That could hurt No. 6 West Virginia (8-1, 3-1), which lost contain of Groethe once for a backbreaking touchdown pass along the sidelines. Mauk, who has completed 157 of 258 passes for 2,033 yards and 21 touchdowns, has also rushed for 279 yards and a pair of scores. He will be another scrambler, like Groethe and East Carolina's Patrick Pinkney – though with a better supporting cast than the latter – who can and has made plays with his arm and feet in the No. 22 Bearcats' spread offense. Cincinnati (8-2, 3-2) shows more balance than does WVU's spread, with more of a reliance on the pass, an added test for a secondary that has performed well throughout the season.
"Cincinnati is an explosive team," West Virginia head coach Rich Rodriguez said. "They scored a lot of points in the first half against USF, and they have jumped on a lot of teams early. I think (Mauk) has been the key for them offensively. He is a veteran guy who has played in the spread and played successfully in high school and at Wake Forest (before transferring). They have been able to plug Mauk in. He can play in the shotgun and spread offense. I think he has been a reason for some of their success offensively, because he is a great competitor and sees the field. He creates plays."
Mauk pump faked to hold a cornerback, then scrambled to avoid a slight rush before throwing downfield for one of his three scores against then-No. 13 Connecticut in UC's 27-3 win. Mauk threw for 276 yards against the Huskies, and tallied a season-high 324 versus Louisville. Only Groethe, with his 382 yards, has been able to amass 300-plus against Cincinnati this season, and the UC defensive savvy – it leads the nation in turnovers force – has allowed Mauk and the offense more chances to make plays.
"I would say (Mauk) runs just as well or maybe better (than Groethe)," WVU free safety Ryan Mundy said. "He is a little more fluid and a little more athletic. They are in a similar mold."
The senior has shown a surprising ability to take hits and keep competing. The 6-1, 200-pounder broke his arm and dislocated his shoulder last season at Wake Forest. He still has a plate and eight screws in the arm, and three metal anchors in his shoulder. The bionic limb hasn't affected Mauk much, especially mentally, which Kelly, in his first season at Cincinnati, has said is the strong suit.
"Ben had to make some plays with his feet, he was smart with the football, he got rid of it when he needed to," Cincinnati head coach Brian Kelly said. "I thought he was on top of his game tonight. I think in a big-game situation, that's the best I've seen him play."
West Virginia is typically more adept at slowing power running teams with north-south backs and pocket passers, like Rutgers and Maryland. It did hold USF to just 13 offensive points and 135 yards passing and forced Groethe into two turnovers. The sophomore, though, doesn't see the field anywhere near as well as Mauk, and suffers from locking onto a wideout and a bit of tunnel vision down the field. Mauk scans the entire field well, and shows enough patience to take underneath routes and smaller chunks of yardage. Two of his scoring passes against UConn were one and six yards. At one point, he pump-faked and took off for an 11-yard touchdown run that made it 20-3 midway through the third quarter. Then Mauk put the game out of reach by faking a handoff and throwing the 37-yard touchdown pass to Dominick Goodman, who got behind the coverage.
"They come out, spread it out and have that duel threat quarterback, kind if like Pat (White), but not as potent," Mountaineer linebacker Reed Williams said. "He can scramble out and be able to look downfield and make the pass. You get back in the zone and do what you do. Drop, read (Mauk) and try to make a play on the ball. You have to try and keep him concealed in those lanes. Our ends have to do a good job getting upfield and not letting him out. If he gets out, we'll have to do a good job getting to him and getting him on the ground."
Another concern is Cincinnati's route packages. They are more numerous, if not complex, than any other team West Virginia has faced. That makes them more easily disguisable just because of the sheer number of options, and UC's ability to play fast. That offensive giddy-up makes the majority of defenses antsy and harried, and it will likely do the same to West Virginia's.
Mauk's understanding of the offense (he ran similar sets at Wake Forest when it went to the spread), and ability to read a multitude of defense alignments and make adjustments makes him among the more lethal signal callers in terms of taking what is offered and knowing what's being defensed and what isn't. Louisville's Brian Brohm has similar skills, and the Mountaineers were able to confuse him for the first two quarters and might have been able to deeper in the game if the offense had not allowed UofL more possessions. But Brohm couldn't run, and when his tailbacks could not either, the Cardinals abandoned the rush game. Cincinnati, with its back-by-committee approach, won't likely gash WVU on the ground. But that still leaves Mauk's running ability in key situations.
"Groethe was a running quarterback who can run and throw," WVU linebacker Mortty Ivy said. "Mauk is basically the same way. He makes plays with his feet. Watching film, you can't tell what he is going to do. As long as we execute and play the pass and go full speed, we should be ok. We have to cause turnovers and get the ball back for the offense."
Mauk has yet to see a defense with West Virginia's overall speed and unique packaging. He has played his best games against 4-3 looks that emphasize run stopping, and, because he transferred just last season after suffering a season-ending injury against Syracuse, hasn't seen the 3-3-5 the way the Mountaineers are running it; the two safeties and added dimensions in pass rush and within coverages should aid WVU.
"He has been in a number of circumstances and games, and now things don't faze him," Rodriguez said. "You aren't going to see him get rattled."