MORGANTOWN - The season still has three regular season contests remaining, but time is running out if preseason Big East favorite West Virginia (6-3, 2-2 Big East) is going to make a run at the conference title-as well as it's automatic BCS berth.
"We know we still have a chance to win," explained sophomore linebacker Doug Rigg. "We just have to do what we have to do."
And that begins at noon on Saturday when the Mountaineers travel to Paul Brown Stadium to face No. 23 Cincinnati (7-1, 3-0 Big East). The game will be televised on ABC with Mark Neely doing the play-by-play and Ray Bentley providing the commentary.
"Last year was kind of similar in a way," continued Rigg.
WVU bounced back from back-to-back losses to Syracuse and Connecticut to earn a share of the Big East title. However, the Huskies captured the BCS bid while WVU was sent to the Champs Sports Bowl to take on N.C. State.
"You can point the finger at a specific thing that happened during the game, but that's really not it," said head coach Dana Holgorsen. "That's not the problem. The problem is that offensively, we did well in spurts but did not have a winning performance. We weren't doing the specific things that it takes to dominate one side of the ball to the point that we win the game."
WVU at No. 23 Cincinnati
Game time: Saturday, Noon
- Spread: Cincinnati is a 3.5-point favorite.
- Series History: WVU leads, 15-3-1
- TV/Radio: ABC - (Mark Neely - play-by-play, Ray Bentley - analyst). Radio: Mountaineer Sports Network - (Tony Caridi - play-by-play, Dwight Wallace - analyst, Hoppy Kercheval - host, Jed Drenning - sideline). Twitter Updates - Twitter.com/WVUSportsScores; Twitter.com/WVUSportsBuzz
- Notes: WVU is 6-1 in games played in Cincinnati and 9-2-1 in Morgantown. WVU was 11-0-1 in the first 12 games in the series, winning the first two games, 50-0 in 1921 and 34-0 in 1922. The two teams played again in 1936, 1939 and 1940, with WVU winning the first two, 40-6 and 7-0, and tying the third game, 7-7. The Mountaineers won in 1969 (57-11), 1980 (41-27) and five more between 1987-2002. UC earned its first victory in 2003 and also won in 2007 and 2008. WVU won all three between 2005-07 and in 2010.
Now, WVU faces a "must-win" situation against a Cincinnati Bearcat program that leads the conference in scoring offense (39.1 ppg) and rushing defense (86.1 ypg). It also takes on a team that is in complete control of its destiny.
The 3-0 Bearcats can, pretty much, place a stranglehold on its third title over the last four years as well as relegate the Mountaineers to their worst finish in conference play since the team posted a 3-8 mark in Rich Rodriguez' first year.
"Cincinnati is a team that has found ways to win," continued Holgorsen. "They've been in a bunch of close games, but the one thing that stands out about them more than anything is the amount of effort they play with."
A lot of that coming on the offensive side of the football with seniors Zach Collaros and Isaiah Pead.
"It looks like they (Cincinnati) have a running back who they rely on quite a bit," said the coach. "They're going to give him (Pead) the ball quite a bit. If you have a feature back like that, along with a quarterback (Collaros) who can run 10 times a year, they'll try to weed you out."
A feat the Bearcats attempted to accomplish last year at Milan Puskar Stadium, but a Mountaineer defense that was ranked among the tops in the country held Pead to only 78 yards on eight carries and forced four turnovers en route to a 37-10 victory.
"It's going to be a challenge, as it is every week," said Holgorsen. "It doesn't really matter who we line up against in the Big East. It's going to be a challenge every week. Everyone's got equal talent, everyone has pretty much equal facilities and everybody is doing the same thing."
Everyone with the exception of this year's defense.
A year ago the old gold and blue led the Big East in scoring defense (13.5 ppg), total defense (261.1 ypg), rushing defense (86.5) and pass efficiency defense (110.5). Heading into its 10th game of the season, the prevent unit ranks last in scoring defense (27.4 ppg), third in total defense (331.9 ypg), and seventh in rushing defense (129.9).
"We've been through the tough times and we've been through the good times," explained senior defensive back Keith Tandy. "The key is for us (the seniors) to lead by example and get back to the fundamentals of the game."
If not, the dreams of this year's team will be just that-dreams.