Sunday, November 18, 2007

No. 5 West Virginia hopes to extend domination of No. 21 Cincinnati in Big East showdown

AP Sports Writer

West Virginia has already supplied the soundtrack for the biggest game ever played at Nippert Stadium.

The fifth-ranked Mountaineers cranked up the music at their home field this week, getting ready for a loud road game that will go a long way in determining the Big East title. Frank Sinatra, Marvin Gaye, Kiss and Alien Ant Farm blared from loudspeakers during practice, a song selection almost as incongruous as the game itself.

Things like this just don't happen in Cincinnati.

``This is the biggest game they've had in many, many, many, many years,'' coach Rich Rodriguez said. ``So we've got to understand what type of intensity we're going into.''

No. 21 Cincinnati (8-2, 3-2) has never played such a high-profile home game since Nippert Stadium opened in 1902, when it was a modest patch of grass surrounded by wooden bleachers perched on hillsides.

The 35,000-seat stadium will be full on Saturday when the Mountaineers (8-1, 3-1) try to stay on track for their second conference championship in the last three years. For a change, the home fans will outnumber the Mountaineer crowd.

Strange times indeed for a Cincinnati program more accustomed to being an afterthought.

``I've experienced everything as far as change around here, going from Conference USA to the Big East, actually getting ranked and all that stuff that was kind of a dream,'' fifth-year receiver Mike Daniels said. ``Now it's a reality.''

The last two times the teams have met, it was a cold dose of reality for the Bearcats.

West Virginia came to town in 2005 and won 38-0 on its way to the conference title. Last year, they won 42-24 in Morgantown, a game that defined the huge gulf between the two programs. Quarterback Patrick White ran for 93 yards and threw for 98 more. Tailback Steve Slaton had 148 yards on only 12 carries.

West Virginia is 13-1-1 all-time against the Bearcats, who would like to think they've caught up with White, Slaton and the rest of an offense that is averaging a conference-best 40 points per game.

``In the past, it was really hard for us to get an idea of what they were trying to do,'' safety Haruki Nakamura said. ``This year with the speed and experience we have, I think we have a great idea of what they're doing. I think we have the ability to stop them. We've just got to make sure we don't make mistakes and beat ourselves.''

It could come down to that.

The Bearcats lead the nation with 22 interceptions and 35 takeaways. The Mountaineers are one of the nation's best at holding onto the ball, with only 14 turnovers so far. They had three last week against Louisville, and had to rally for a 38-31 win.

``We have to protect the ball,'' White said. ``Last game we had three turnovers. They capitalize off turnovers. Coach Rod always tells us no negative plays and no turnovers wins the game.''

The Bearcats like to think they have an offense that can keep up with the Mountaineers this time around. Ben Mauk, who transferred from Wake Forest after breaking his arm and dislocating his shoulder last season, has gotten stronger in the last two weeks.

Mauk threw for three touchdowns and ran for another in a 27-3 victory over then-No. 16 Connecticut last week that left all three teams scrambling for the league title.

``He makes plays with his feet,'' West Virginia linebacker Mortty Ivy said. ``Watching film, you can't tell what he is going to do. As long as we execute and play the pass and go full speed, we should be OK.''

West Virginia would win the Big East if it beats Cincinnati, Connecticut (8-2, 4-1) and Pittsburgh (4-5, 2-2) to finish the season. Cincinnati would win the title if it beats West Virginia and Syracuse, and the Mountaineers beat UConn.

``We're where we wanted to be,'' Mauk said. ``It's not like we're astonished to be at this point. We're where we expected to be.''

Source:; Photo Credit: WVU Sports Communications