Defense Shuts Down USF
Both happened again tonight.
“It was a tough football game played by tough guys,” said West Virginia coach Bill Stewart, now 24-9 in two-plus seasons on the Mountaineer sidelines. “It was a total team victory and I’m just real glad we were able to get out of here with a win because they have sure had our number.”
WVU’s secondary picked off three B.J. Daniels’ passes, including one by safety Robert Sands right before the end of the first half that helped give the Mountaineers enough breathing room against the Bulls, now 3-3, 0-2.
USF was looking for points with a minute left in the first half, taking over at its own 14 yard line with two timeouts remaining. But Daniel’s rollout pass down the far sideline intended for Evan Landi was poorly thrown right into the arms of West Virginia safety Robert Sands, who returned the ball 28 yards to the USF seven.
Then West Virginia offensive coordinator Jeff Mullen dipped into his bags of tricks, calling a hook and lateral where Jock Sanders caught a pass from Geno Smith at the 11. Trailing the play was running back Noel Devine, who took the pitch from Sanders and out-ran the South Florida defense to the corner of the end zone for a touchdown. The play was officially ruled as a minus-4-yard reception to Sanders, and Devine was credited with 11 receiving yards and the touchdown. Smith got credited with seven passing yards and a touchdown on the play to give the Mountaineers a 17-3 halftime lead.
“We wanted to get a score,” said Stewart of the decision to call a trick play right off the bat. “The last time I called one of those it was a double pass and you would have thought I was out here killing people at the grocery market.”
Smith’s other TD pass was much easier to explain, the sophomore flipping a pretty 31-yard strike to Brad Starks. It was Starks’ fourth touchdown catch in his last two games after failing to catch a pass in West Virginia’s first four games.
West Virginia (5-1, 1-0) got field goals on its opening drives of both half, taking the ball from its 20 to the USF 10 before Tyler Bitancurt punched in a 27-yarder.
Bitancurt’s second field goal covered 24 yards after West Virginia drove the ball 50 yards to the USF seven. The big play in the drive was a 29-yard Smith-to-Tavon Austin hookup on third and 17 at the WV 33 that moved the ball to the South Florida 38. West Virginia converted another third down at the USF 17 when fullback Ryan Clarke went for four yards on a third-and-one play.
“That third quarter we came down there and we had to try and control that clock and when we went down there and got those three points that was big time,” said Stewart. “That was a big drive in the third quarter and I’m really proud of the offense for that.”
Bitancurt’s field goal answered Maikon Bonani’s second field goal, a 47-yarder after South Florida’s drive stalled at the WVU 30.
Bonani’s first field goal, a 36-yarder, was the result of Lindsey Lamar’s 55-yard kickoff return and a pass interference call on West Virginia corner Brandon Hogan for failing to get turned around on Daniels’ third and 14 pass intended for Dontavia Bogan.
“It was a game of field position and the kicking game and I was really proud of our defense,” said Stewart.
South Florida’s offense finished the game with just 13 first downs and 202 total yards, going 1 of 11 on third down. Daniels, who threw three touchdown passes and accounted for 336 yards of offense during last year’s game in Tampa, finished tonight with 119 yards passing and four yards rushing. He was sacked five times.
“We got home when we blitzed when last year we didn’t and we leveraged the ball when last year we didn’t,” said Stewart. “Every big play they had (last year) we didn’t leverage the ball.”
Smith completed 24-of-31 passes for 219 yards and two touchdowns – the fifth time in six games this season the sophomore has passed for at least two TDs in a game.
“This was his sixth collegiate start,” said Stewart of his quarterback. “I saw him do some things tonight that I was really pleased with. I went over one time to him early in the fourth quarter and I said, ‘Geno, you don’t have to check into the exact, greatest play in the world.’ He wants to get us into the best play every time and he’s getting really close to doing that.”
"I thought their passing game was impressive and I thought they did some good things early and moved the ball down the field," said USF coach Skip Holtz.
Jock Sanders caught 10 passes for 31 yards – the fewest yards in school history for a receiver with at least 10 receptions in a game. The previous high was Noel Devine’s 10-catch, 61-yard performance in West Virginia’s 24-21 overtime win at Marshall on Sept. 10.
Devine once again had a tough time finding running room against South Florida’s defense, finishing the night with just 29 yards on 13 carries. Devine finished his career with just 197 yards on 51 carries in four career games against the Bulls.
“We just couldn’t get the little guy loose,” said Stewart. “When we go spread South Florida just matches up, and that’s what has happened the last four or five years.”
Fullbacks Ryan Clarke and Matt Lindamood were a little more effective running right at USF’s defense, combining for 49 yards and picking up a pair of key third-down conversions late in the game to keep the clock moving.
“I got very frustrated in the fourth quarter,” admitted Stewart. “I wanted to keep moving the ball but we were coming up fourth and one, fourth and two and fourth and three; we were doing good things but we just couldn’t finish those.”
Tonight’s victory was West Virginia’s 12th straight home win under Stewart, whose teams are now 16-1 in games played in Morgantown.
A crowd of 54,955 attended tonight's game.
West Virginia has eight days to get ready for 4-1 Syracuse, who plays host to Pitt this Saturday at the Carrier Dome.
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