CINCINNATI — Talk is cheap.
Tickets to tonight’s game between West Virginia University and Cincinnati are not.
With the Big East championship possibly at stake, with the resurgent Bearcat program at heights no one could have seen five years ago, with a national television audience staring in from afar, this meeting between the two nationally ranked powers has this quiet old city on the banks of the Ohio River buzzing.
Cincinnati brings a No. 5 ranking in all polls into the 8 p.m. game that will be shown on ESPN2, WVU having jumped back into the rankings at No. 24 in the USA Today coaches’ poll.
The Bearcats are unbeaten through nine games, five of them in Big East Conference play. WVU is 7-2 and has won three of four conference games.
“This is what you want. This is why you play the game,” West Virginia quarterback Jarrett Brown said.
“This is what you dream for. This is what you came to college for. This is the reason you choose West Virginia, playing games like this,” Brown’s deep-threat wide receiver, Alric Arnett, added. “This is like a high school rivalry game. You don’t have to tell anyone to get up for this game. They already know.”
Cincinnati is 10-point favorite, but history says the game will be closer than that.
“We are anticipating a tough football game,” West Virginia coach Bill Stewart said. “We have played each other pretty tough over the years.”
Stewart recalled how one meeting between the two teams ended with a Cincinnati field goal hitting an upright, and how two years ago WVU pulled out a 28-23 victory.
Then, of course, last year the Mountaineers tied the game at Milan Puskar Stadium on Pat McAfee’s last-second field goal before losing in overtime.
To win, West Virginia must play better than it has leading into the game. After showing a high-powered offense built around the passing attack through the first five games, WVU has diminished over the past four games.
The Mountaineers have not scored 30 points in any of the last four games and not scored 20 in the past two games. The passing game, which accounted for 879 yards through the first three games, has accounted for only 458 in the past four games.
Part of the reason has been that Brown has not been the same since suffering a mild concussion four plays into the Marshall victory.
Brown has also been suffering from painful but not serious injuries.
“I’ll be ready,” Brown vowed.
It’s also expected that running back Noel Devine, who sprained an ankle against Louisville, will play.
Stewart has told his quarterback that he wants him to have fun with the game, to approach it as if it were a sandlot game.
“He is moving around well and looks to me like he has his feet back under him,” Stewart said. “His foot was sprained, but I told him that I wanted him to be alive in the pocket and have fun. I want him to play like it is sandlot football. He needs to pick it up, and he knows it. We all need to pick it up. Coach better, play better, it all needs to be better.”
“We’ve got to score some points … and I think we will,” Brown said. “It’s just been little things we need to correct. We know how important it is do the little things, like throwing the ball on the outside shoulder so a receiver can turn up the field.
“When you’re pressing, you can’t play to your full ability,” Brown continued. “He wants us to go out and be loose and play football.”
Even though the Mountaineer defense has gotten stronger, not allowing a touchdown for the first time this year in the Louisville game, this is one of the nation’s most potent offense it goes against, the Bearcats averaging 40 points a game.
Sophomore Zach Collaros gets the start at quarterback as he has in the three games since Heisman Trophy candidate Tony Pike was injured. Pike is ready to play and is expected to get into this game, but Cincinnati coach Brian Kelly decided to go with the hot hand.
Collaros was the Big East’s Offensive Player of the Week last week, setting up an interesting matchup as WVU’s Julian Miller, the league’s Defensive Player of the Week, tries to sack him.
E-mail Bob Hertzel at email@example.com.
CINCINNATI — Talk is cheap.
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