I really hate games like this. Why? Because this is a true test. We enter Cincinnati favored by the smallest margin of the year, 6 points. We're playing on the road, against a team that creates about 37 turnovers per game (actually, 3.5/game), in the national spotlight. Beat Cincinnati and it should be a marquee win. But it won't be. National pundits will write it off simply as beating Cincinnati, once a basketball powerhouse. But however the nation wants to look at it, we still need to get it done Saturday night under the lights. Here's how it's going to happen...
When WVU has the ball:
West Virginia's offense has been very hot/cold this year. In games like Western Michigan, East Carolina, and Rutgers, we have been unstoppable. Against USF, however, we absolutely flat-lined. Unfortunately for us, Cincinnati's defense is as close to the USF squad as we've seen. Plus, they're also playing in the "biggest game in program history," just as the USF game was billed. Need another reason why Cincinnati's defense is going to be geeked up?
If this game doesn't go to plan, it will almost assuredly be blamed on turnovers. Cincinnati leads the nation in takeaways (35), though the majority of those have come on interceptions (22). West Virginia, while having the fewest giveaways in the Big EAST, has started a recent trend of putting the ball on the turf in key situations. Interceptions don't scare me. Pat White has done a great job throughout his career of managing games and keeping his throws out of high-risk situations. It's the fumbling that could be troubling. If WVU can hang onto the ball for 60 minutes, I really like our chances. If not? I don't want to even think.
When Cincinnati has the ball:
The WVU defense should be prepared for Louisville lite this week. The Bearcat offense revolves around the arm of Ben Mauk. If he is able to throw the ball down the field, as Brohm did last week, the holes may open in the running game.
This puts extra pressure on Mundy and Andrews to step up in run support. Cincinnati is a more complete offense team than Louisville. They will not abandon run to throw the ball 60 times. This may scare some people but I think it plays right into the strength of WVU's defense.
We will stuff the run and fill the holes that opened in the secondary last week. Look for Mundy and Andrews to have break-out games.
I'll be honest, I had absolutely no clue that the head coach at Cincinnati was Brian Kelly up until a few weeks ago. He has an impressive all-time record of 137-52-2, and has captured two Division II National Championships during his time at Grand Valley State. Good job, sir. Too bad this is the Football Bowl Series and CRR will be peering into his soul from the opposite sideline. For all the grief I give CRR I still love him as our coach and he does a hell of a job a majority of the time.
For all the talk about the WVU offense versus the Bearcat defense, the game could ultimately determined by special teams. Devine should be back for every kickoff after almost breaking one against Louisville and with the risk-taker Rivers returning punts it could always be all or nothing.
Picks To Click:
UPDATE: forgot to include the predicted WVU score. Ooops.
West Virginia (-6) 29
Note: Stiles predicts a Cincinnati win. Feel free to stone him to death.
Stiles (season record = 31-27-2)
Air Force Force Force -11 vs. San Diego State
Clemson -8.5 vs. Boston College
Houston -11.5 vs. Marshall
Michigan +4 vs. Ohio State
Oklahoma @ Texas Tech OVER 66
Michigan +4 vs. Ohio StateCharley West (season record = 34-25-1)
Syacuse +18.5 @ UConn
Kansas State +7.5 vs Missouri
Rice -3 vs. Tulane
Cal -7 @ Washington
Miss. State +11 @ Arkansas (in Little Rock)
Kansas State +7.5 vs. Missouri (in Kansas City)
Wisconsin -14 @ Minnesota
Northwestern +13.5 @ Illinois
NC State +6.5 @ Wake Forest