WVU wins what might be the last Backyard Brawl for a while
Two games remain that will decide West Virginia's postseason football fate, over only one of which the Mountaineers can actually exercise any control.
After rallying to hold off Pittsburgh Friday night, 21-20, in what will likely be the last Backyard Brawl for at least a couple of years, No. 20 WVU moved back into the polls and moved closer to a potential BCS bowl berth that accompanies a Big East championship.
It was West Virginia's third straight victory over the Panthers and the 15th in the last 22 meetings versus the Panthers since 1990. The win was even sweeter for die-hard Pitt haters as the Panthers will have to win Saturday against Syracuse just be bowl eligible.
An artist's rendering of what WVU did to Pitt on Friday. (More specifically, what Stedman Bailey did to them.)
The Mountaineers (8-3, 4-2 Big East) have one game remaining at unranked South Florida (5-6,1-5) Thursday night. Those same Bulls could have made things much easier on WVU had they simply knocked off Louisville this past weekend, a victory that would have put WVU's destiny back into its own hands. But USF couldn't hold an early lead, falling 34-24 and guaranteeing the Cardinals (7-5, 5-2) at least a share of the Big East conference title.
Now WVU needs a win against South Florida to force at least a two-way tie for the Big East title. But the rub in that setup is that the tie would be with Louisville, which would win a tiebreaker over the Mountaineers thanks to the Gold and Blue home field meltdown against the Cardinals three weeks ago.
Thanks to the Mountaineers' generosity, Louisville stands to be the latest in a lengthening line of BCS blowouts-waiting-to-happen, following Pittsburgh (35-7 loss to Utah in 2004/05); Cincinnati twice (losing 20-7 to Virginia Tech in 2008/09, and 51-24 to Florida the next year); and Connecticut (a 48-20 victim of Oklahoma last year).
To keep that from happening, WVU must take care of business with USF and then tune into the Cincinnati game at UConn Saturday at Noon. If the Bearcats can pull out the victory, they would join the Cards and WVU in sharing the league title three ways.
In that scenario, in which WVU beat Cincy, the Bearcats beat U of L, and the Cards knocked off WVU, the BCS bid goes to the highest-ranked team in the BCS ratings, per Big East rules.
If Cincy can't pull out the win, get ready to laugh along with the rest of the country as Clemson or Virginia Tech devastates the Cards in the Orange Bowl, giving the Big East yet another black eye in the national spotlight.
The Mountaineers, meanwhile, will be buying somewhat upscale clothes at the Belk Bowl in Charlotte.
As expected, WVU coach Dana Holgorsen is keeping his team focused only on what can be controlled on the gridiron.
"We (don't) talk about it. We haven't talked about it all week,'' Holgorsen said in this Charleston Gazette article. "There was nothing we could do to help South Florida beat Louisville or what Cincinnati does or whatever. I mean, we can't control any of that.
“We've been talking about it [in team meetings] for two weeks as far as just worrying about what you can control. And the only thing we could do was doing our best to beat Pitt.''
Shawne Alston powers over Pitt for the game-winning touchdown.
Photo by Couch Member dubv
West Virginia looked like even that was a long shot early on against the Panthers, falling behind 20-7 in the second quarter thanks to a boatload of inept penalties, continued special teams miscues, and turnovers.
But WVU never gave in, using an adjustment on the right side of the offensive line to key two touchdown drives to take the lead. Freshman Quinton Spain and sophomore Curtis Feight took over duties on the right end, and Shawne Alston took advantage by punching in two touchdowns, including the game-winner.
After rushing for minus-2 yards in the first half, WVU adjusted the O-line with the duo taking over for Tyler Rader and Pat Eger to finish with 115 yards on the ground. Certainly not setting the world on fire, but it proved to be significant progress for a ground game that's struggled all year.
Spain and Feight will start against USF Thursday, which has allowed 105 yards rushing to opponents with an average of 2.7 yards per carry.
The Mountaineer's passing game was stalled somewhat from its usual stat-sheet fireworks, but junior QB Geno Smith still managed to break several records with his 241 yards on 22-of-31 passing. Smith finished with one touchdown, while his totals set new school single-season records for passing attempts, completions, yards, and total offense.
On the receiving end of the lone TD strike was Stedman Bailey, who finished with three catches for 80 yards, mostly from the 63-yard score. Bailey's stats moved him into the top spot for single-season receiving yards.
Receiver Stedman Bailey set the season record for receiving yards and finished with three receptions for 80 yards and a 63-yard touchdown. Tavon Austin caught 10 passes for 102 yards.
The WVU defense entered the Backyard Brawl with just 16 sacks total, but the unit blasted the Panthers' Tino Sunseri for 10 sacks, nine coming at crucial times down the final 25-play stretch.
Julian Miller led the way with a school-record tying 4 QB stuffs, all coming on his Senior Night and his birthday. Miller was named Big East Defensive Player of the Week for his effort, the second time in three weeks he's won the honor. He had 12 tackles total and two crucial sacks on Pitt's final drive, adding to his FBS-leading 27.5 career sacks.
After a rough early start, the defense held Pitt to just 4-of-20 success and matched the most sacks it's ever had in a Big East game. Pitt also had to settle for two field goals despite gaining field position deep in WVU territory after a fumbled punt return and turnover when a Mountaineer punt hit a WVU defender.
"You bitches enjoy the ACC."
The unit helped West Virginia over its three turnovers, along with its nearly 13-minute deficit in time of possession. The Mountaineers won despite converting just 2-of-12 third downs.
Oddly enough, the team's turnaround began with special teams. Former starter Corey Smith took his job back after Michael Molinari shanked a couple of punts for 22 and 27 yards to set up the Panthers. Smith averaged 57.2 yards on four kicks, totaling punts of 57, 50, 62 and 60 yards with two kicks inside the 20 of the opposition and one on the Pitt 2.
The 60-yard booted helped back the Panthers up too far to rally in the game's final drive in the last two minutes.
"It's a one-game season and we've got to make sure we come out focused and ready to play," Smith said in this ESPN article. "We can't have any letdowns."
South Florida started the season 4-0, including a victory at Notre Dame, but the Bulls have fallen off dramatically as of late, losing six of seven games. The Bulls need a win Thursday to avoid missing a bowl for the first time since 2004.
West Virginia beat USF 20-6 in Morgantown last year, but the Mountaineers have lost two in a row in Tampa. West Virginia lost 30-19 in 2009 and 21-13 in 2007 in its last two games at USF.
The Bulls have lost three straight at home, and will likely need former walk-on quarterback Bobby Eveld to lead them out of that skid.
Eveld, who replaced injured senior B.J. Daniels two weeks ago, completed 20 of 35 for 210 yards, a TD and an interception in last week's loss against Louisville. The sophomore looked sharp early in helping USF to a 14-point lead, but he couldn't rally past a stiffer U of L defense in the second half.
For WVU, Smith leads the Big East with 3,741 passing yards and 25 touchdowns with only five interceptions. USF's defense has allowed opponents 22 points per game, while WVU is averaging more than 35 points per contest.
The Mountaineers and Bulls kick off Thursday night at 8 p.m. on ESPN.
Trackback URL of this entry
The comments are owned by the poster. We aren't responsible for their content.