"I was a little nervous in warm-ups," West Virginia head coach Rich Rodriguez said. "At Louisville, you could tell it was high-intensity. It was like a morgue out there today, so I made them get up and chest bump each other in the locker room before the game. I said to have some fun. I thought ‘This isn't good, these guys are not ready.' So we loosened it up a little bit and had some fun."
The Bearcats (5-5, 2-3 Big East) never matched the Mountaineers' speed – or much of anything else after the first quarter. West Virginia (8-1, 3-1 Big East), trailing 3-0 after a sloppy initial 15 minutes, scored three times on drives of two or fewer plays. It tallied 21 points in less than seven minutes of possession time to lead 21-3 at the half, then added a third-quarter 63-yard reverse from fullback Owen Schmitt to tailback Steve Slaton before scoring a play later. It added two more scores, ripping a defense that hadn't allowed more than 14 points in the first half of any game – let alone the 313 net rushing yards and 411 yards of total offense – for 21 points in both the second and third quarters, easily amassing the most points of any UC foe this year. Only No. 1 Ohio State, with 37, also scored more than five touchdowns against the ‘Cats.
In all, West Virginia's first four scoring drives – the latter two of which took two plays to go 65 yards each – took a combined 7:42 seconds. Its next two drives, to make it 42-10 at the end of the third quarter, took a combined five plays, the latter set up by an interception return to the UC 10-yard line, one of three in the game for WVU, which also forced four fumbles, recovering one.
"Just like any other game, we knew what they were going to run," free safety Quinton Andrews said. "We took it in our hands to make plays as a secondary. (Wicks) did there, and we also got a few good breaks on the ball. We did not sit back and let the play happen. We felt we could match-up with them personnel-wise, and we went after it."
Quarterback Patrick White flopped roles with Slaton, who last year ran for 126 against the Bearcats and scored four times. This year it was White who tallied the touchdowns, accounting for two on the ground (his 10th and 11th in the last four games) and one through the air. His 191 total yards didn't even bettering his 222 through the air alone last week. But he made plays when needed, forcing the Cincinnati defense to play honestly after shadowing Slaton, who carried 12 times for 148 yards and two touchdowns, for the first quarter. White might have had another score if not for his fumble going into the end zone after a 52 yard run. Receiver Rayshawn Bolden picked up the loose ball and dove in, however, making it 35-10 with 5:30 left in the third. Slaton added another score before the fourth, and WVU coasted from there as UC added two meaningless touchdowns.
"The reverses loosened them up, that and Patrick White," Rodriguez said. "It's a great threat to have a quarterback that is that fast in the open field. It helps to have a few fast guys and it helps to have a few fast guys that those positions. Your quarterback is the X-factor when you run this type of offense and run him like we do. Then you have a guy with Steve's breakaway ability. It makes you play a bit more honestly than in traditional offenses. That is why we geared some of the things, and why our offense evolved to where it is."
Lost in the offensive onslaught was a defense that allowed just 57 net rushing yards on 31 carries (1.8 ypc) and forced four fumbles, recovering one. It also tallied three interceptions, all by freshmen. Guesly Dervil and Boogie Allen each had one in their first major playing time, and free safety Quinton Andrews also added a pick to setup West Virginia's last score. It was the second consecutive drive one which UC quarterback Dustin Grutza was picked off.
West Virginia was held scoreless in the opening quarter for the first time since Oct. 15, 2005, when it managed just seven first half points against Louisville last year. The early sloppy play included a fumble, five penalties for 30 yards and a missed field goal that hit the right upright. The Mountaineers had outscored foes 87-17 in the first quarter this season.
Trailing 3-0 after UC place kicker Kevin Lovell's 40-yard field goal, WVU finally began piecing plays together on its third possession. It moved 62 yards in just more than four minutes to punch in on White's three-yard keeper with 13:41 left in the first half. Two White passes highlighted the drive. The first went to Darius Reynaud for eight yards on the initial play. The second, on third and 19 from the WVU 40, went to a wide-open Brandon Myles for 30 yards to the Cincinnati 30. White then optioned to Schmitt for 12 to end the quarter before handing to Reynaud on a reverse that gained 15 to the UC five. White went over the left side two plays later for his 10th rushing touchdown in the last four games.
The drive seemed to infuse West Virginia, perhaps hungover after the loss at Louisville last Thursday. The defense forced a three-and-out, and the offense retook possession at midfield. White hit Myles deep down the sideline with a gorgeous 34-yard rainbow-like throw that found the senior in the back of the end zone for a touchdown to make it 14-3. Myles, getting both feet down, showed great body control and awareness. Just 4:18 seconds separated the two scores, and it seemed WVU was rolling.
UC fumbled twice more on the next drive, including on fourth and two from the West Virginia 31. That snuffed the promising push, which started at the 28, with 5:30 left in the first half, and Slaton went 65 yards on WVU's second play for a 21-3 lead with 5:07 left in the half. It marked the most points Cincinnati – which played Virginia Tech, Ohio State and Louisville on the road – had allowed in the first half this season.
"We were pretty slow out there at first, then got back to running the ball," tailback Steve Slaton said. We picked it up well. In the back of everybody's mind, we were still tight from last week. Coach Rod had us all loose and ready to turn it around. And we were patient on offense. We hit the holes and got it going. That's the thing about our offense. We get a feel for a defense, and we get a couple runs. All the sudden, we rip a big one."
Slaton, held to one yard on three runs in the first quarter, had 73 yards on eight totes by the end of the half. White – who completed six of 10 passes for 97 yards and the score – added 37, and Schmitt and Reynaud had 18 and 15, respectively, by then. WVU ripped off three more scores on just the five plays in the second half, and, with a 42-10 lead at the end of the third, substituted more freely in the fourth quarter.
The Bearcats, ranked 13th in the nation in rush defense entering at 89.33 yards per game, were also in the top 30 in every major statistical category for defense. It had only allowed five rushing scores this season, and saw that number doubled in this game. Cincinnati was led by Greg Moore's 34 yards on the ground and Grutza's 13 of 24 showing for 143 yards and one score through the air.
The WVU win, combined with No. 3 Louisville's loss to No. 13 Rutgers on Thursday, leaves West Virginia in control of its own destiny as far as tying for the Big East championship. If all three teams finish 1-1 in the league, the BCS ranking will determine who advances to the BCS bowl game. Louisville will certainly drop, while Rutgers will jump. The Mountaineers might also move up several spots after No. 5 Auburn's 37-15 loss to unranked Georgia.
"We never want to feel like what we did last week after Louisville," cornerback Vaughn Rivers said. "We don't want that for the rest for the season. That was motivation. We are back in the race. It's time to go now."
Said Rodriguez: "I mentioned that we got a little bit of a break and that we do have a chance to control our own destiny, at least as far as the conference is concerned. It is a little extra motivation. It puts a bounce in your step. You have three games to do it and you have to do it a game at a time, a step. You can't do it in three steps at once. It is neat to be in this position in the middle of November. That is where you want to be every year. Our goal is to compete for the Big East championship, and that's where we are."
West Virginia has a short week of preparation for its match-up at Pitt on Thursday. Pitt played at Connecticut, so both teams will have just four days of preparation.