Preview: WVU - UC

West Virginia travels to Cincinnati with a shot at the Big East title. Game Scorecard
Fri 11/13/09 8:00 PM

Cincinnati, OH

Nippert Stadium
Record: 7-2
BCS: 25
Last Game
Louisville W 17-9
Radio: MSN
Record: 9-0
BCS: 5
Last Game
UConn W 47-45
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Press Release
Season Stats
2009 Schedule

Series: WVU 14-2-1
First Meeting: 1921
Last Meeting: 2008
Press Release
Season Stats
2009 Schedule

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WVU – QB Jarrett Brown (Ankle), Probable; RB Noel Devine (Ankle), Probable; DL Chris Neild (Back), Probable; DB Sidney Glover (Shoulder), Probable; DL Josh Taylor (Back), Questionable.

Cincinnati – QB Tony Pike (Forearm), Probable – Will Not Start; LB Robby Armstrong (Knee), Out; WR Vidal Hazelton (Eligibility Concern), Out for Season.


WVU Offense vs. UC defense

The unbeaten Bearcats have allowed an average of 16.4 points per game – and that number ballooned by a couple only after Connecticut ripped off 45 points in a two-point defeat. Prior to the Huskies, just one Cincinnati opponent scored 20 points or more, and the Bearcats limited league foes to less than two touchdowns per outing. The numbers are more impressive when one considers the unit replaced 10 starters and its coordinator in the offseason. There are holes, however. UC is giving up 125 rush yards per game, a number that would be higher is not for the offense, which has jumped on teams early and forced them to abandon the running game. West Virginia has yet to find consistency within the rush, and its offensive line has been very weak at spots and mediocre at best as a whole. Devine, who is expected to play, has made the front five look far better than they are; quarterback Jarrett Brown has not been comfortable in the pocket in weeks, and because of his inability to throw downfield and stretch the defense, opposing coordinators have been able to focus more on the run game. It's obviously a double-edged issue, and one that must be bettered if WVU is to have any chance to pull a road upset on Friday.

The major match-up along the line is mammoth UC defensive tackle Derek Wolfe against Mountaineer center Eric Jobe. Wolfe, 6-5, 302 pounds, has four sacks and 5.5 tackles for loss – numbers that aren't exceedingly great. But he usually requires a double-team to block in the run game, and his size should wear on Jobe (6-2, 289 pounds), though the West Virginia junior should be able to play with some leverage and quickness. If Jobe can't at least adequately handle Wolfe and, with help, keep him from penetrating and disrupting running lanes and Brown's time to throw, WVU could have difficulty with any longer-developing plays and runs toward the middle of the line. Ends Ricardo Matthews and Alex Daniels, both seniors, combine for 73 tackles and are more active within the pass rush. UC uses a 3-4 set, and so like WVU's Chris Neild, much of the success of the front seven will be on the tackle-center battle.

Inside linebackers Andre Revels and J.K. Shaffer will employ slightly different angles and assignments than those WVU saw in the more traditional 4-3 sets. It's nothing Devine hasn't worked against before, but the line hasn't seen a 3-4 look often this year, and it could cause a longer adjustment period at the start of the game. Revels (76) and Shaffer (59) are the team's top two tacklers, and Shaffer, especially, as great numbers this year with three picks, four TFL and six pass deflections. The two are active all over the field, and West Virginia will need to get past Wolfe and into the second level to give Devine a decent shot at some lanes. Outside linebackers Curtis Young and Walter Stewart still average over three tackles per game each and are called upon to blitz far more often. Stewart, 6-5, 226 pounds, is a long, lanky linebacker that causes issues in the pass game because of his reach.

The secondary has allowed 212 yards per game in the air, but leads the Big East in pass efficiency. It's a kind of bend-don't-break format that works mainly because UC pressures the pocket so well. The ‘Cats lead the Big East in sacks per game at 3.6 and the constant quarterback harassment has led to 14 interceptions. The main player is redshirt freshman strong safety Drew Frey. He is a steady, heady player who makes the most of his ability. Strong safety Aaron Webster is the big playmaker, with three picks, one of which he returned 104 yards for a score. West Virginia must take care of the ball. An even game in turnovers might not be enough to win, and anything beyond a deficit of one should create major difficulty in winning. Brown has been decent in the pick area since the Auburn game, but he needs to find his gunslinger, air-it-out (intelligently) mentality he had early in the season. His confidence seems shaken right now, and the senior leader must find it for this game. There isn't much to lose in terms of performance expectation, though certainly because WVU controls its own destiny there's much to be lost in a defeat. Still, if there's a contest left that calls it to be played with no fear and a dose of confidence boardering on cockiness, it's this one.

By The Numbers
West Virginia Cincinnati
Scoring Offense 28.3 ppg Scoring Defense 16.4 ppg
Rushing Offense 181.4 ypg Rushing Defense 125.3 ypg
Passing Offense 212.1 ypg Passing Defense 204.4 ypg

Advantage: Even

WVU Defense vs. UC Offense

This is the most difficult task of the season for West Virginia. Combine Cincinnati's superb ability to challenge foes downfield with WVU's coverage and pass rush questions and this area appears to side easily with the home team. UC head coach Brian Kelly has announced Zach Collaros as the starter, with Tony Pike the backup for the Mountaineer game. Pike hurt his forearm against South Florida and, if pressed, could play against West Virginia. Kelly said he hopes to have his ‘starter' back by the Nov. 27 Illinois game, but that might not matter considering Collaros is playing at as high a level as any collegiate quarterback. The sophomore has completed 76 of 100 passes for 10 touchdowns and one interception. His rating of 210 easily leads the Big East, and would be a whopping 40 points better than the second-best efficiency rating if he had thrown the required 15 attempts per game. Collaros is 35 attempts short of that number now, but has a chance with three games left to reach the required 80 more if he continues to see major time and throws 27 passes per game. At 6-0, 209 pounds, Collaros has above-average open-field speed and agility and can make defenders miss in the pocket. His accuracy is as good as any signalcaller West Virginia has played, and the kid is simply oozing confidence and skill now. But he hasn't trailed much during his brief tenure, and a few picks could rattle his yet-unshaken confidence.

That's a difficult task with the talent around him, however. Cincinnati leads the Big East in scoring offense, total offense, and passing offense and efficiency and is near the top in everything else. UC rates in the high 90s in red zone scores, with the vast majority of those being touchdowns. This is an offense that doesn't hold the ball long – because it doesn't need to. Receivers Mardy Gilyard, Armon Binns and D.J. Woods all average at least 14 yards per catch and 55 per game, with Gilyard and Binns amassing eight and seven touchdown receptions, respectively. Eight players have at least 10 catches this season, and just two of those are below 10 yards per grab. This is an offense that challenges downfield and does it well. That's at least somewhat because of the line play. Two seniors and two juniors anchor, with sophomore right guard Alex Hoffman the lone player without at least four years in the program. Other than 6-2 center Chris Jurek, the tackles and guards range from 6-4 to 6-6. But only two are above 300 pounds, making the line agile and able to get into the second level and create added issues. This is a very difficult challenge for a WVU line that could be without Chris Neild for much of the game because of injury. The Mountaineer depth is thin, and while Cincinnati doesn't roll in a second wave consistently, any five-on-three/two (if Neild doesn't play much) match of usual starters is hard to overcome.

Add a dash of a decent running game to the mix, and the deck's stacked against WVU. Tailbacks Isaiah Pead and Jacob Ramsey have yet to reach 1,000 yards combined, but the two average 6.2 and 6.3 yards per carry, respectively, and have done enough to force defenses to stay honest. Collaros adds another 35 yards per game with four running scores on the season, and his ability to elude the rush as the pocket collapses looms large. West Virginia likely needs its best game of the season from its secondary, and to cut down on some of the yardage gained after the catch on crossing routes. Playing eight yards off the wideouts might slow UC, which could be the best idea to see if Collaros is patient enough to work the ball down the field. This is a kid used to getting big plays. If the Mountaineers can eliminate that and control the ground game and yards-after-catch, UC could begin to press a bit. The Bearcats have beaten some good foes in very tough places (at Oregon State) and finished in some tight home games (Fresno State and UConn). But other than USF, it doesn't appear many other UC opponents have the individual talent of West Virginia. The issue still is putting entire games together and not turning the ball over. Until that happens, there's no reason to think West Virginia can stay with Cincinnati – especially on offense. This Friday Night Special could be a lit up defense.

By The Numbers
West Virginia Cincinnati
Scoring Defense 20.9 ppg Scoring Offense 40 ppg
Rushing Defense 110.4 ypg Rushing Offense 157.9 ypg
Passing Defense 220.7 ypg Passing Offense 324.7 ypg

Advantage: Cincinnati

WVU Special Teams vs. UC Special Teams

Cincinnati averages a league-best 26 yards per kickoff return. It was held below its average against Connecticut, but has severely hurt some foes with its mix of high-powered offense and good starting field position. West Virginia cannot afford any breakdowns here, but that has yet to happen in a game. The Mountaineers are good for a couple sizeable bring backs per game, and have crippled halftime momentum in a few games by allowing scores right before the break. Gilyard is the concern here, and the senior also handles punt returns, though he has yet to score on either. Placekicker Jacon Rogers has made 10 of 14 kicks (four against UConn), but was struggling a bit prior to the last outing. Rogers has now made six of his last eight tries, but just one of longer than 41 yards. He is also the primary punter, but lacks the leg of West Virginia's Scott Kozlowski. The Bearcats coverage units, especially on kickoffs, have been above average. WVU needs a big play or two here to turn a game that might be decided by UC's offense alone. A big kickoff return, better coverage on both units and an execution edge will certainly help. Call this a toss-up entering.

By The Numbers
West Virginia Cincinnati
Net Punting 38.4 yards per punt Net Punting 33.3 yards per punt
KO Returns 23.7 yards per return KO Returns 26.0 yards per return
Punt Returns 10.5 yards per return Punt Returns 14.7 yards per return

Advantage: Even


On Offense: Jarrett Brown, Eric Jobe.

On Defense: Chris Neild, Keith Tandy.


This had bad match-up smeared all over it for West Virginia. The Mountaineers don't have enough playmakers in the secondary, don't have enough talent or defensive lineman to harass UC's pass protection and, on the flip side, WVU's offensive line likely won't be able to handle the 3-4 set, especially with a sizeable opposing offensive tackle. The Mountaineer front five has been average throughout the year, and if neither Brown nor Devine can get space and time in which to operate, this offense will put up similar numbers to what it has the past few games – and that's not good enough to challenge to win, let alone do so. West Virginia needs Collaros to make a few mistakes or press and for its special teams and offense to at least play with limited to no mistakes. Again, I'll believe it when I see it for the first time this year as a whole.

Cincinnati – 28 West Virginia – 14

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