Louisville went with quarterback Will Stein, one of the three different signal callers who have been in the lineup for each of the Cardinals' three wins this season. The other two -- Justin Froman and Justin Burke -- have battled injuries.
Defending against that U of L attack was a patchwork West Virginia defense, particularly along the line, where a trio of players who typically work as defensive ends played the majority of the game.
"I was really proud of the way our defense just set the tone the entire day," said head coach Bill Stewart.
"They played their hearts out and kept great field position for the offense most of the day. They found just a great way to bounce back from a sub-par showing in their last outing."
That was of pivotal importance, as WVU had issues of its own on offense -- both in terms of injuries and in terms of the execution of the players who were in the lineup.
Perhaps as a result of those problems, both offenses struggled. The teams combined for seven punts and two turnovers on the opening nine possessions of the contest.
West Virginia lost the ball when Brown threw an interception in the end zone on a first-and-15 play from the U of L 16-yard line.
The senior signal-caller underthrew Bradley Starks on the play, who was crossing the blue turf and appeared to be open briefly, but Brown held the ball too long and failed to lead Starks on the play. That allowed Cardinals safety Chaz Thompson to catch up and cut in front of the receiver, picking the ball off.
Three possessions later, Louisville returned the favor, fumbling the ball away in WVU territory.
Ashley had rushed five yards on a third-and-1 play, picking up an apparent first down, before Pat Lazear hit the running back and forced the ball loose. Robert Sands pounced on the loose ball for the Mountaineers at their 29-yard line to end the threat.
After a Scott Kozlowski punt on the ensuing drive, the Cardinals finally struck.
Trent Guy rushed 53 yards on the first play of his team's possession, putting U of L in position at the West Virginia 15-yard line. However, a holding call on offensive lineman Byron Stingily on the next play killed the drive, and the team had to settle for a 37-yard field goal from Chris Philpott that made the score 3-0 in favor of the visitors.
The Mountaineers answered back quickly, driving 72 yards on eight plays -- including gains of 22, 20 and 29 yards -- on a possession that was capped off by an 8-yard scoring catch and run by Sanders on third-and-goal with 35 seconds remaining in the half.
The slot receiver slipped a tackle and cut upfield quickly on the play to reach pay-dirt on a play that was not particularly well-blocked.
But for the second consecutive home game, WVU could not manage to keep its opposition from scoring late in the first half.
Guy returned the ensuing kickoff by Tyler Bitancurt 33 yards to the U of L 45-yard line. Five plays and 28 yards later, Philpott hit a career-long field goal of 44 yards with one second left to draw the Cards within 7-6 at the intermission.
"That's why I think No. 3 (Guy) is going to play on Sundays," Stewart said. "Three guys missed him."
|This game recap presented by The Book Exchange|
After forcing yet another Louisville punt to start the second half, the Mountaineer offense found the end zone for the second straight possession. Tavon Austin ran in from nine yards out on an end-around play to extend his team's lead to 14-6.
That play capped a six-play, 56-yard scoring drive that took 2:30 off the clock. Even an impressive start to that possession (with runs of 19 yards by Sanders and 24 by Brown) was balanced by poor play on the ensuing snaps.
Left guard Josh Jenkins committed a false start penalty on first-and-goal from the Louisville 3-yard line.
After confusion reigned along the sidelines and on the field on the ensuing play, as WVU players tried to figure out which personnel grouping belonged on the field, Stewart had to burn a timeout.
That break did little to keep the mental miscues from continuing, as left tackle Don Barclay was flagged for a false start of his own on the ensuing play.
Still, after a rush of four yards by Sanders on first-and-goal from the 13-yard line, Austin found pay-dirt after getting to the edge on the end-around play.
Later in the third period, the Mountaineers received the ball at the Louisville 43-yard line after a short punt of only 13 yards by Cory Goettsche.
The offense managed to gain only 18 yards from there (15 of which came on a pass interference call against U of L's Johnny Patrick), but that was enough to allow Bitancurt to tack on a 42-yard field goal that would give the home team a two-possession lead at 17-6.
With the Cardinals' offense sputtering, that would prove to be more than enough of a gap.
After recovering a fumble on a bad snap by WVU center Eric Jobe at the Mountaineers' 42-yard line, Kragthorpe and company failed to fully take advantage.
Ashley rushed for 11 yards on the first play of the drive and would later plunge two yards on a second-and-1 play to give his team a first down at the West Virginia 20-yard line.
From there, a comedy of errors ensued, as the Cardinals had eight plays in the red zone, but only netted eight yards of offense in that span. A personal foul on Jeff Adams backed U of L up from the WVU 5-yard line to the 20 once more. Adams would then be called for a holding foul on third-and-goal from the 10-yard line, nullifying a play that would have gone for a touchdown pass from Stein to Doug Beaumont.
Philpott added a 29-yard field goal instead, drawing his team to within 17-9.
Kozlowski atoned for a poor pooch punt attempt in last week's loss at South Florida by booting the ball 43 yards to the U of L 2-yard line at the end of West Virginia's ensuing possession.
That softened the blow when Ashley broke out for a 35-yard run on the second play of his team's drive, as the visitors only managed to drive their own 46-yard line before Zac Cooper and Sidney Glover combined on a sack of Stein on a third-and-10 play from there.
Louisville would get one more chance after WVU went three-and-out on a drive that started with 3:34 remaining in the contest.
Taking over at their own 41-yard line with just under 2:30 left, the Cardinals drove to the WVU 42 before Julian Miller sacked Stein on back-to-back plays.
From there, the redshirt freshman quarterback passed incomplete on both third and fourth downs, needing 24 yards to move the sticks in the final minute. Brown knelt down once and the Mountaineers had secured their seventh win of the season.
Brown finished nine-of-17 passing for 94 yards and a touchdown toss. His counterpart, Stein, was 14-of-26 for 100 yards, but was sacked twice.
Ashley nearly doubled all other players in terms of all-purpose yardage, with 164 yards on the ground on his 33 carries. That number of attempts was two more than his career total of rushes (31) coming into the contest.
"He have guys banged up, and we were short, but I thought he did a good job," Kragthorpe said of Ashley. "He pounded it in there all day long. He had 33 carries and will be pretty sore tomorrow. Hopefully, we'll be able to get guys back next week so we can share the wealth and the pain."
Sanders led WVU on the ground with 66 yards on 12 attempts.
Devine had 56 yards on 13 carries before hitting the sidelines with an ankle injury. He was termed as "day-to-day" by team trainer Dave Kerns after the contest.
West Virginia was out-gained for the third consecutive game by its opposition. After scoring 30 or more points in its first five games, the offense was held under that number for the fourth-straight time.
"I think we did a good job in not letting them get started," Kragthorpe said.
"The biggest thing was trying to keep them out of rhythm. They are like any offense, where when you get in rhythm and tempo, you make plays. They always have that ability."
As for the injury situation heading into a pivotal game week against No. 4 Cincinnati -- a Friday night game which gives players even less time to recover -- Stewart was largely mum. "We had a lot of players beat up, banged up and that didn't play," he said. "I don't know if they will play. I don't know when they will play. I don't need any questions about injuries right now."
"I don't know how severe things are."