West Virginia crushes Cincinnati
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Two weeks ago, West Virginia walked off the field at Connecticut in last place in the Big East Conference.
Now, the Mountaineers are right back in the thick of things after Pitt’s loss Thursday night to UConn.
With that motivation, the Mountaineers’ offense opened up for the first time in conference play en route to a 37-10 victory over the Bearcats (3-6, 1-3).
WVU (6-3, 2-2) is eligible for a bowl game for the ninth straight season. The Mountaineers ended a two-game skid and are tied for third place in the conference.
“We needed this. We all knew coming into the game it was a four-game playoff,” slot receiver Jock Sanders said. “We just know that anything can happen in the Big East. Any team can lose.”
For the first time in the Bill Stewart era, West Virginia scored 30 points in the first half. It was the first time that has happened since 2007 against Connecticut. It was also the first time WVU has beaten Cincinnati in three seasons.
“If you’re going to kill a lion, you better go through its heart,” said Stewart, who had been highly criticized over the past two weeks. “They don’t have our heart yet. A lot of them want mine, but they haven’t got it yet.”
Quarterback Geno Smith threw four first-half touchdowns. He found slot receiver Tavon Austin twice in the first quarter for touchdowns of 32 and 10 yards to take a 14-0 lead heading into the second quarter.
In that quarter, Smith hooked up with Sanders for touchdowns of 48 and 5 yards to go up 28-0 before halftime.
Smith finished 15 of 25 for 174 yards and four touchdowns. The trio of Austin, Sanders and wideout Brad Starks caught 12 of those passes for 176 yards. Two players had negative receiving yardage.
“We’ve been successful, but are we every weekendâ¢ No. That’s what the team is for,” WVU offensive coordinator Jeff Mullen said. “But, if we don’t turn it over and don’t have penalties, we have a chance to be successful.”
WVU had two turnovers but only had two interceptions against Cincinnati.
“In our bye week, we went back to fundamentals and it really paid off in this game,” Sanders said.
A safety with less than two minutes to go in the first half put WVU up, 30-0, before Cincinnati kicker Jacob Rogers hit a 49-yard field goal at the end of the half to end the shutout.
While Smith had his most successful half of his short WVU career, his counterpart at Cincinnati, quarterback Zach Collaros, struggled mightily against a stingy Mountaineers defense.
Collaros threw two interceptions and could’ve thrown three more if it wasn’t for drops by defenders. Starting corners Keith Tandy and Brandon Hogan both recorded interceptions against Collaros. The junior signal-caller was also sacked five times and had a fumble late in the fourth quarter.
“We’ve doing drills in practice the last two weeks to try to rip the ball out or try to jump at the ball and get some interceptions,” Tandy said. “We definitely left some out there on the field, though.”
In the second half, the Mountaineers went to the ground and found success with a multitude of backs including sophomore Shawne Alston, who received the most extensive action of his career. He had 17 rushes for 75 yards.