Posted by Tony Caridi on Monday, October 27, 2008 (9:45 am)
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That was quite a three days for the Mountaineer football program. Let’s see, on Thursday night we watched them blossom before our eyes.
On Saturday, we watched both Pitt and South Florida fall and before you could say Ovid Goulbourne, the Mountaineers had ascended to the top of the Big East standings. I don’t know about you, but there was something very settling about looking at the standings Sunday morning and seeing West Virginia in first place. It was one of those that’s-how -it’s-supposed-to-be moments.
But there is little time to enjoy the moment because I’ve done some research and to my knowledge they have never awarded the Big East Conference championship in October.
Saturday’s showdown with second place Connecticut has the makings of a classic. The Huskies will bring the nation’s leading rusher, an 11-game home win streak, and a year’s worth of revenge into the game.
West Virginia will head north with the keen understanding of what happened to them the last time they played a road game against a squad they had previously pounded. Can you say East Carolina?
You probably don’t need to be reminded that West Virginia crunched ECU 48-7 in Morgantown last season and then fell 24-3 in Greenville this year. Well, a year ago in the de facto Big East title game, West Virginia ran over Connecticut 66-21, which means the Mountaineers better be ready Saturday.
Coach Bill Stewart will use the East Carolina loss as one of his key themes when talking with his team this week. In his Sunday afternoon teleconference Stewart said he has great respect for the Huskies. “Our people better get that in their heads. They celebrated Thursday night, Friday and they enjoyed it a little bit yesterday but our Mountaineers better crank our engine. If you saw the fourth quarter of UConn, wow, I saw a defense get after people and that was impressive.”
Saturday’s game features the conference’s top two running backs in Connecticut’s Donald Brown and West Virginia’s Noel Devine. Last year against West Virginia, Brown rushed for 129 yards on 22 carries with a touchdown. That’s an average of six yards per carry. Devine rushed for 118 yards on 11 carries, an average of 11 yards per carry. Devine also scored a touchdown.
Steve Slaton was held to 54 yards by the Huskies in that game. The biggest problem Connecticut had was slowing down Patrick White, who galloped for 186 yards on 16 carries while scoring two touchdowns.
However, the biggest key in last season’s game and what will be the biggest key in this week’s game: turnovers. The Huskies philosophy is plain and simple: they’ll patiently wait for the opposition to screw up and then feast on that mistake. That is why Don Nehlen currently resides in the College Football Hall of Fame.
Last Saturday against Cincinnati, the Huskies were just hanging around with less than seven minutes to go in the third quarter with a 17-16 lead. Then suddenly there was a Bearcat turnover implosion and the final score read Connecticut 40, Cincinnati 16.
A year ago in Morgantown, the Huskies lost the turnover battle 3-1 and that’s why the Mountaineers had such an easy time. This Saturday the big names - Pat White, Noel Devine, and Donald Brown will all make big plays - but the game will ultimately be decided on which team has the bigger turnover number on the final stat sheet.
For the Mountaineers, it’s all about limiting their mistakes while also showing that they have learned from the mistake of not taking an opponent seriously enough, regardless of what happened the previous year.
By the way if you’d like to keep up with what’s going in my sports world I have begun to Twitter. I never thought I would write that. You can join me at www.twitter.com/tonycaridi