Big East Week 15 Expanded Preview Blog
Posted Dec 4, 2008

The big storylines and overviews for all the Big East games.

Big East Storylines Blog

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Big East By J.P. Girouard; Big 10 By Tony Castricone; Big 12 By Sean Martin; Conference USA By Greg Vacek; Independents By Adam Nettina; MAC By Adam Nettina; Mountain West By Jim Riffel; Pac 10 By Dan Greenspan; SEC By Gabe Harris and Barrett Sallee; Sun Belt By John Martello; WAC By Jon Tavares


Louisville (5-6) at Rutgers (6-5) Thursday 7:30 pm
--After upsetting South Florida in October to move to 5-2, the Cardinals went 0-for-4 in November. The biggest reason for Louisville’s freefall has been a turnover-prone offense that has given up the ball 14 times in those four defeats. A loss to Rutgers would mean no bowl game for the Cardinals for the second straight year and mark their first losing season for Louisville since 1997.
--Left for dead after a 1-5 start, the Scarlet Knights have reeled off five wins in a row. Against Army two weeks ago, quarterback Mike Teel continued his improved play with 359 yards passing, while the defense held the Black Knights to just two yards through the air in an easy 30-3 win. Rutgers needs to win here to be assured of a fourth-straight bowl appearance.
Louisville: The revolving door at kicker continues for the Cardinals. Tim Dougherty has regained the job after Ryan Payne missed 3-of-6 FG attempts. Dougherty is the third kicker Louisville has used this year. First-year defensive coordinator Ron English is reportedly in the running for the head coaching jobs at San Diego State and Eastern Michigan. English is a former assistant for the Aztecs.
Rutgers: Head coach Greg Schiano expects multiple running backs to see significant action against Louisville. The Scarlet Knights have had four different players lead the team in rushing this season. On the injury front, long snapper Jeremy Branch is questionable for Thursday’s game with a knee injury. Reserve wide receiver Andrew DePaola will replace Branch if he can’t go.
Louisville has to … stop giving away the football. Turnovers have been a season-long issue, as Louisville is last in the Big East in turnover margin. A big reason for these struggles has been the inaccuracy of quarterback Hunter Cantwell, who has thrown 15 interceptions. After a slow start the Rutgers secondary has been on a huge roll the last few weeks, so it is important for Cantwell to keep the mistakes to an absolute minimum.
Rutgers has to … run the ball. While the passing attack has gotten hot the last few weeks, the Scarlet Knights are still a pedestrian running team. Rutgers has used several different running backs this year – all of whom have shown flashes of brilliance – but there hasn’t been consistent production from any one of them. It will be important for the Scarlet Knights to generate a solid rushing attack to open things up for quarterback Mike Teel.
Keep an eye on … Rutgers wide receiver Tiquan Underwood. Underwood was a forgotten man early in the season, as fellow receiver Kenny Britt emerged as a star and quarterback Mike Teel struggled to find other options. But the 6-2 senior has shown signs lately that he’s rediscovered the form that made him a 1,000-yard receiver in 2007. If the Cardinals spend too much time focusing on Britt, Underwood could have a big day facing a banged-up Louisville secondary.
The number to know: 18. Two years ago, Rutgers came back from an 18-point deficit (25-7) to beat the Cardinals. Last year Louisville trailed by 18 points in the second half and rallied to win.
And the winner is … Rutgers 27 … Louisville 24


Pittsburgh (8-3) at Connecticut (7-4) 12 noon
--Pitt won the Backyard Brawl for the second straight year, getting a late LeSean McCoy touchdown run to sneak by West Virginia 19-15. McCoy had a monster game for the Panthers, churning out a career-high 183 yards along with a pair of touchdowns. A win here gives Pittsburgh a chance at a high-profile bowl game – most likely the Sun Bowl – while keeping hopes of a 10-win season alive.
--The Huskies’ year-long offensive struggles caught up with them in a 17-13 loss to South Florida two weeks ago. Star running back Donald Brown was held under 100 yards rushing for the second time in three games, and the anemic UConn passing game couldn’t pick up the slack. The Huskies still have a chance to finish with a winning record in the Big East and improve their postseason position with a victory.
Pittsburgh: Dave Wannstedt said that quarterback Bill Stull’s struggles are more about growing pains (he’s a first-year starting quarterback) and less about any lingering injury problems. Stull has thrown more interceptions (8) than touchdowns (7) this year. Defensive lineman Tommie Duhart missed his third straight game with an ankle injury and his status for this week’s game is unknown.
Connecticut: Head coach Randy Edsall was disappointed that Donald Brown – who leads the NCAA in rushing yards per game – was not a Doak Walker Award finalist. Starting linebacker Greg Lloyd will miss the Pitt game for personal reasons, but is expected to return in time for the Huskies’ bowl game. Tight end Steve Brouse returned to practice last week, but it’s unclear whether he’ll be ready to play against the Panthers.
Pittsburgh has to … slow down Brown. When Brown runs for more than 110 yards, the Huskies are 7-1. When he runs for less than 110 yards, Connecticut is 0-3. The Panthers have been solid against the run all season and were especially good against West Virginia, holding the Mountaineers to just 157 yards rushing. If the stout Pitt front seven can keep Brown in check, the UConn offense will have problems moving the ball.
Connecticut has to … win the turnover battle. The Huskies have thrived when they’ve gotten big plays on defense. That should be a bonus against a Panthers offense that has been mistake-prone, ranking second-to-last in the Big East in turnover margin. If star defensive end Cody Brown and the rest of the UConn front four can get pressure on Stull and force him into bad decisions, it should give Connecticut opportunities to score on a short field.
Keep an eye on … Connecticut linebacker Scott Lutrus. Pittsburgh’s Scott McKillop won’t be the only terrific middle linebacker on the field this Saturday. Lutrus has had a terrific season, ranking third in the Big East with 8-plus tackles per game. Only a sophomore, the 6-3, 230 pound Lutrus will have a tall order in trying to stop McCoy.
The number to know: 27 -- Pittsburgh and Connecticut have each registered 27 sacks this season.
And the winner is … Connecticut 19 … Pittsburgh 17


South Florida (7-4) at West Virginia (7-4) 8 pm
--South Florida stopped a three-game losing streak with their 17-13 win over Connecticut to seal a 13th game, most likely down the road at the St. Petersburg Bowl. But the Bulls still have big questions about a suddenly anemic offense that hasn’t scored more than 20 points in over a month. A victory here would give USF three straight wins over West Virginia while keeping hopes of a third consecutive nine-win season alive.
--The Mountaineers’ slim Big East title hopes were dashed in the Backyard Brawl, as West Virginia fell 19-15 to Pittsburgh. The defense had no answers for Pitt’s star running back LeSean McCoy, who rushed for 183 yards and the game winning touchdown. West Virginia is unlikely to play in a January bowl game for the first time since 2002, but a win here could potentially lock up a Sun Bowl bid for the Mountaineers.
South Florida:
All-American defensive end George Selvie says he’s leaning towards staying for his senior year at USF, although he admits the decision is “complicated.” On the injury front, cornerback Tyller Roberts injured his ankle against Connecticut and it’s unclear whether he’ll play against the Mountaineers. South Florida assistant Mike Canales is reportedly a candidate for the vacant head coaching position at Utah State.

West Virginia: Head coach Bill Stewart admitted that the USF defense has had the Mountaineers’ number the last two seasons – and provided the blueprint for other teams to stop West Virginia’s potent rushing attack. MLB Anthony Leonard should return this week after missing the Pitt game with a foot injury, while starting center Mike Dent is struggling with a bad neck that has kept him out the last two weeks.
South Florida has to … run the ball more effectively. The Bulls were a little bit more potent on the ground against Connecticut, but the lack of a running game has been evident the last four weeks. In those games, USF is averaging only 3.3 yards per carry and 108 yards per game on the ground. West Virginia has been tough to throw against all season, so South Florida needs to establish the run to open things up for quarterback Matt Grothe.
West Virginia has to … get other players involved offensively. The South Florida front seven has been a rock all season, allowing only 94 yards rushing per game. The Bulls will focus on stopping Pat White and Noel Devine, like everyone does, but the Mountaineers have struggled to find other ways to move the football. Getting slotback Jock Sanders the ball through runs or screen passes early on would be a start.
Keep an eye on … West Virginia quarterback Pat White. The NCAA’s all-time leading rusher among quarterbacks, White is having another great year. He’s just 121 yards away from his third-straight 1,000-yard rushing season. There should be extra motivation on Saturday for White – not only is this his final home game, he’s facing a USF team that has had his number the last two seasons, holding him to just 53 yards rushing.
The number to know: 1 -- South Florida is No. 1 in the Big East in rushing defense, while West Virginia leads the conference in rushing offense.
And the winner is … West Virginia 24 … South Florida 17

Cincinnati (10-2) at Hawaii (7-5) 11:30 pm
--Cincinnati clinched the Big East crown with a 30-10 victory over Syracuse last week, and while going off to the BCS is the big prize, this will be like a bowl game trip. Despite having already earned the automatic berth by virtue of West Virginia’s loss to Pittsburgh the day before their game, the Bearcats held Syracuse to 59 yards passing and eight first downs. This week’s game is about keeping everyone healthy and maintaining the program’s positive momentum going into the postseason.
--It wasn’t a dominant performance, but Hawaii had more than enough to get by lowly Washington State 24-10 last week. Quarterback Greg Alexander continued to impress, throwing for a career-best 315 yards in the win, and while this isn’t the Hawaii offense of old, the attack is improving. The Warriors accepted a bid to the hometown Hawaii Bowl after the game, so this game looms as an opportunity to knock off another a high-profile BCS squad.
Cincinnati: Head coach Brian Kelly did not directly address the rumors that he’s a candidate for the University of Washington position, and he has maintained the same stance that he plans to be at Cincinnati next year. Starting cornerback Mike Mickens won’t play against Hawaii after undergoing knee surgery last week, but he is expected to return for the bowl game. Defensive end Lamonte Nelms pleaded not guilty to charges stemming from a weekend nightclub incident. His status for this week is unclear.
Hawaii: All-WAC cornerback Ryan Mouton missed the Washington State game with an ankle injury and is questionable this week. His loss would be a blow to a secondary that’s already missing strong safety Erik Robinson, who has been out the last two weeks with a bad hamstring. Senior linebacker Solomon Elimimian was named WAC co-defensive player of the year. Elimimian leads the Warriors with 101 tackles.
Cincinnati has to … treat this like a business trip. The trip to Hawaii is always a dicey proposition. Since 2003, the Warriors have six home wins over schools from BCS conferences. The Bearcats have little to play for here, with the Big East title and automatic BCS bid already in hand. It will be up to Kelly to keep his team from looking ahead.
Hawaii has to … slow down the Bearcats’ passing game. Quarterback Tony Pike has been red hot the last few weeks and leads the Big East in passing efficiency, while Dominick Goodman and Mardy Gilyard form one of the nation’s better, underappreciated receiving duos. Hawaii’s secondary has been solid most the season, but with Robinson and Mouton banged up, the unit is depleted.
Keep an eye on … Cincinnati defensive back Brandon Underwood. The Ohio State transfer has seen a lot more time at cornerback with Mickens out and has done well. In his last three games, Underwood has 13 tackles, two pass breakups, one interception and one forced fumble. More importantly, the Bearcats have given up 164 yards passing per game in those contests.
The numbers to know:.1 and 118. Cincinnati is No. 1 in the nation in net punting, while Hawaii is 118th in the nation in punt returns.
And the winner is … Cincinnati 38 … Hawaii 28