WVU Claims Defensive Battle
West Virginia (7-3, 3-2) showed the Cardinals why it has the third-best scoring defense in the country, holding Louisville’s offense to just a field goal on its opening possession. After that the Cardinals got nothing - without some help.
“That was a tough football game and it was on the road,” said West Virginia coach Bill Stewart. “Any time you get a win in the Big East the way we’ve been knocking each other off all year you have to come away feeling good.”
In fact, West Virginia’s offense was responsible for all three touchdowns today – the two scored on the ground by Noel Devine and Ryan Clarke – and Louisville’s second quarter TD when West Virginia’s Geno Smith was blindsided by Louisville’s Rodney Gnat. Backside tackle Donny Barclay was beaten by Gnat, who knocked the ball out of Smith’s hands and it was eventually recovered in the end zone by Daniel Brown.
“My best offensive lineman got beat by their best defensive end and they got a touchdown out of it,” said Stewart. “The kid didn’t mean to get beat and you can’t win every single slug out there. (Sometimes) they are going to beat you.”
The defensive touchdown only gave Louisville a brief 10-7 lead because on West Virginia’s next possession the Mountaineers marched 82 yards in eight plays to get back into the end zone. Twice, Smith handled Louisville blitzes for nice gains, once scrambling for 16 yards to the Cardinal 37 and then later buying himself enough time to hit J.D Woods across the middle for 13 yards to the 50 on a third-and-10 play.
Two plays after that, Smith found a wide open Devine out of the backfield on a wheel route for a 48-yard hookup to the Louisville two, where Clarke scored on the very next play with 6:16 remaining in the half.
West Virginia was looking good after Louisville’s next possession when two straight losses and a short run gave the Cardinals a fourth and 23 at its own 20, but Brandon Hogan failed to catch Chris Philpott’s punt at the 35 and the ball bounced all the way to the West Virginia seven. Hogan failed to catch other punts battling the sun and wind, easily giving the Cardinals an extra 50 yards of hidden yardage.
After stuffing Louisville on its opening possession of the third quarter, West Virginia expanded its lead to 17-10 on a Tyler Bitancurt 43-yard field goal. The drive began at the West Virginia 44 and got a boost when Smith scrambled 12 yards to the Cardinal 38 on a third-and-four play. The Mountaineers moved the sticks once again before the drive stalled at the 25, where Bitancurt booted his 10th field goal of the season.
Louisville’s offense, bottled up on its side of the field for the remainder of the third quarter, finally got moving when when Justin Burke found Cameron Graham for 26 yards to the 41 yard line on a third down pass. A pass interference penalty called on Pat Miller gave Louisville another first down at the Louisville 48, but three consecutive runs by Jeremy Wright netted just four yards and forced the Cardinals to punt the ball back to West Virginia with less than eight minutes remaining.
The Mountaineers also couldn’t get a first down and gave it back to Louisville at its own 34 with 6:15 remaining in the game. Burke hit Graham down the near sideline for 16 yards to the 50 and he got four more himself on a scramble to the WVU 46 before two straight incomplete passes left the Cardinals with a fourth and six at the 46 with just 5 ½ minutes remaining in the game. Louisville coach Charlie Strong decided to go for it instead of pinning West Virginia back deep and Burke’s crossing pass to Josh Chichester fell incomplete, giving the ball back to West Virginia at midfield with 4:59 remaining on the clock.
Backup running back Shawne Alston came into the game and ran for a pair of first downs, totaling 36 yards on the drive and forcing Louisville to use all of its timeouts to put West Virginia into position to kick a game-icing field goal.
But Bitancurt’s 41-yard field goal try was blocked by 6-foot-9-inch Chichester – the third field goal attempt West Virginia has had blocked this year - giving the Cardinals the ball back at its own 24 with an opportunity to drive the length of the field for a potential game-tying touchdown.
On first down, Burke went back to a pass pattern he had some success with down the middle to Graham. This time, however, safety Sidney Glover got his hand on the football, tipping it to Tandy, who made his Big East-leading sixth interception of the season.
With Louisville (5-6, 2-4) now unable to stop the clock, West Virginia could run out the remaining 2:22 to end the game.
“Neither guy could catch the other guy in the blitz,” said Stewart. “Had that happened that score would have been a whole lot more – whichever direction – than 17-10. Those games happen.”
Louisville dipped into its bag of tricks early, trying a fake punt that netted 21 yards (Louisville’s longest running play of the game) and then a double-reverse pass that should have been intercepted by Tandy.
Louisville also came after West Virginia punter Gregg Pugnetti, who managed to get all seven punts off cleanly while averaging 44.9 yards per boot and putting two inside the 20.
“Pugnetti is probably our player of the game,” said Stewart. “They brought everything at that boy and he never blinked.”
The Cardinals finished the game with just nine first downs and 171 total yards, Philpott the punter actually outgaining the rest of Louisville’s ball carriers combined. Bilal Powell, who came into the game averaging a Big East-best 134.1 yards per game on the ground, had a net of zero yards rushing on four carries. Powell spent most of the game standing on the sidelines.
“They had 26 yards rushing and 21 of those came on a fake punt,” said Stewart. “For the offensive enthusiast, this is probably what you didn’t come to see.”
Burke, making his third consecutive start in place of injured starter Adam Froman, completed 12 of 24 passes for 145 yards. Graham had a game-high six catches for 95 yards.
Devine led West Virginia with 119 yards from scrimmage – 61 through the air and 58 on the ground – and is now 46 yards shy of breaking Avon Cobourne’s school record of 5,623 all-purpose yards.
Smith was most effective throwing the ball in the first half before misfiring on seven of his final nine pass attempts and finishing the game 9 of 20 for 133 yards. Still, that was enough to move him into second place among sophomore passers in school history with 2,003 yards. Marc Bulger threw for 2,465 yards during his sophomore season in 1997.
With Pitt’s 17-10 victory at USF earlier today, West Virginia still remains in contention for a share of the Big East title, regardless of what happens tonight at the Carrier Dome between Syracuse and Connecticut.
The Mountaineers (7-3, 3-2) travel to Pittsburgh to take on the Panthers (6-4, 4-1) in the annual Backyard Brawl at Heinz Field on Friday, Nov. 26.
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