UC-WVU: Matchups to watch

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With the door again ajar for the Bearcats football program, this week officially becomes an elimination game for Cincinnati and West Virginia.

Pitt's loss to UConn leaves UC almost in control of its own destiny where winning out would put them in position to win the Big East.

There will be few tougher games than Saturday against West Virginia.

I want to remind everybody that I will have the live chat up and going from 11 a.m. through the end of the game. Just click on my old man face on the front page of GoBearcats.com and join the conversation with question, comments and hopefully some jokes about West Virginians.

Enough business, let's talk football.

The last time we saw the Bearcats they were beaten handily by Syracuse, 31-7, without starting quarterback Zach Collaros. With Collaros back at QB this week, he brings a lift and certainly some extra confidence for this offense.

The last time we saw West Virginia, they were suffering their second consecutive loss -- this time at UConn, 16-13 in overtime.

The loser moves on to next year as far as the chase for the Big East championship they hoped to be competing for goes. The winner can continue to hang on to hope in one of the oddest years in the history of Big East football.

Let's take a look at the matchups to keep an eye on...

Turnovers vs. Turnovers

WVU is 100th in the country in turnover margin. UC is 112th

This statistic has been the downfall of both these teams. The Bearcats haven't created enough and the Mountaineers can't stop giving them away.

In the two-game losing streak for WVU they have turned it over seven times and took it away only once. That includes four turnovers against UConn.

UC was able to pressure the quarterback force a fumble and grab an interception against Syracuse, but it was the first time they cracked the turnover code much this season.

Whether by WVU giving them up with fumbles or UC forcing them with interceptions, UC must win this statistic to win this game. Must. Period.

Jock Sanders vs. Reuben Johnson

UC has done a good job against the run this year for the most part, but even USF's B.J. Daniels was able to rack up some yards against the defense. And Daniels didn't have much for WR weapons.

Geno Smith does. Jock Sanders is among the best wideouts in the league. While he hasn't been the explosive threat the Mountaineers have hoped he would be, he does still lead the team in receptions with 46 for 413 yards. In a big third-down situation, he will be the first player Smith looks to.

Johnson made a pick against Syracuse, but needs to come up with some defensed passes on third downs to keep WVU from sustaining drives.

Armon Binns and DJ Woods vs. Keith Tandy and Brandon Hogan

West Virginia's defense doesn't allow much. There's a reason they are ranked fourth in the country in total defense and 10th against the run. Grinding out long, sustained drives is difficult. In fact, the Mountaineers are No. 2 in the nation in fewest first downs allowed per game.

How do you score on a team like that? Big plays. Who delivers those for UC? Woods and Binns.

Hitting long plays over the top will be maybe the best bet to put points on the board. 

West Virginia doesn't play a corner taller than 5-10. Binns stands 6-foot-3 and as anyone who reads this blog knows, jumps out of the building.

The key for Collaros will be to look off safety Robert Sands with his eyes and connect with Binns on the shorter DB. Two big plays may be all UC needs with the way the Mountaineers are struggling offensively.   

K Jacob Rogers vs. K Tyler Bitancurt

About 58,000 raging WVU crazies will be shaking the ground of Morgantown if Rogers lines up for a big kick in the fourth quarter. And the way these two teams have played each other in recent history and the similar paths they followed this season, there's no reason to believe a Rogers field goal couldn't end up deciding victory or defeat.

Plus, as difficult as points are to come by, the Cats must cash in if they make it into WVU territory. They've forced nine field goals in the last three games. 

Rogers is 8 of 10 on the season and has made seven in a row since missing from 52 yards out against N.C. State.

Bitancurt has been above average as well. He's connected on four in a row, including a key 42-yarder against UConn.

His two misses against LSU pretty much cost WVU the game in Death Valley.


As far as predictions go, I have never made one on this blog, nor will I start for this game. I will say this, however, UC wants this game to turn into a shootout. If they are able to move the ball on the WVU defense, it means they are enforcing their style and tempo. A close, low-scoring game would be exactly what the Mountaineers have been playing al year and where they are comfortable. 

As I said at the top, turnovers will probably decide which type of game that is. Enjoy it. 

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