West Virginia 30 ... at South Florida 27

Posted Dec 2, 2011

CFN Preview, Prediction & Game Story - West Virginia at South Florida

2011 Prediction & Game Story

Week 14, West Virginia at USF

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Dec. 2 West Virginia 30 … at South Florida 27

CFN Analysis: It wasn't exactly a pretty, dominant effort with three huge mistakes, eight penalties, and one of Geno Smith's worst games of his career, but after throwing a horrible pick six midway through the fourth, he roared back with two great scoring drives to pull out the win and give his Mountaineers a piece of the Big East championship … WVU only converted 2-of-14 third down chances, but he was solid on all three fourth down tries. … All year long the running game was non-existent, but Dustin Garrison came up big late with the rest of the offense struggling. He finished with an effective 87 yards and a score on 16 carries. … Smith got plenty of time to work; the receivers struggled to get open. Tavon Austin has a world of talent, but he has to be a crisper route-runner.

After beating Notre Dame to start the year, and after going 4-0, would anyone have ever believed the Bulls would finish out of the bowl picture and losers of seven of their last eight? … Five games were decided by six points or fewer and four of them were lost by a field goal. The positive spin for Skip Holtz is that his team was really, really close to having a good year. … The pass rush had its moments, but it allowed QB Geno Smith to get way too much time to throw. Even so, until the last seven minutes, the D did its job. … B.J. Daniels only completed 21-of-44 passes for 226 yards and a touchdown with a pick, but he ran for 23 yards and a score.

(AP) TAMPA, Fla. -- West Virginia (No. 23 BCS, No. 22 AP) did its part to earn a spot in the Bowl Championship Series, clinching a tie for the Big East title by beating South Florida.

Now, the Mountaineers (9-3, 5-2) need some help to make this an even sweeter season under first-year coach Dana Holgorsen.

Tavon Austin returned a kickoff 90 yards for a touchdown, Pat Miller scored on a 52-yard interception return and Tyler Bitancurt kicked a 28-yard field goal as time expired, giving the Mountaineers their first victory in Tampa since 2005 and a portion of the conference title for the second straight year.

"I wasn't thinking about much of anything. I was just trying to stay calm and focused," Bitancurt said. "I've kicked one to win a game as time expired, but never to win a Big East championship." West Virginia pulled even with Louisville in the conference standings and likely will receive the league's automatic BCS berth if Cincinnati beats Connecticut on Saturday to create a three-way tie for the league title.

Louisville earned its share of the crown by beating USF last week. The Cardinals hold the tiebreaker over West Virginia if the race ends in a two-way tie, but the Mountaineers likely will receive the coveted BCS berth if Cincinnati beats UConn at home to force a three-way deadlock.

Under that scenario, the league's BCS spot goes to the team that's ranked highest in the final BCS rankings. That should work out for West Virginia, the only one of those teams that was ranked this week.

"Cincinnati is a good team. They're well coached. They don't need our words of wisdom to want to win the game and be co-Big East champs as well," Holgorsen said. "I think they'll be playing pretty hard."

USF (5-7, 1-6) finished its season on a three-game losing streak and failed to qualify for a bowl bid for the first time in seven years.

Four of USF's losses came in the closing seconds of games the Bulls easily could have won.

"You can't ask this team to play with any more passion and any more heart," coach Skip Holtz said. "I've had teams in my past with better records. I don't know that I've had a team that has probably taught me more through handling adversity and perseverance and having a positive attitude."

Geno Smith set up Bitancurt's third field goal of the night with a 26-yard completion to Stedman Bailey on fourth-and-10 from the USF 42. The junior from Miami also led an 11-play, 78-yard drive that Dustin Garrison finished with a 5-yard TD run to make it 27-all with just more than 5 minutes to go.

The Mountaineers, who fell behind when JaQuez Jenkins returned one of USF's two interceptions 24 yards for a 27-20 lead, began the winning drive from their own 26 after the Bulls' B.J. Daniels drove his team into field goal range before Najee Goode forced a fumble by the quarterback.

Daniels returned from a shoulder injury to throw for one touchdown and run for another. He scored on a 1-yard sneak 5 minutes into the fourth quarter and finished 21-of-44 passing for 226 yards. Darrell Scott rushed for 92 yards on 14 carries for the Bulls.

Smith completed 23 of 35 passes for 237 yards and was intercepted twice. Garrison finished with 87 yards rushing on 16 attempts.

South Florida, wrapping up its second season under Holtz, lost seven of eight following a 4-0 start that included a win at Notre Dame. That victory lifted the Bulls into the top 25 for a four-week stay that ended when they dropped their Big East opener. The third losing season in the school's relatively brief football history ended a streak of six consecutive bowl appearances.

USF went 5-6 in 1997 -- the year former coach Jim Leavitt began the program from scratch -- and again in 2003, the Bulls' first season in Conference USA.

Daniels started for USF after injuring his throwing shoulder against Miami on Nov. 19 and sitting out last week's 34-24 loss to Louisville. West Virginia had 10 sacks -- four by tackle Julian Miller -- during its win over Pitt, but the Mountaineers were not nearly as effective rushing the passer Thursday night.

Normally a threat to run as well as throw, Daniels only scrambled by necessity. His 20-yard TD pass to Sterling Griffin trimmed a 10-0 deficit to three points in the second quarter, although it took instant replay to get the points on the scoreboard. Griffin initially was ruled out of bounds, but a replay showed the receiver got one foot down in the end zone as he was gaining possession.

The Mountaineers made a number of mistakes that helped the Bulls stay close early.

In addition to settling for a 23-yard field goal after a false start penalty on fourth-and-goal from the USF 1, linebacker Jared Barber dropped a possible interception during the drive that produced USF's first touchdown. Bitancurt missed a first-quarter field goal try that followed a short punt.

Devon Brown fumbled at the end of a 21-yard catch and run early in the third quarter, with USF recovering at its 2-yard line to deny the Mountaineers another scoring opportunity. Smith's only interception, some poor tackling and a pass interference penalty in the end zone led to Maikon Bonani's 20-yard field goal that trimmed USF's deficit to 20-13 late in the third.

West Virginia finished the regular season on a three-game winning streak, beating Cincinnati 24-21, Pittsburgh 21-20 and going down to the wire again Thursday night.

"Real simple. For three weeks in a row, we've put ourselves in precarious situations and figured out a way to win the game in the end. Just give the guys a bunch of credit for hanging in there, continuing to play and not caving in," Holgorsen said. "The way we pulled it out is who this team has become. We figure out ways to win."

West Virginia (8-3) at South Florida (5-6) Dec. 1, 8:00, ESPN

Here's The Deal … West Virginia will be first up in the three-team chase for the Big East championship, when it travels to Tampa on Thursday night. Obviously, the Mountaineers need a victory in order to knot idle Louisville, but also a Cincinnati win two days later to create a three-way tie that would be decided by the BCS rankings. It's been a rocky year for the ‘neers and first-year head coach Dana Holgorsen, but together they've been able to regroup with defeats of the Bearcats and Pittsburgh over the last two games. The 21-20 come-from-behind win in Friday's Backyard Brawl could provide West Virginia with the kind of jolt that carries it right through the postseason.

South Florida's nightmare is almost over, but will it end this week or in December following a bowl game? The program that began 2011 with such high hopes, courtesy of a 4-0 start, has won just once since. On Friday, the Bulls twice blew leads to the Cardinals, flopping at home, 34-24. Still, despite all of the losing, USF remains one victory away from continuing its season, and qualifying for a seventh straight bowl game.

Why West Virginia Might Win: This week's host is a mess these days. South Florida is struggling to execute on both sides of the ball, can't close and has been playing without injured starting QB B.J. Daniels. The Mountaineers, on the other hand, feel as if they've turned the corner with consecutive gut-check victories. They boast a far better situation at quarterback, with Geno Smith hooking up liberally with big-play receivers Stedman Bailey and Tavon Austin.

The nation's sixth-ranked passing game will be too much for a Bulls attack averaging only 20 points over the last seven games. Whether Daniels or Bobby Eveld gets the ball from Skip Holtz, he'll need to have his head on a swivel for DT Julian Miller, DE Bruce Irvin, LB Najee Goode and the rest of a West Virginia pass rush that produced 10 sacks last week.

Why South Florida Might Win: If the Bulls are going to reverse their recent trend of futility, they'll probably have to take their lead from the speedy defense. When West Virginia has had problems this fall, it's often been attributable to an O-line responsible for the nation's 101st-ranked ground game, and too many hits on Smith.

South Florida will counter with a front seven that's second in the country in sacks and tackles for loss. It'll look to create takeaways, while altering the tempo of the game with help from linemen Ryne Giddins and Keith McCaskill, and linebackers DeDe Lattimore and Sam Barrington. The D will need to create enough short-field opportunities for the stumbling offense to cash in on.

What To Watch Out For: Mountaineers coordinator Jeff Casteel needs to see last week's version of Miller in more than just heated rivalry games. The senior played like a man possessed on Friday evening, abusing the Pittsburgh offensive line for a dozen tackles and four sacks. If he didn't have the attention of NFL scouts before last week, the versatile 6-4, 260-pounder does now. More important, when his motor is cranking, it prevents opposing teams from keying on Irvin, one of the fastest edge rushers in the country.

What Will Happen: West Virginia has not been a steady program this year, and has lost a couple of games that it feels should have gone the other way. However, it has enough momentum and enough at stake to dispose of a floundering South Florida squad. Sure, the Bulls want to earn a bonus game, but who on this roster is capable of being the catalyst? The Mountaineers, on the contrary, have Smith, a terrific collection of receivers and a defense that can match the range and playmaking ability of the host. It won't be easy, but West Virginia will survive, chiseling the league chase down to itself and Louisville.

CFN Prediction: West Virginia 29 … South Florida 23
- Click For Latest Line From ATS: West Virginia -1.5    O/U: 55

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