I had to apologize to my girlfriend after WVU's 17-9 victory over Louisville on Saturday for dragging her to a sporting event that had such LEV (Low Entertainment Value).
Having seen WVU's thrilling victories over Auburn and North Carolina last year and some vigor in every home game this year, she knows from excitement. And Saturday wasn't it.
That said, it's a Big East victory. And I don't know—honestly, I don't—what it means for WVU's crucial Friday night game against seemingly unstoppable No. 4 Cincinnati.
My best guess: WVU has a puncher's chance against Cincy, but that's it. If you take away the worst from Saturday's lethargic win over Louisville (which didn't, by the way, look as bad on TV or TiVo yesterday), you will realize that WVU has a series of problems that need to be corrected:
- WVU's offensive line is a mess, being unable to open holes for running backs or protect quarterbacks.
- Their star running back is hobbling on a bad ankle and hip.
- Their starting quarterback has a sprained ankle and hasn't looked right since suffering a concussion against Marshall.
- Their receivers have developed a case of the drops and the defensive line is so banged-up, Coach Stewart is probably FedEx-ing a plane ticket from Hawaii for Tevita Finau, NCAA sanctions be damned.
If you look at the positives from Saturday's win, you may have come away with the following:
- Their kickoff coverage was responsible for only three points, giving up a big return just before halftime.
- Tyler Bitancurt continued his remarkable season making people forget Pat Whatisname (he's 8-for-9 on field goals).
- Jock Sanders (pictured) still knows how to play tailback.
- Tavon Austin has now scored a touchdown running, receiving and returning a kickof.
- Eu. Smith came in for one play and completed a pass under pressure and despite having to play 251-pound rush end Julian Miller at nose guard for the second half, WVU held Louisville without a touchdown, the first Big East team to do that this season.
(By the way: What has *happened* to Louisville? They look like a car that's been tuned and nitro'd to win a handful of races and then burn out, incapable of being fixed. What did Bobby Petrino *do* to them?)
Yes, Cincy's 711 yards of total offense Saturday against UConn under the guidance of a backup quarterback is impressive and daunting. Watching Cincy, they are the depiction of the well-oiled machine: Coach Brian Kelly has a sophisticated passing attack, the team has bought in, everyone knows where they need to be all the time, they don't drop passes and they don't fumble the ball. Literally. None so far this season.
The offense is a series of no-huddle, indefensible seven-yard passes, until it hits a 20-yard pass or the quarterback runs 75 yards for a touchdown. So good luck defending that.
That said, Cincy gave up 45 points to a UConn team that has no explosive weapons. What it has is a big, pounding offensive line that WVU nevertheless held to producing only 24 points.
If—and that's a big IF—WVU's offensive line performs better against Cincy than against Louisville, WVU will be able to move the ball on Cincy's defense.
The main reason that's a big IF? Josh Jenkins. The sophomore offensive guard had a terrible day against Louisville, responsible for an false start penalty and at least one Jarrett Brown sack, in which Jenkins was inexcusably backed by one defensive lineman —he was not double teamed—straight into Brown. Jenkins looks confused and weak. I don't know if it's technique, or what, but he's in trouble.
But will WVU be able to stop Cincy's offense? I'm obviously pessimistic because of WVU's cornerbacks, whose troubles have been well-documented here and seen by fans so far this season. The safeties, I'm not so worried about. But Cincy doesn't need long, over-the-top passes to move downfield. Seven-yard outs will do just fine.
The offense is built on three-stop drops, which makes it hard to bring pressure on the quarterback, and even harder if you have an injured defensive line. (Though it was good to see Scooter Berry back on Saturday and presumably back on Friday night.)
The season is down to this: WVU must beat Cincy, Pitt and Rutgers to win the Big East title and get the BCS bowl. The team's offensive body of work since the Marshall game is not impressive.
WVU must be able to revive its big-play offense on Friday night or else face the prospect of a third-tier bowl game.
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