Fri 10/30/09 8:00 PM
Raymond James Stadium
UConn W 28-24
Pittsburgh L 41-14
Series: Tied 2-2
First Meeting: 2005
Last Meeting: 2008
ALL THE WAY
With at least one reception in 22 consecutive games, Jock Sanders could break West Virginia's current known consecutive games with a reception mark (the records are only compiled since WVU joined the Big East in 1991). Who currently holds the top spot on that list? Answer at the end of this column.
It's a bit of a cliché that it's tough to win on the road, but an examination of the numbers over the past few seasons bears that out. Even the winningest programs during that span stumble when they hit the bricks. USC, which has the best winning percentage away from home over the past six-plus seasons, has dropped seven game during that time while winning 39 contests.
Don't get me wrong – that's a great achievement. It's merely pointed out here to note how truly tough it is to make a lengthy road trip and play at peak efficiency every time out. WVU's trip to USF combines all of the most difficult elements – a long trip, a foe with talent in a must win situation, and hostile fans.
WVU, by the way, is eighth over that same time span with a 27-12 record.
Much of the pre-game analysis and attention has been focused on West Virginia's offense against USF's defense. However, the flip analysis reveals a couple of things to watch as well. While the Bull offense is averaging more than 30 points per game, it piled up 168 of its points to date against four teams with substandard defenses (Wofford, Western Kentucky, Charleston Southern and Syracuse. In games against Florida State, Cincinnati and Pitt, it's averaging just 16 per outing.
Some of this, of course, can be attributed to the loss of Matt Grothe. However, the trend can't be denied, and it's one to watch on Friday night. Can West Virginia keep multi-purpose quarterback B.J. Daniels in check? If so, the Bulls will be hard-pressed to score enough points to win.
Former West Virginia receivers coach Steve Bird is in his first year with the Bulls. Bird, who had stops at Eastern Kentucky and Bowling Green as an assistant after leaving WVU, is a graduate assistant for the Bulls who is responsible for the tight ends.
USF's loss of placekicker Maikon Bonani has been difficult to overcome. Bonani, who broke a vertebra in his back in an offseason work accident, was 15-21 on field goal attempts and 31-32 on extra points last season. His replacements this year have struggled. Delbert Alvarado and Eric Schwartz have combined to make just four of their 11 field goal attempts on the season, although they have missed just one extra point between them.
The situation was so dire that head coach Jim Leavitt held an open tryout for kickers from the USF campus at the end of training camp. While he did add freshman walk-on Austin Atkins to the team at the start of the season, he has not yet attempted a kick.
USF's duo of George Selvie and Jason Pierre-Paul rightly get a lot of credit, but they are just two of a highly capable crew of Bull defensive linemen. Seven different players have started at least one game for the Bulls, and three others get significant playing time. Seven of the 10 linemen in the rotation have registered at least one tackle for loss and all of them have at least three tackles. The defensive line has accounted for 33 of the team's 48 tackles for loss and 15 of the team's 17 sacks, including 11 in the last four games.
You still can't ignore Selvie, however. The two-time All-American is just 8.5 tackles for loss short of the NCAA record, which currently sits at 75.
ABOVE THE LINE
West Virginia's win over UConn moved the Mountaineers above the .500 mark in network television appearances. WVU is now 77-76-1 all-time in nationally televised games, going back to its first national broadcast in the 1954 Sugar Bowl. This week's game gives West Virginia a chance to climb higher above that mark.
Khori Ivy, with at least one catch in 40 consecutive games, holds the WVU mark since 1991. Given the fewer number of games through history, that mark cold well be West Virginia's all-time standard as well. Sanders, with six games left this year and a potential 13 in 2010, would finish with 41 if he can continue the streak.