WVU Runs Record To 5-1 With Victory Over South Florida

Big East Conference play opens for the Mountaineers in Morgantown tonight as they face the University of South Florida Bulls.

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WVU Vs. South Florida: Breaking Down Last Night's Victory

I thought last night's Mountaineer victory versus South Florida was a big one for the old gold and blue.  USF has had the Mountaineers' number lately, and the 'Eers haven't posted a convincing victory against the Bulls since Pat White was a freshman.  Last night was refreshing, and it's always nice to be under the lights at Mountaineer Field.  Here are my thoughts, on both sides of the ball.

First, the defense. And, my oh my, THE DEFENSE. This is the unit that is quietly becoming one of the best in college football.  The opportunistic secondary really stepped up last night, hauling in the three interceptions and generally making BJ Daniels look miserable. Robert Sands' pick to set up a Mountaineer touchdown right before halftime was the play of the game. That play and the hook and ladder that followed essentially put the Bulls to bed before the game had reached the halfway point. Keith Tandy hauled in his fourth interception of the season as he continues his amazing transition this season from goat to glory. The defensive front doesn't blitz, but Neild does a great job keeping people busy to let Bruce Irvin do his thing. Seeing a Mountaineer defensive end get to the quarterback is a thing of beauty. It hasn't happened much since Jeff Casteel and his 3-3-5 came to town. 

But now, let me get to the offense.  The way this offense runs has been a point of contention since the RichRod spread gave way to the Jeff Mullen "Do We Have A Plan Here?" offense. I say, emphatically, YES, there is a plan and it seems to be working. I spent the greater part of the fourth quarter last night texting back and forth with Sam from The City of Morgantown as he bemoaned the lack of passing and scoring in the second half.  I say, it's by design. The 'Eers came out throwing last night and moved the football with ease, setting up a beautiful 31-yard touchdown to Bradley Starks. Now, often Sam (and others) will say, "Why do we continue to run Devine and Clarke inside? That's not where our skills are! It's a waste!" but without those play calls, we can't ensure that an opposing defense will respect the play-fake that left Starks all alone in the middle of the field.  The whole stadium knew where the ball was going before Geno let it rip.  Seriously.  The only people who didn't know were the South Florida D who were to concerned with an inside running play that wasn't actually happening.

People also like to bemoan the bubble screen. It's an infuriating play, I know. Throw the ball 20 yards in the air for a one-yard gain. It seems risky, though there is enough speed on the outside to break just enough of them to make it worthwhile. Yesterday, the 'Eers threw three or four of them early, to groans from the Mountaineer faithful. Then, in the waning moments of the first half, the Mountaineers capitalized by calling a hook and ladder off of a bubble screen. The entire defense converged on Sanders, but it was too late - Devine had the ball and was in the endzone.  It couldn't have happened without the proceeding bubble screens. I'm starting to have faith in all aspects of this team, and I think it's important to remember that those plays that may gain no yards, or just one or two, can reap dividends later in the game.

Finally, there are cries this morning that the offense went to bed in the second half.  I just didn't see it that way. South Florida kicked a field goal on a quick drive to start the third. The Mountaineers got the ball back and proceeded to burn nearly ten minutes off of the clock by running Clarke up the middle. Over and over and over and over. I don't see the harm there. It's not exciting. It doesn't lead to a ton of points, just three. However, the value of depleting the rest of the clock in the third quarter can't be overstated. If the strategy employed by the Mountaineer coaching staff is to throw early, run late and let the defense do the rest, I think that will lead to a pile of Mountaineer victories by season's end. There is no reason why this team can't run the table and win the conference. It may not be a point-heavy approach, but it doesn't need to be.

Remember, people, if you're playing like the Mountaineer defense is right now, a 14-point victory is a blow-out.

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WVU Piles Up Interceptions Against USF

Sports Network | October 14, 2010

Morgantown, WV (Sports Network) – Geno Smith outplayed counterpart B.J. Daniels, throwing for 219 yards and two touchdowns, as No. 25 West Virginia downed South Florida, 20-6, in Big East action.

Smith was efficient, completing 24-of-31 passes, while Daniels tossed three interceptions and threw for just 119 yards before being benched late in the fourth.

West Virginia (5-1, 1-0 Big East) won despite getting just 56 rushing yards on 23 carries from the combination of Noel Devine and Ryan Clarke.

The Bulls (3-3, 0-2) were paced on the ground by Moise Plancher’s 63 yards. Daniels, usually effective on his feet, ran for just four yards on 14 carries. Dontavia Brown hauled in 11 of Daniels’ 20 completions for 98 yards in defeat.

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WVU Mountaineers vs. USF Bulls: Big East Conference Play Opens In Morgantown

It's the first night game in Morgantown this year!  You know what that means, right?  It means public schools closed early. It means everyone who had to go to work (like this guy) plans on blowing out a little bit early.  It means the students have been drinking for awhile since last night. It means that tonight under the lights the Mountaineers make their first strides towards returning to the top of the Big East conference after letting the Cincinnati Bearcats borrow it for the last couple of seasons.  Things to watch for tonight when the 'Eers and Bulls take the field:

  • What does the Skip Holtz era of USF Football look like?  This is the biggest question on the minds of most of Mountaineer Nation.  Jim Leavitt had the Mountaineers' number while he coached the Bulls.  The Mountaineers have managed to win only one of the last four against USF, and even that one needed some late game Pat White heroics to get pushed into the win column.  Leavitt's gone, but in his place is Skip Holtz, known to most in Morgantown as the Son of Lou, but also the guy who beat the 'Eers two years ago as the head coach of East Carolina.  So needless to say, those in the old Gold and Blue have a healthy respect for anyone coming in in Green and Gold.

  • Which BJ Daniels will come to play?  Last season, Daniels torched the Mountaineers in the air and with his feet to lead the Bulls to a 30-19 victory over the 'Eers.  Luckily for West Virginians, Daniels has struggled this year and comes into this game off of a woeful performance against Syracuse where he completed less than 40% of his passes.  Currently, Daniels has only found the endzone 4 times, while getting picked off 7 times.  If the opportunistic Mountaineer secondary can capitalize on Daniels inaccuracy, it could be a long night for the Bulls.

  • Which Mountaineer offense will show up? Will it be the one who threw early and often against UNLV, or will it be the one with the frustrating tendancy to counter-balance it's speedy advantage by running inside, behind a less than steller line.  Though the line has improved over the last few games, the Mountaineers need to get the ball to the outside in order to make things happen, so I expect a lot of short passing and misdirection early.  Leave the grind it out running attack to Clarke in the fourth quarter.  Go with speed in the first three, and the Mountaineers should score early and often.
  • Where will the Mountaineers consistency come from? Devine, Sanders and Smith seem to be the only known commodities on offense, though Austin has shown flashes of being a star in the making.  At various points this season Stedman Bailey, Brad Starks, JD Woods and Will Johnson have had breakout moments and then fallen off of the radar immediately following their headlining games.  If the Mountaineers can get just one of these players to join their trio of consistency then the Mountaineer offense will be hard to defend by anyone. For a perfect example of how fluky some aspects of the Mountaineer offense have been, check out The City of Morgantown's fantastic Safety in Numbers column.  Some head-scratchers there.
  • Can the Defense lead the way?  The Mountaineer Defensive unit is 7th in the nation right now.  We can thank woeful offenses in College Park and Baton Rouge for that one.  That said, the talent is there, and this unit will write the story of the rest of the season by how they play in-conference.  Daniels may be the best quarterback they face the rest of the season, so tonight will be a very telling example of how far along the D is, or isn't.

I'm off to the stadium shortly, and will try and update in the comments section when possible.  There's the potential for tonight's game to be played in the rain, as it's been slate gray all day here in town, so that might factor into whether you hear from me again.  Either way, it's an exciting time when your team starts their conference play, because you know things are just starting to get good!

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