Andrews. Like many on the back end of WVU's defense, Andrews has struggled with his assignments. His position is a critical one, in that he must "stay as deep as the deepest" but also provide help to his teammates in certain situations. Making the right reads, at the right time, is a difficult task to master, but it's one that West Virginia's free safeties must get on top of. Otherwise, the bleeding in the secondary will continue, no matter who is playing corner.
The yelpers who complain that the 3-3-5 stack is ineffective should take note of this fact: West Virginia has allowed just one 100-yard rusher over the past two seasons, and none in 2006. Louisville's Michael Bush is the only back to top the 100-yard mark agains WVU over that span.
What's more, West Virginia is one of only nine defenses nationally that has not allowed a 100-yard rusher this season; the others are Boise State, Boston College, Florida, Kansas, LSU, Michigan, TCU and Utah.
While WVU's pass defense certainly needs some help, the fact remains that the key to beating most teams is shutting down the run – and West Virginia has certainly done that during its unprecendented two-year run of success (pun certainly intended).
Cincinnati placekicker Kevin Lovell has extended his school record to 73 straight PAT kick conversions. The California native broke the old mark of 65 straight good point-after tries set by Lou Groza Award-winning kicker Jonathan Ruffin (2000-02) in the win over Akron. Ruffin, you will remember, doinked a potential game-winning field goal off the upright against West Virginia in 2002.