UC-West Virginia preview

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Going into tonight's UC-West Virginia game, I wondered how the Bearcats felt about playing a Mountaineers squad that didn't feature Pat White - perhaps the greatest player ever in Big East history.


Not to say UC feared Pat White - by that I mean, feared him any more than any other team would (I think the fear was always there, though). But he was always a concern. The secondary's protection could be stellar, but White could break off a long scramble. The defensive line could put pressure on him all day, but he could always avoid the sack and throw an accurate ball to a receiver. The linebackers could back into coverage or they could spy on White, but it never seemed to matter much.


Pat White was just too darn good. So I wondered if the Bearcats felt a sense of relief this year that, after facing White the past four seasons, they wouldn't have to deal with him any longer. I expected somebody to agree with that sentiment, but no, apparently that's not how the Bearcats feel about it at all. Even without White, the Mountaineers still boast effective weapons in quarterback Jarrett Brown (64.8 completion percentage, 1,661 yards, 10 touchdowns, eight interceptions), running back Noel Devine (1,010 yards, 6.0 average, 10 touchdowns) and receiver Jock Sanders (58 catches, 555 yards, three touchdowns).


"White was more of an elusive runner, and he could get out of the pocket real fast," senior safety Aaron Webster said. "With Brown, he likes to throw and he has a big arm. He can throw deep and he can get the ball on the money with concept routes. They still have Sanders and they still have Devine, so they still have that threat in the running game. They can get it to Devine or Sanders and run that sweep or that option. It's the same team, but with a bigger arm."


Last year, the UC defense did a nice job shutting down the Mountaineers offense. The Bearcats held Devine to 58 yards on 19 carries while limiting the damage of Sanders. Now, they can focus on stopping the legs of Devine and the arm (and not necessarily the feet) of Brown.


"Pat White is a special player with his ability to run the football to keep drives alive," Brian Kelly said. "Brown is a big, physical kid. He's certainly not Pat White with his ability to run the ball. Those are hard shoes to fill. The offense is different because Pat White is not there. But Jock Sanders is much more involved. He's on the perimeter catching a lot of balls. Noel Devine is a stronger runner this year. You lost a Pat White, but Devine and Sanders are good players. Brown has thrown the ball more than Pat White, and he's been effective in doing so."


--Aside from the defense, which he didn't seem all that upset about last Saturday, Kelly put his hand over his eyes and shook his head when discussing the 87-yard punt return by UConn's Robert McClain late in the third quarter that cut the Bearcats lead to 13 points


"We made a huge mistake on special teams which gave UConn a great deal of momentum," Kelly said. "Our guys learned a valuable lesson about how they need to stay focused and not let up at any time."


Kelly described it as a "rebel pooch" punt. The Bearcats needed a high kick from Jake Rogers so at least two UC players could get behind the returner in the hopes that he'd let it go and they could down it before it reached the end zone for a touchback. The kick last Saturday was a bit flatter, and with a couple Bearcats running right by him, McClain caught the punt and scampered 87 yards for the touchdown.


"We had a couple guys not execute their assignments and next thing you know, touchdown," Kelly said. "I knew immediately when it was kicked, we were going to have an issue. Jake is a first-year punter, but he executed that same play flawlessly against Syracuse. Maybe we were asking him to do too much."


--A quick comment on what the UC win vs. West Virginia last year meant to the program.


"That was the team we knew we had to beat," senior receiver Mardy Gilyard said. "I don't know if everybody thought we could win that game, to be honest. They had Pat White and Noel Devine and that 3-3-5 defense they ran. We knew we needed that game - not just for ourselves but for the school and for the program. We needed to show we could beat the big dog in the Big East. They were that big dog."


--<b>My prediction</b>: I still think that without Pat White, the Mountaineers are just a completely different team. A team that's not as good. A team that won't beat the Bearcats. Say, UC 34, West Virginia 20.

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