UC-West Virginia Preview

Nov. 6, 2008


Now’s the time to put the “Big Boy” pants on Bearcat fans!

No, not those checkered red and white numbers the Frisch’s mascot wears; I’m talking Big East “Big Boy” pants.   As clichéd as it is, the title to the Big East runs through West Virginia!

The Mountaineers have no Big East losses, the Bearcats have one.  To seriously consider a BCS bowl berth and a big payday that would allow the staff to loosen up a notch on their belt buckles, UC must “man up” in Morgantown, and then probably hope for some help from Louisville, Pitt and South Florida.

To seriously be a factor in the eyes of the “big bowl spin doctors,” UC must figure out how to win a big game on the road.   On the upside, UC’s already won on the road in West Virginia.

However, that was Marshall.

The Mountaineers ain’t Marshall.   If you think the Herd fans are loyal, the Mountaineer fans are faithful, frenzied fanaticals.   A football game in Morgantown is an RV, tent-city, good ol’ fashioned revival meeting.

They take great pride in their “Country Roads” and they want to send you home with their Davy Crockett Mountaineer boot in your behind.

Make no mistake about it, as polite as any WVU fan may be (and truthfully some are not) they want to beat you down simply because they feel it’s their God-given right to do so.

They EXPECT to win.

They DO NOT fear the Bearcats in any way, shape or form.

This is what must change and this is the tough part:   UC’s only won at Milan Puskar Field ONCE!

Bill Stewart is the antithesis of former coach Rich Rodriguez.  Very homey and personable, he comes across as the luckiest guy on the planet just to get to wear a headset during WVU games.

The players like him too and Stewart has guided them to five straight wins since starting the season 1-2.

Back to UC’s one win at West Virginia….

hat came in 2003 on a rainy day when the Bearcats played some good ol’ ball control offense (go figure 2003?) and the legendary Chet Ervin connected on three field goals to down a Mountaineer team that featured everybody’s favorite Bengal lawbreaker Chris Henry.

How can UC win this one?

Well, Coach Kelly might have to take a page out of that day’s playbook and grind some clock.   If you keep Pat White and Noel Devine off the field, the less chance they have to beat you.

For more, here’s the all-important “Foggy Mountain Breakdown”….

WHEN:   Saturday night, 7 p.m. ESPNU and 700WLW (co-workers like the plugs)
WHERE:  Milan Puskar Field, Morgantown, WV
SERIES:  14-1 Mountaineers, with one “kissing of the sister”
LAST TIME OUT:   WVU holds off Mauk and the Bearcats 28-23 November 17, 2007 (if Jackson catches that ball late, UC wins)

You have to figure Tony Pike is the quarterback based on his performance when healthy.  Also, it’s clear that the passing game is far more precise when Pike is in the game and he’s done a good job of distributing the ball to multiple receivers (although Gilyard seems to be the big play man).  However, whether or not UC can effectively throw the ball on WVU is another issue.  The Mountaineers are ranked 15th in the country defending the pass.  So, can UC run on this team?   If Jake Ramsey and John Goebel can grind out some yards and “shorten” the game, that appears to be the way to go.  Again (sound of dead horse being beaten) I believe Isiah Pead can be a factor in this as he’s another dimension of back to deal with if you’re going heavy duty with the run game. Players to avoid:  WVU LB Mortty Ivy who just was named Big East Defensive Player of the Week.   Back to the UC QB situation, I don’t think Dustin Grutza would be healthy enough to play here as he would need some mobility, ditto for Chazz Anderson.   The wild card here if the Bearcats are trying to run it (cue dead horse again) is Zach Collaros. While he’s not Pat White, Collaros could give you that duel threat to throw the Mountaineers off.  That said (or written) I think it’s Pike’s game to decide.

NOD:   If UC can run the ball, I call it even and hope for some breaks.  If the game is dependent on the pass, WVU has the clear edge.

Pat White. Pat White. Pat White. Pat White.   Fortunately, there’s not four of him (although he does have a freshman brother on the roster for the future).  White was Big East Offensive Player of the Week for his game against UConn where he ran for 109 yards and was 11-18 passing for 121 yards—a typical Pat White game.   He’s faster than Matt Grothe of USF and has directed WVU to consecutive wins in the Sugar Bowl, Gator Bowl and Fiesta Bowl.    If White doesn’t get you, the WVU 10th-ranked NCAA rushing offense also has jitterbug Noel Devine, the best back UC’s faced outside of Donald Brown.    Then you can’t forget WR Jock Sanders who scored three TD’s in 6:13 of the third quarter vs. UConn.  The Huskies led 13-7 in the third at Rentschler Field, before WVU lit’em up for 28 straight and a blow-out win.   While Connor Barwin helped his NFL stock last week, he really could this week by somehow getting a paw on Pat White.  Lamonte Nelms has made big plays too this year and his resume would also be enhanced by having his number called out in this game.  And, I’m still waiting for Terrill Byrd to have a breakout game.   In the defensive backfield, Mike Mickens and D’Angelo Smith have both made the Senior Bowl.  This would be a perfect time to justify their invitations should White elect to lull the Bearcat defense into sleep and loft a few deep balls.

NOD:   Playing at home, WVU is tough to stop.  UC’s success here depends honestly on how many mistakes the Mountaineers can make (translation:  TURNOVERS!)

UC now sports two major award semi-finalists in Jake Rogers and Kevin Huber.  Rogers is in line to be a second UC Lou Groza winner (joining Jonathan Ruffin) while Huber is a Ray Guy front-runner.   Again, if this plays out to be a ball control game, UC might well need the leg of Jake Rogers and you can hope he kicks with the confidence Chet Ervin had back on that fall day five years ago.   D.J. Woods will break a punt this year—this game would be fine with me.  For the Mountaineers, Pat McAfee handles double-duty, although he’s a better placekicker than punter.   McAfee joins Rogers on the Lou Groza semi-finalist list and is 9 of 10 on tries, with three of those over 40 yards.   The WVU kick returner is Mark Rodgers, another freshman speedster in the continuous “stable of stars” in Morgantown.

NOD:   UC in the punt game, McAfee in the kick game on his home turf.  Both teams need to guard against long returns.

Ideally, this is not the game to come into with a bevy of QBs banged up to some extent and an offense that has relied primarily on the pass.   While I love seeing the ball go in the air and I think UC does it as well as anyone, if you throw three incompletions and sit down, you’re allowing one of the more powerful offenses in the nation to methodically dismantle you.   The Bearcats are 0 for the White era and the last QB I can recall to “run the table” against UC was Ben Roethlisberger.  Obviously, he went on to a pretty good career.  Even when UC intercepted Big Ben three times his senior year; he still found a way to win since he was so multi-dimensional.   Pat White is a smaller, but quicker and more productive version of what Big Ben was.    If somehow, White is knocked out of the game—that’s a whole different story.    West Virginia is still good enough to beat most people without White, but he’s the straw that stirs the “White Lightning” in Morgantown.

Both teams can add to their national prestige and resume with a win here.  It all comes down to turnovers,  if UC hangs onto the football and WVU spits it up enough, the Bearcats have a chance.