The Times West Virginian

WVU Sports

November 12, 2010

WVU knows Cincinnati presents a challenge

MORGANTOWN — It has come down to this for West Virginia University.

Sitting just 5-3 on the season and 1-2 in the Big East Conference, it is up the Mountaineer defense to bail the team out of the fix it has gotten itself into.

The men who have built the nation’s No. 4 defense face their toughest challenge of the season at noon on Saturday when former WVU assistant Butch Jones brings his Cincinnati Bearcats and their high-octane offense to town.

“It’s going to be a real challenge. Our defense has not seen an offense like this,” Mountaineer Coach Bill Stewart said.

Cincinnati ranks second in the Big East in scoring at 27.4 points a game, but has had to play some without starting quarterback Zach Collaros, who missed part of the South Florida game and the Syracuse game with a knee injury. He has been listed as questionable but is expected to play, and that makes the Bearcats really tough as he leads the conference in passing efficiency, total offense, total passing yards and passing yards per game, 274.

If Collaros can’t play, Cincinnati has a competent replacement in Chazz Anderson.

What makes it tricky is that both can run and pass, triggering a fast-break offense that features the conference’s TWO leading receivers in yards gained — J.D. Woods and Armon Binns. They have caught 45 passes for 743 yards and 47 for 711 yards, respectively.

By comparison, and to understand why the challenge is so great, WVU’s top two receivers are Tavon Austin and Jock Sanders, who have caught 42 and 46 passes but who made that go for only 413 and 486 yards — almost 600 fewer yards.

Now toss running back Issaiah Pead into the mix and his 7.0 average and more rushing yards per game than league preseason superstars Noel Devine of the Mountaineers or Dion Lewis of Pitt, and you have something that make a defensive coordinator toss and turn all night, even if he has done a decent job of stopping Cincinnati the past two years.

“This is the most skilled offensive team we’ve seen since LSU. They have players throughout the lineup that can hit home runs,” said Jeff Casteel, the man who built “Casteel’s Bastille.”

The WVU defense has been impregnable, the only team in the nation not to give up more than 21 points in a game and ranked No. 2 in the land in fewest first downs allowed.

This is a different animal, though, and it begins with Collaros.

“Collaros is from back where I’m from. He’s a (Ohio) Valley kid,” said Stewart. “He’s a shortstop, second baseman, centerfielder, a daring little player. He just makes plays. He’s heavy and strong and strong-armed. It’s going to be a real challenge.”

“Our kids understand what they have to do,” Casteel said. “Our kids know they have beaten us the last two years. That motivates them. I think they’re excited to play against an explosive team.”

Indeed, as well as West Virginia has defensed Cincinnati, they have not been able to keep them from winning two in a row in a series dominated by the Mountaineers, 14-3-1. The last two losses were by 24-21 and 26-23 in overtime.

It is no surprise that this Cincinnati team can play offense.

“Butch was Brian Kelly’s offensive coordinator at Central Michigan and there is some similarities in what they run. He also has some of Rich Rodriguez’s influence in there, too, and obviously his own. They really spread the ball around and make you defend them,” Casteel said, referring to the two years Jones worked as wide receiver coach at WVU.

Collaros and the receivers are the big threat, for Jones has turned Rodriguez’s philosophy of run, run, pass into pass, pass, run.

“They present all type of receivers,” said cornerback coach David Lockwood. “As a group, they are the most explosive we’ve seen. The numbers speak for themselves.”

And because of the numbers that are swelled by a solid tight end in Ben Guidugli they force one-on-one situations.

“It makes it tough to key on one guy, because they have two guys, and then another wide receiver {Marcus Barnett) is a diamond in the rough. Everyone is worrying about the other guys. Watch film, he makes catches,” Lockwood said.

That means a lot of single coverage for the cornerbacks, WVU’s tandem of Keith Tandy and Brandon Hogan being two of the league’s best.

“It will be the most versatile and toughest we’ll face this year,” Tandy said of the Bearcats offense. “They have a lot of weapons. They do anything you might ask a receiver to do — go deep and get a jump ball, catch a short route and take it deep, someone who can go across the middle and catch the tough ball. You have to be prepared for pretty much anything.

“We have to keep doing what we’ve been doing all year. We have to be focused and see if we can learn a few things on film.”

Even the pass rush has to be somewhat restrained due to Collaros’ ability to escape.

“It’s like playing B.J. Daniels. You need to keep containment and play your assignments,” pass rusher Bruce Irvin said. “We did pretty good against B.J. and everybody played their gaps and stayed home where everyone was supposed to be.”

E-mail Bob Hertzel at bhertzel@hotmail.com.

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