By John Antonik for WVUsports.com
November 30, 2011 07:27 PM
|Massive freshman offensive lineman Quinton Spain is expected to get his first start at right guard Thursday night against USF.
|All-Pro Photography/Dale Sparks photo
The last man standing gets the prize. At least that seems to be the case this season in the Big East.
Name another year when injuries have played such a key role in determining the outcome of the conference race. Think about it, where would Cincinnati be right now if Bruce Irvin had not rolled up Zach Collaros’ ankle in the second quarter of West Virginia’s 24-21 victory over the Bearcats back on Nov. 12? Likely in the barn with a Big East championship, that’s where.
Would Pitt’s season be different if Ray Graham hadn’t blown out his knee during the Panthers’ rout of Connecticut on Oct. 26? Likely so.
An injury to Will Stein played a factor in Louisville getting across the finish line with a 5-2 league record. If Stein doesn’t get hurt earlier this season, does Charlie Strong wait a little longer before going solely with hotshot freshman quarterback Teddy Bridgewater under center? Maybe so, maybe not.
Injuries have also played a determining role in South Florida’s substandard 5-6 record heading into Thursday night’s game against West Virginia. The Bulls have been without top receiver Sterling Griffin for the last four games – three of those losses coming to Rutgers, Miami and Louisville – although he is expected to return to the lineup against the Mountaineers.
Now, the question is who will be throwing the football to him, B.J. Daniels or Bobby Eveld? Daniels injured his throwing shoulder during USF’s 6-3 loss to Miami two weeks ago causing him to sit out the Louisville game. Some believe Daniels will play. Others are not so sure.
Perhaps even more pressing for USF is the rash of injuries that have taken place in the secondary, particularly at cornerback. Starting corners Quenton Washington and Kayvon Webster suffered concussions while trying to block Miami’s winning field goal on Nov. 19, forcing Webster to miss the Louisville game and Washington to not be cleared until two days before the game. Washington ended up hurting his shoulder against the Cardinals and missed the fourth quarter.
George Baker, who started in place of Webster against Louisville, bruised his ribs during the game and is listed as questionable. Another corner, JaQuez Jenkins, has been slowed by a hamstring injury, while key backups, Ricardo Dixon and Ernie Tabuteau, are already out for the year.
Don’t think for a minute Dana Holgorsen’s offensive assistants won’t be scanning the field to see which DBs are out there - and which ones are out there moving around a little slower than the others.
On the flip side, West Virginia has been pretty fortunate. No. 3 receiver Brad Starks went down in the Louisville game with a knee injury and has not played since. Linebacker Doug Rigg and safety Terence Garvin have missed starts because of injury, and others have played through injuries, but the Mountaineers have steered clear of major problems, although Holgorsen admits his offensive line is beginning to show signs of fatigue.
Don Barclay, Jeff Braun, Joe Madsen, Tyler Rader and Pat Eger have started all 11 games, and in the case of Rader and Eger, it’s starting to show.
“We’re worn down,” Holgorsen said. “That’s probably the biggest problem with what we’re experiencing up front. We have a little bit more depth on the defensive front than the offensive front – not much, but a little bit.
“Tyler Rader came in the year at 285 and is a lot less than that now,” said Holgorsen. “Eger is the same way. They’ve both lost weight, they’ve taken a lot of reps and taken a lot of practice reps.”
Both were replaced in the second half of last Friday’s 21-20 win over Pitt and Holgorsen says their replacements – Curtis Feigt at right tackle and Quinton Spain at right guard – will start Thursday night against USF. Both are 300-plus pounders who match up better physically with USF’s outstanding defensive front.
Holgorsen seems to have an approach very similar to the one Jim Carlen used to have at West Virginia in the late 1960s of not hitting much during the season. Carlen once said that he wasn’t going to lose football games on the practice field by beating up his players, and it looks like Holgorsen subscribes to a similar philosophy.
“There’s a fine line between taking too many reps and getting them ready to go, and not taking enough reps and not having them ready to go,” admitted Holgorsen. “It’s just the way it is.”
At this time of the year everyone is banged up and sore. The ones who can put that aside and play though it are the ones who will be wearing the rings at the end of the season.
“Whatever we did to prepare to beat Cincinnati, whatever we did to prepare to beat Pitt, we have to do it again,” said Holgorsen. “We don’t have any time to rest or feel good about a victory. We have to prepare in five days to go win the game. We can rest after that.
“This team will be remembered for what happens on Thursday night.”Be sure to check out today's travel photos to Tampa on Mountaineer football's official Facebook page http://www.facebook.com/wvufootball. Click the "Like" button to have football news, photos and videos delivered right to your face book wall.
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