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December 1, 2011

Win tonight critical if WVU is to land big bowl game

MORGANTOWN — As West Virginia University takes the field at 8 p.m. today to face South Florida, it does so in an effort to disprove a pair of time-proven axioms that you often hear in athletics, to say nothing of needing a victory to share the Big East championship and, perhaps, receive a BCS bowl bid.

The first axiom is that when a team reaches the crucial moment in its season — and no one will argue that the Mountaineers have reached that moment — you are supposed to “dance with the one that brung ya.”

The second — again saved for exactly the situation WVU faces in this must-win game — is the cliché “there’s no tomorrow.”

Taking the second cliché first, a WVU win would not necessarily prove there is a tomorrow, but certainly a day-after-tomorrow, for on Saturday the Mountaineers would then need Cincinnati to beat Connecticut to earn that BCS bowl bid that it so covets.

The game is so important to first-year coach Dana Holgorsen that he has said “this game is what this team is going to be remembered for. You can take the rest of the games, and you can delete them. You can erase them; you can forget them. What this team is going to be remembered for is by what happens this weekend at South Florida.”

Think of it. Nothing before this matchup matters at all to anyone but historians and statisticians.

“This,” Holgorsen said, “is a one-game season.”

The situation is simply this … Louisville has finished its Big East season at 5-2. WVU and Cincinnati are tied at 4-2 with one game left. If WVU wins it ties Louisville, which makes it co-champion, but in a two-way tie for first place the Cardinals hold the tie-

breaker and would go to the BCS by virtue of their victory over the Mountaineers.

However, if Cincinnati wins on Saturday along with WVU’s win, it creates a three-way tie, and since Cincinnati beat Louisville and WVU beat Cincinnati, they would go to the BCS standings for the BCS bid and WVU is easily in front there.

So winning becomes, as Vince Lombardi once said, the only thing.

To get that win, though, Holgorsen has decided not to dance with the ones who “brung” him. Forced to make a number of chances in his normal lineup for the Pitt game, changes that worked, Holgorsen will stick with his replacement players.

On the right side of the offensive line, he will start jumbo-sized guard Quinton Spain and German import Curtis Feigt, who did a marvelous job of blocking for the running game and rollout passes against Pitt. Holgorsen will also allow Corey Smith, who turned the game around when he replaced punter Mike Molinaro and averaged 57.2 yards on four punts, to do the punting.

Cornerback Broderick Jenkins, who replaced Pat Miller and had a strong game against Pitt, will be there again, and Devon Brown will replace Tavon Austin as punt returner because South Florida has allowed only three yards in returns all year, dictating a safe approach.

The offensive line has been the Achille’s heel all season, and in South Florida they face a team that is second in the nation in sacks and tackles for losses. Holgorsen knows the line has to get it right if he is to win.

“We’ve faced plenty of guys on the defensive line that will be playing at the next level,” he said. “We’ve got some guys; Cincinnati’s got some guys; Pitt’s got some guys; UConn’s got some guys; Syracuse has some guys; everybody has guys on the defensive line that will be playing at the next level. These guys (USF), top to bottom, look pretty good to me.

“We’ve got to block them. Like I said, this is the fifth team we’ve faced that sacks and has negative plays every game. The Big East has a lot of guys that can rush the passer and create problems in the backfield. That doesn’t mean that we’re going to change something, because we’ve faced it five or six times this year.”

Geno Smith, the quarterback, believes the offense is primed to reach its potential, a potential it showed really only once this season, that coming against an LSU defense that no one moves the ball on and passing for 460 yards.

That, Smith said, wasn’t surprising. It was what he expects of the offense.

“What we do never will surprise me. I look at that and see we have the best receiving corps and I think we have the best offense in the country. I know we have the best offensive coach in the country,” he said. “So it doesn’t surprise me one bit. We’re competitors around here. Stedman Bailey is one of the best receivers in the country. Tavon Austin is hard to cover one on one, and that’s what they do. We match up with those guys. We match up pretty much with anyone.”

But Smith wants something more than what he got out of the LSU game.

“I don’t take any pride in that. I’m not going to be boasting and bragging about that. We lost the game. I threw two interceptions and that cost us. It wasn’t a perfect game by any stretch. That’s way in the back of my mind now,” he said.

The Mountaineers still are uncertain whether they will be facing B.J. Daniels or his replacement Bobby Eveld at quarterback. They know that the Bulls are far more dangerous with Daniels, a dual threat, in there running the show.

“You don’t know who you’re going to see. When guys are injured, you don’t know if they’re truly out or if they’re going to play,” Holgorsen said. “Daniels is a runner, a good football player. He’s a guy that makes play after play after play. He can make it with his feet, or he can make it with his arm.”

Email Bob Hertzel at Follow on Twitter @bhertzel.

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