Defense Stymies Bearcats
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Geno Smith threw four first-half touchdown passes before taking the air out of the football in the second half, leading West Virginia to a 37-10 victory over Cincinnati Saturday afternoon at Milan Puskar Stadium.
“That was a total team victory,” said West Virginia coach Bill Stewart. “I had hoped that we could make some adjustments and we did. We made a complete overhaul the last two weeks and we found some things we needed to do better and we did that today.”
Smith threw TD passes of 32, 10, 48 and 5 yards – two each to Tavon Austin and Jock Sanders - to build West Virginia’s lead to 30-3 at halftime. In the second half, WVU went predominantly to the ground, attempting only three passes and at one point running the ball 22 straight times against a worn out Cincinnati defense.
"At one point we wanted to run the clock and keep the chains moving and I was really pleased with the way the guys stepped it up and took it to them today," Smith said.
After Cincinnati scored on its first possession of the second half, an Isaiah Pead 53-yard touchdown run on fourth and two, the Mountaineers were able to answer with a nine-play, 80-yard drive that featured the running of Noel Devine and Ryan Clarke, and a Smith-to-Sanders bubble screen for 19 yards that took the ball to the Cincinnati 31. However, the key to the drive was a personal foul penalty called on Cincinnati’s John Hughes for slapping Smith in the head on an unsuccessful third down play that would have given the ball back to the Bearcats.
"A personal foul penalty is a player trying to play hard," said Cincinnati coach Butch Jones. "It was a mistake and it happened, but then we have to be able to recover from that. I just don't think that we were able to recover."
Instead of punting at the WVU 24, the Mountaineers got new life at the 39. Six plays later Devine skirted in from 13 yards out to make it 37-10.
Cincinnati made a number of errors, both mental and physical, that enabled West Virginia to register its biggest blowout win in conference play since beating Connecticut 66-21 here in 2007.
The Bearcats (3-6, 1-3) committed 10 penalties for 96 yards, turned the ball over four times (one Zach Collaros interception in the end zone taking sure points off the board and another leading to WVU’s fourth score), were 0 for 12 on third down, and only got the ball to Pead eight times on the ground after he burned the Mountaineers for 175 yards in last year’s game.
"We knew we had to start fast and then the ball hits one of our players (blocker Munchie Legaux on a punt), they recover it, and we gave up a touchdown," said Jones.
The Bearcats had a 30-6 run-to-pass ratio in the first half and finished the game with 45 pass attempts compared to just 16 runs.
West Virginia, meanwhile, committed only two penalties, posted 29 first downs, 245 yards rushing and had a 13-minute advantage in time of possession. Defensively, the Mountaineers were once again exceptional, limiting a Cincinnati offense that was ranked No. 1 in the Big East in total yardage to only 281 yards – nearly 140 below its season average.
Cincinnati’s 60 yards rushing marked the fifth time this season that West Virginia’s defense has held an opposing team below 100 yards rushing.
"I think we took away some of their bread-and-butter things early on and that really helped us," said WVU defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel.
Collaros was under heavy pressure all afternoon, completing 25 of 45 passes for 221 yards with two interceptions. He was also sacked five times, fumbled once, and was called for intention ground in the end zone that resulted in a safety.
The signature play of the game for the defense came midway through the first quarter when cornerback Keith Tandy nailed D.J. Woods on a bubble screen, jarring the ball loose and requiring Woods to get assistance coming off the field. Woods did return, but only managed to catch three passes for 32 yards.
“It was a physical game,” said Stewart.
Armon Binns led Cincinnati with 10 catches for 115 yards.
"We were behind all game and this is a very difficult team to come from behind and win, especially here at Mountaineer Field," said Jones.
Smith completed 15 of 25 passes for 174 yards – 150 of those yards coming in the first half – and now shows 19 touchdown passes for the season.
Sanders caught six passes for 97 yards, including a career-long 48-yard TD reception.
“We tried to push the ball vertically today and I thought we were rewarded for that in the first half,” said Stewart.
Devine ran 18 times for 77 yards to move into third place on West Virginia’s career rushing list with 4,151 yards, passing Amos Zereoue’s 4,074 yards accumulated from 1996-98.
Sophomore Shawne Alston ran 17 times for 75 yards, all in the second half, while Ryan Clarke contributed 29 yards on the ground. Clarke had a chance to put six more points on the board for West Virginia at the start of the fourth quarter, but he was stopped short of the goal line on fourth and inches when he chose to go airborne instead of using his leverage to power into the end zone.
“I’m disappointed we didn’t get that 44th point,” said Stewart. “I don’t understand why we couldn’t get the ball in from six inches. That is the only disappointment I had today.”
Although the drive did not end with points it did eat more than 6 ½ minutes off the clock.
West Virginia (6-3, 2-2) snapped its two-game losing streak and is now back in the Big East race after Connecticut defeated Pitt and South Florida downed Louisville in overtime. After today’s action there will be five teams with a realistic chance of catching the 3-1 Panthers after all eight teams were still in contention at the beginning of the day.
With six wins, the Mountaineers now join USF and Syracuse as bowl-eligible teams from the Big East.
"We came out with every intent on winning today and we felt after Pitt lost that it gave us a second life," said Smith.
West Virginia is back on the road for a pair of conference games, first going to Louisville next weekend and then playing at Pitt over Thanksgiving before returning to Morgantown to finish the regular season against Rutgers on Dec. 4.
The Scarlet Knights lost to Syracuse 13-10 in Piscataway.
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