The Mountaineers make a crucial trip to Cincinnati this week. The only chance at a BCS bid starts with a win over the Bearcats. It won't be easy, considering Cincy continues to be the best team in the conference, and the Mountaineers are playing inconsistent. It may take a perfect game, and that might not be available.
West Virginia: The Mountaineers' offense is not the problem. Geno Smith continues to have an incredible year, with 23 TD and just 5 INT. His completion percentage has also gone up the last few weeks as well. Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey continue to put up huge numbers, and will be very tough matchups for the Cincy secondary. Dustin Garrison will be featured in the backfield, along with Shawne Alston. The Mountaineer rushing attack is up to over 120 yards per game...a far cry from the putrid start. The offensive line could use some help. The unit just hasn't given Smith a lot of time to throw, but again...hard to be upset with a unit that is averaging 38 points a game.
Cincinnati: Zach Collaros is having a fine final season for the Bearcats. He has a 141 QB rating, and has rushed for more than 240 yards. Collaros has had some good performances against the Mountaineers and should primed once again. Isaiah Pead should have space to maneuver, as he nears 1,000 yards for the season. He poses a serious match up problem as well, considering WVU's run defense can be shaky. Cincy's wideouts should have ample success. The Cats have three receivers with over 30 receptions, and could be padding some stats on Saturday. The offensive line will be in a tussle, but should give Callaros time. The Cats' line has only allowed 11 sacks this year, an impressive number.
West Virginia: The unit didn't give up a ton of yards last week, but couldn't get off the field. In fact, on Louisville's backbreaking drive the Mountaineers gave up two 3rd and longs and a short 4th down. They just can't come up with the big play. The line was better last week, coming up with a number of sacks. The pressure hasn't been consistent, and will be in for a major test against the Bearcats. The line also is in for a tough battle to slow the run at the line of attack. The WVU linebackers need to watch contain against Collaros, and help as much as possible in coverage. The secondary will be asked to do quite a bit. Sadly, they will be in for a long day trying to slow down a solid crop of wideouts. It's going to be a tough matchup for this unit, but if WVU can just keep the game close, that's a win for the defense.
Cincinnati: The unit has done a nice job in forcing teams to be more one dimensional. The Bearcats are holding teams under 90 rushing yards a contest. The defensive line and linebackers are very active, and will play aggressively. Cincy has 26 sacks on the year, and should create matchup problems for Mountaineer line. The secondary will also play aggressively, but in a manner of looking for a mistake or two. The opportunistic group will struggle to slow down the passing attack, but can help exploit any errant throw but Geno. The linebackers will probably have to get in the mix as well, considering the strength of the WVU passing offense. This may open a door for the Mountaineer run game. so the Bearcats will certainly be busy.
West Virginia: Well, there is no doubt that this unit is far from special. The return game has been the only constant this year. However, Brad Starks will miss the next few weeks due to injury, and he was the second best return man. The kick coverage has been better, but every time I commend them they usually give up a long TD. The kicking game is in shambles overall.
Cincinnati: The kick coverage has been a bit spotty this year, but not terrible. They have good returners in J.D. Woods and RD Abernathy. Pat O'Donnell is a fine punter, averaging over 45 yards a kick. Tony Miliano has been solid with field goals, and also has four touchbacks on kickoffs.
Overall: This game has all the makings of a track meet. Two very good offenses capable of dropping a 50-spot on the other. And, when you have a shootout either team could certainly win. The Bearcats shouldn't be stopped, and have done a good job holding on to the ball late in games. They have also been very poised in close outcomes as well. Meanwhile, the Mountaineers have very little margin for error. With a weak defense and even worse special teams, WVU needs a perfect game from the offense. Unfortunately for the Mountaineers, it's not going to happen.
Prediction: 38-31 Cincinnati