MORGANTOWN-A season of promise has turned into one big nightmare as a pair of struggling programs prepare to face off against one another when West Virginia University (5-3, 1-2 Big East) collides with the University of Cincinnati (3-5, 1-2 Big East) at noon on Saturday.
"Cincinnati is a team like us that had a drop here and maybe a missed assignment there," head coach Bill Stewart explained during his weekly teleconference. "They have lost a couple of games that some may say they shouldn't have, as some may say we have. It will be an interesting match up."
One which has gone the way of the Bearcats the past two seasons.
"We look forward to playing them," continued Stewart. "They have gotten us the last two years, so I hope our crowd is here in full force because we are going to need you."
But, which crowd will show up at Milan Puskar Stadium for the Mountaineers' fourth conference showdown of the season? The one which cheered the old gold and blue lustily-even during a 20-14 loss at LSU-or the one which nearly booed the team off of the turf at Mountaineer Field during an embarrassing 19-14 loss to Syracuse.
"I think we're alright," starting center Joe Madsen explained. "We just need to regain our composure, come out and keep fighting like we always do.
- The game will be televised as part of the Big East Network with Mike Gleason handling the play-by-play with John Congemi providing the analysis and Eamon McAnaney on the sideline.
- Noel Devine's 67 yards in the loss at Connecticut gives the senior 4,074 yards during his career in Morgantown. The Florida-native trails only Avon Cobourne (5,164), Pat White (4,480) and Amos Zereoue (4,086) on the Mountaineers' all-time career rushing list.
- Despite its back-to-back losses at the hands of the Bearcats, WVU still holds a sizeable margin in the all-time series with Cincinnati, 14-3-1.
"There will be mistakes and things are going to happen that you can't control, but we need to try and control them the best we can."
One thing Madsen and his offensive teammates can correct involves the number of turnovers the unit has committed in back-to-back losses to the Orange and Connecticut (16-13 OT).
Seven fumbles, four of which ended up in the hands of the Huskies, were the main contributors to WVU's most recent setback while three first half interceptions thrown by sophomore quarterback Geno Smith dug a hole too deep for the talent-ladened Mountaineers to climb out of in the loss to Syracuse.
"You reinforce it (ball security) with drills and constructive criticism," said the coach. "If you think that there is no discipline on this football team, then look around town and watch how the Mountaineers act."
But, turnovers haven't been the only thing plaguing WVU's offense these days.
Inconsistent line play as well as questionable play calling at critical times has left fans calling their favorite talk radio show or typing on the internet and venting their frustrations.
"It's not like we're taking all of the criticism," explained Madsen.
"Everyone is taking it, it's just the line's job to protect and give him (Smith) time and sometimes that doesn't happen. I wouldn't say we're taking all of the blame, but it happens."
Madsen and the rest of the front line could do a lot to silence that criticism with a good showing against a Bearcat prevent unit which is giving up 425.2 yards and 24.2 points per game-268 through the air.
"He (Smith) is not going to make every single play, every single time," said Stewart. "Geno is a pretty good quarterback. He is just young, and he is going to have a bright future with this offense."
Defensively, WVU will face a Cincinnati offense which will be minus Tony Pike-who threw for two touchdowns in a 24-21 win last year in the Queen City-but returns Zach Collaros, who completed 17-of-24 attempts for 205 yards and one interception.
"It is going to be a real challenge," said the coach. "Our defense has not seen an offense like this. They have some skill and have the No. 1 and No. 2 receivers in the league."