BY CHRISTOPHER MOGOLLON
BIG EAST INSIDER
A road win for West Virginia sets up a scenario where they would just need home wins over first place Connecticut and rival Pittsburgh to win the conference. With Ohio State losing last week and Oregon's loss on Thursday, the Mountaineers also move a bit closer to potentially playing for the National Championship although they still need a lot of luck. Cincinnati could also put themselves in the driver’s seat to win the conference, if the Bearcats can pull off the upset at home they would just need one more loss by Connecticut and Pittsburgh and a victory over Syracuse to win the conference, all likely scenarios if they can beat the mighty Mountaineers.
This battle is between the two top scoring teams in the conference so expect some points to be scored. West Virginia's Steve Slaton ran wild on Cincinnati last season rushing for 148 yards and averaging a remarkable 12.3 yards a carry in the blowout win. Slaton is having a solid year, ranked third in the conference with 885 rushing yards and second with 14 rushing touchdowns. Slaton has five games this season with 100-plus yards, but none have been in conference play. Watch out for Slaton to be effective catching the ball as well. Also keep an eye on freshman Noel Devine, he doesn't touch the ball that much but he is averaging 9.2 yards when he does. The youngster opened eyes earlier this year at Maryland and then again at Rutgers…maybe he will continue the trend and make an impact in another big road game.
The Bearcats rely a lot on their quarterback and his passing efficiency. Ben Mauk had maybe his best game of the year last week in Cincinnati's victory over the Huskies throwing three touchdowns and scoring all the points for his offense. Cincinnati ranks second in passing offense in the Big East and Mauk is second in touchdown passes with 21. The trio of Dominick Goodman, Marshawn Gilyard, and Marcus Barnett may be the best receiving corps in the conference. The freshman Barnett is second in the conference with eight touchdowns and he has racked up 508 yards this season. Goodman leads the team in receptions and ranks third in the conference with 49. His 612 receiving yards leads the team and he has also racked up three 100-yard games to go along with six touchdown grabs in his last six games. West Virginia ranks second in the conference in pass defense, so keep on eye out for veteran safeties Erick Wicks and Ryan Mundy, both are hard hitters and have three picks each this year.
Another interesting match up will be the play of these two teams in the red zone -- West Virginia has the best red zone offense in the conference and the Bearcats lead the conference in red zone defense.
Ultimately though, the key match-up is Pat White versus the Cincinnati Defense: It's no secret that West Virginia runs nearly all of their offense through Heisman candidate Patrick White, while many would be surprised to hear that White leads the conference in pass efficiency completing 69.0 percent of his passes and in nine games, he has only thrown two interceptions. White isn't the best passing QB and will not beat you with only his arm, but he has learned to be more balanced racking up 1,251 passing yards and 11 touchdowns through the air. White is lethal when he runs and can score at anytime, last week he took a 50 yard scramble to the house versus Louisville to win the game in the final minutes. White has 803 rushing yards this season, which ranks fourth in the conference. He has rushed for 100 yards three times this season, including his last two games.
In order to stop WVU from scoring Cincinnati must contain White's running game, it is no coincidence that White was held to only 36 yards in West Virginia's only loss of this season at South Florida. The only other running quarterback this defense has faced was against South Florida where they did an OK job of holding Matt Grothe to 75 yards on 22 carries.
That might be the magic number for White and ‘Cats. More and they’ll be celebrating in Morgantown, but if Cincy holds him below 75 yards, the newbies to the BIG EAST might just crash the BCS party.
Photo Credit: WVU Sports Communications