USF a Tough Matchup
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Some teams just seem to match up well against other teams. Why Rutgers has had so much success against Connecticut through the years is anyone’s guess? Years ago, the same could be said for Pitt against Virginia Tech.
For whatever reason, USF seems to be the road block that is usually standing in the way of West Virginia. Whether it’s in Morgantown or Tampa, South Florida has more often than not had an answer for just about everything West Virginia has thrown at them.
“We have not done well with them in the past,” said West Virginia coach Bill Stewart. “All-time we are 2-3 and if I’m not mistaken, they have won three of the last four meetings.”
Nope, coach, you’re not mistaken.
Think back to 2006 when the seventh-ranked Mountaineers were gunning for their second straight Big East title when South Florida arrived in Morgantown on an unseasonably warm late November afternoon.
Pat White and Steve Slaton were coming off a record-setting performance at Pitt, both players producing more than 200 yards on the ground, and Mountaineer fans had every reason to believe another big game was in the cards.
Well, it didn’t happen. Slaton ran for only 43 yards on 18 carries while his buddy was held to just 17 yards on 15 carries. When West Virginia was able to get into scoring position it was forced to kick field goals instead of scoring touchdowns, and George Selvie’s big fumble return for a touchdown gave the Bulls a big early boost.
A year later the Mountaineers were supposed to deliver a payback but six turnovers, including linebacker Ben Moffitt’s pick six for the game’s first points, helped deliver a stunning 21-13 upset victory for the Bulls. South Florida didn’t run the ball particularly well (139 yards) nor did it throw the ball all over the lot either (135 yards), but it made just enough plays to knock off the nation’s fifth-ranked team.
South Florida’s 30-19 victory last year in Tampa delivered even more frustration. The Mountaineers opened the game with an 80-yard drive that ended with a Jarrett Brown 3-yard touchdown run. But South Florida immediately tied the game after gambling on a fourth-and-one play on its own side of the field when tailback Moise Planchar was able to run for two yards. Then on the very next play, quarterback B.J. Daniels took advantage of inexperienced cornerback Keith Tandy for a 49-yard touchdown pass to Carlton Mitchell.
The two hooked up again for 69-yard pass down the far sideline that led to A.J. Love’s 12-yard TD catch. Daniels had plays of 69, 49, 45, 25 and 23 yards and finished the game with 232 yards passing and three touchdowns and 104 yards rushing against West Virginia’s defense. It was by far his best game of the season.
“I hope we do not have the same plan for him as we did last year, because he ran for more than 100 yards and he threw for more than 230 yards and had three touchdown passes,” said Stewart. “Whatever we did last year, we better not repeat this year.”
So, does South Florida have West Virginia’s number? Possibly, says WVU’s Chris Neild.
“In all phases of the game, offense, defensive and special teams we haven’t done a good job against them and they’ve taken advantage of it,” Neild said. “When we play South Florida it’s always a challenge for us.
My first year here we lost to them and it was a home game. I guess you could say we overlooked them in past years but this year we are definitely not going to overlook them.”
The Mountaineers are averaging just 128.5 yards per game on the ground in their last two against USF and only 144.3 yards per game over the last four, which constitutes a trend.
Compare that to South Florida’s average of 178 yards rushing and 388.5 total yards in its last two games against the Mountaineers.
WVU’s big-play back Noel Devine has not been able to escape USF defenders, averaging just 56 yards in three career games against the Bulls; in his last two games, Devine’s longest run from scrimmage is a meager 14 yards.
The Bulls have scored on long pass plays, interception returns, fumble returns, sustained drives, quick drives … you name it. Even scattershot field goal kickers have been reasonably accurate against the Mountaineers, USF’s Eric Schwartz hitting three of three last year including a big 44 yarder in the fourth quarter when West Virginia was trying to get back into the game.
Perhaps the most telling stat is the number of turnovers West Virginia has committed against the Bulls – 12 in the last four games and 14 since the two schools began playing in 2005. In back-to-back losses in 2006 and 2007, West Virginia committed 10 turnovers with five of those being interceptions.
Some of that is on the Mountaineers and some of that is a result of outstanding play by South Florida’s defense.
“They have a lot of athletes on their team,” said West Virginia tight end Tyler Urban, who has faced the Bulls twice during his career. “In past years they have really been able to contain us. I guess just the amount of athletes they have on the field is something we don’t play week in and week out. Hopefully, we can get over that this year and make sure everybody is accounted for when we’re blocking them.”
The consensus among the players and coaches that talked to the press earlier this week is that South Florida’s defense hasn’t dropped off a bit with Skip Holtz running the program. First-year defensive coordinator Mark Snyder will bring just as much pressure as Jim Leavitt and Wally Burnham did when they were calling USF’s defenses, but Snyder is more apt to bring linebackers, safeties and corners as well.
That means West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith is going to have to make lightning-fast decisions - something his teammates say might be one of his best attributes.
“He’s just calm out there and when the game gets closer he usually gets better,” said tight end Tyler Urban.
West Virginia is going to need a solid performance from Smith on Thursday night. In the previous five games against USF, Mountaineer QBs Pat White and Jarrett Brown were surprisingly ordinary, completing a combined 60 percent of their pass attempts for four touchdowns - the two also throwing a combined seven picks with some of them coming at critical stages in the game.
Therefore, it really goes without saying that hanging onto the football will be tantamount to any success West Virginia enjoys on Thursday night against South Florida.
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