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

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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!

Photographs by dizfunk used in background montage under Creative Commons. Thank you.