Sat 11/8/08 7:00 PM
UConn W 35-3
Radio: Sirius, MSN
USF W 24-10
Series: WVU 14-1-1
First Meeting: 1921
Last Meeting: 2007
UNFAIR TRIVIA QUESTION OF THE WEEK
Admittedly, this one is a toughie. But a little logical thought (or a peek at the end of this column), and the answer could be yours.
Cincinnati has gone 126 games without running a punt back for a touchdown – the second longest such active streak in the nation. Which team has gone the longest without scoring off a punt return? That streak stretches a whopping 147 games.
ABSOLUTELY UNSCIENTIFIC, BUT STILL…
West Virginia is 21-5-2 in all-time home night games, and 14-1 in home night games since 2000. As we've pointed out several times in the past, stats like this should have no bearing on future performances. There just aren't any logical reasons why the Mountaineers have been so good after dark. WVU hasn't played a bunch of stiffs in these games, or gotten a bunch of lucky breaks. They have just won, time after time. And while there might not be one factor that's responsible, the big key is that team, including players and coaches, believe that there's magic at Milan Puskar Stadium once the sun goes down. Does that account for more points on the scoreboard? Maybe not directly, but the power of positive thinking and belief can't be ignored.
UC head coach Brian Kelly was 16-4 in his first 20 games at the head of the Bearcat program, which is the best such opening stretch in Cincinnati history. His record now stands at 17-5 on the eve of perhaps the biggest game in the school's history.
Those wins haven't been piled up against poor competition, either. Although the Bearcats are just 8-60 all-time against ranked opponents, Kelly has accounted for half of that victory total. UC won three games against ranked squads in 2007, and added another against USF this year. It could move Kelly's record at Cincinnati to 5-2 against ranked teams with a victory over the Mountaineers.
By comparison, WVU is 36-92 all-time against ranked teams, with 12 of those wins coming since 2001.
Opposing kickoff return units have employed a similar tactic against West Virginia's beleaguered coverage team. Using what some call a "weave", the returner runs for several yards on a diagonal before cutting straight upfield behind the attack point, where blockers try to split the cover team and create a crease. The move helps get side-to-side movement on the cover team, and can assist the return tem in getting better blocking angles.
To combat this, might WVU, in addition to promised changes in personnel, mix up the location of its deep kicks? The vast majority of deep kicks have come down the left hash mark (from WVU's perspective). It can be difficult to move the ball around and modify coverage schemes in midseason, but drastic measures might be in order at this point.
WHAT A MOVE
UC's Connor Barwin has made a huge splash at defensive end since flipping over from tight end prior to the season. His quick moves, honed on the basketball court, have put in atop the league standings in sacks with seven. Those same skills have allowed him to block three punts this year, including two in the same game against Marshall.
As if all that weren't enough, Barwin also skips back to offense in UC's short yardage package. Out of that formation, he caught a touchdown pass against USF. Barwin is likely the only player in the country this year to record a sack (7), block a punt (3) and catch a touchdown pass (1).
Given UC head coach Brian Kelley's pass-first offense, it isn't a surprise to see the Bearcats throwing the ball frequently. However, given the run of injuries UC has sustained at the quarterback position, it is something of a shock to see it leading the Big East in passing with 260 yards per game. That's not a huge total, and given the number of quality throwers in the league, including Louisville's Hunter Cantwell, Rutgers' Mike Teel and USF's Matt Groethe, it gives rise to several questions and observations.
First, Kelley should get great credit for steering the UC offense through numerous quarterback changes. Second, the Big East probably does deserve the "Black and Blue League" moniker bestowed on it by Bill Stewart.
Navy holds the current active punt return for a score drought record. The last time UC ran back a punt for six points was Nov. 8, 1977, when Tinker Keck returned not one, but two, Louisville punts for scores. Perhaps the football gods decided that was enough for a while.