MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — West Virginia will play the guessing game for the third consecutive week while preparing to play Cincinnati on Saturday night.
Just like West Virginia’s games against Auburn and Connecticut, the Mountaineers aren’t sure who will be their opponent’s starting quarterback.
The quarterback mystery adds another twist for No. 20 West Virginia’s game preparation.
“It’s frustrating,” coach Bill Stewart said. “You don’t know until they get out there.”
Cincinnati has started three quarterbacks this season because of injuries.
Senior Dustin Grutza broke his leg after starting the first two games. Junior Tony Pike got the nod the next two games before breaking his forearm. Freshman Chazz Anderson started the next two before Pike returned for the past two.
It gets worse.
Pike’s left arm went numb last week during halftime of Cincinnati’s 24-10 victory against South Florida. Freshman Zach Collaros replaced him.
Stewart doesn’t know who will get the start when the Mountaineers face Cincinnati, which is tied with Pitt for second place in the Big East behind West Virginia. So he’ll just prepare like he did the previous two weeks.
That seemed to work, considering the Mountaineers posted their two most impressive wins of the season. There wasn’t much film on Auburn quarterback Kodi Burns because the sophomore started only two games – one being the season opener – prior to meeting West Virginia. Connecticut freshman Cody Endres got his second career start last week.
“We had to have the power running game,” Stewart said. “We had to go to the spread game. We had to get through the no-huddle game. That was tough on our defense. You have to take base plays and look at crucial situations.”
But West Virginia is no easy offense to scout, either, and it has nothing to do with personnel changes. Pat White, the star of the offense for three seasons, is no stranger to Big East opponents, but his arm is.
In previous seasons, West Virginia was a run-dominated team, with White leading the way. White is more of a dual-threat quarterback this year. He threw five touchdown passes in the season opener against Villanova. Last week against Connecticut, he rushed for 109 yards and two touchdowns and passed for 121 yards and a score, proving even further that West Virginia refuses to rely strictly on a run offense.
White has thrown 13 touchdown passes this season, which is one shy of his total from last season and equivalent to his 2006 total. With five games remaining and at his pace, White can eclipse his single-season passing touchdown mark. With 239 more rushing yards, he can pass former Missouri quarterback Brad Smith to become the NCAA career quarterback rushing leader. Smith rushed for 4,289 yards from 2002-05.
But White doesn’t have to do it himself, which subsequently makes this offense harder to defend. Tailback Noel Devine broke out with a 188-yard game against Syracuse and a 207-yard game against Auburn two weeks ago. He was held to 60 yards rushing last week, but receiver/running back Jock Sanders emerged as the playmaker, with two rushing and one receiving touchdown.
As West Virginia’s offense comes together, opponents can’t key on one player, just like Stewart doesn’t have the luxury of preparing for one quarterback. For now, he has to count on his defense to be ready for anything.
“Every year your defense has to carry the offense before it gets going,” Stewart said. “That being said, we have to pick it up on offense.”
Notes: Stewart said Courtney Stuart (sprained knee) will probably miss three to six weeks, and special-teams ace Jim Lewis (foot) is very close to playing but might not be ready this weekend. … West Virginia is No. 20 in The Associated Press poll, No. 25 in the BCS standings and No. 23 in the USA Today poll.