Big East

College Football: West Virginia vs. Louisville

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West Virginia Mountaineers at Louisville Cardinals
Date – Saturday, November 20, 2010
Location – Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium
Time – 12:00 pm
TV – BIG EAST Network Mike Gleason (play-by-play), John Congemi (color), Eamon Mackeney (sideline)
Radio – 840 AM WHAS. Paul Rogers (play-by-play), Stefan LeFors (analyst), Doug Ormay (sidelines)
Series: West Virginia leads 9-2

“We still have two games left. We still have a chance to go get bowl-eligible,” UofL Head Coach Charlie Strong said, “but we didn’t play well enough to win a football game. If it’s fourth and an inch and we can’t get an inch, we don’t deserve to win the game.”

Coach Strong was referring to the Cardinals overtime loss to South Florida last week in Cardinal Stadium that could have already had Louisville sitting on six wins and bowl eligibility. Instead the Cards will need either a win at home on Saturday or on the road, at Rutgers, the Friday following Turkey Day.

Louisville will be looking to avoid becoming the first team since 1997, and the only team in Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium history to post a losing record at home. The 1997 squad went 1-5 at Old Cardinal Stadium before moving into Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium in 1998. Amazingly, not even Kragthorpe had a losing year at home.

Saturday is also Senior Day for the Cards and they will be saying goodbye to a total of 24 seniors. The 2010 senior class owns a 20-26 record, dropping its last two senior day games. Louisville defeated Rutgers 41-38 in 2007 for its last senior day win.

The Mountaineers will be coming into Derby City looking for their 10th win in 12 meetings against Louisville. The only two times West Virginia has been on the losing end of this match up was back in 1990 (the Cards won 9-7 in Morgantown) and in the 2006 season when Louisville defeated the then third ranked Mountaineers 44-34 at Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium.

West Virginia, already bowl eligible, has higher stakes on this game. Should the Mountaineers get past Louisville, they will travel to Pittsburgh next week, and should they win out will have an excellent shot at winning the BIG EAST and receiving the automatic BCS bid.

West Virginia is fast; real fast. Noel Devine, who may be the fastest man in football, shares the backfield with Shawne Alston – more of a power back. Alston was given a heavier load last week and rose to the challenge. He carried the ball 17 times, only one less than Devine and 11 more times than he had all season, and bruised his way to 75 yards with a long of 23. Power and speed. Thunder and Lightning. Louisville’s D-line and linebackers will likely face their most difficult matchups of the season in this one.

Devine rushed for 77 yards against Cincinnati, bringing his career total to 4,151 yards, which is good for third place on the WVU career rushing list.

Catching passes for the Mountianeers is the appropriately named Jock Sanders. Jock had six catches for 45 yards and two touchdowns last week against the nasty ‘Nati, thus extending his consecutive game streak with a reception to 37. That ties Miami’s Reggie Wayne for third place on the all-time BIG EAST list. Sanders needs just three more receptions to pass David Saunders as WVU’s all-time reception leader with 192.

Sophomore Tavon Austin provides West Virginia with an imposing big-play/deep threat, something the Cardinals have struggled with all year long. Last week against the Bearcats, Austin caught just two balls – both for touchdowns, and leads the Mountaineers with five TADAT! receptions on the year. Many believe if he does not remain at wideout in 2011 he will replace Devine as the team’s feature back.

Geno Smith will be the man chucking the pigskin to these receivers and he has had a very solid year. Smith completes 65.2 percent of his passes and has thrown for 1,870 yards and 19 TDs against just six interceptions.

The Cardinals’ defense has now held opponents to 160 passing yards or fewer and under 260 total yards in four consecutive games, boosting them to the ninth ranked pass defense in the nation (giving up 163.6 ypg). West Virginia is two slots higher and sits seventh in the nation in pass defense, giving up just 158.44 ypg. The Mountaineers defense, through nine games, shows 28 sacks and 61 tackles for losses. They rank fourth in the country in total defense, yielding just 253.33 yards per game. WVU is third in scoring defense (13.22 ppg) and also seventh against the run (94.89 ypg).

Should this game become a battle for field position, West Virginia’s punt return unit is nothing to write home about. On the season they have returned only 15 out of 63 punts, and average just 9.0 yards a return, seventh in the conference. Now combine that with the fact the Cardinals are one of the best in the country in punt return yardage defense. Louisville ranks seventh in the country in yards allowed per return at just 4.00 per game. Louisville has allowed just 14 punts to be returned for a total of only 56 yards.

On the other side of the special team field, with the ‘return’ of Doug Beaumont fielding punts the Cardinals should hold a big advantage in the yard tug-of-war. Beaumont ranks eighth in the nation and first in the BIG EAST in punt returns with an impressive 17.0 per return.

Despite explosiveness at every skill position, the West Virginia offense has sputtered for most of the year. Against a Louisville defense that has improved week-in and week-out, that could be a problem. Couches throughout the state of West Virginia will breathe a sigh of relief as the Cardinals emerge victorious. Louisville gets a big win in front of their home crowd (at least what will be left of it) and becomes bowl eligible – ensuring Charlie Strong at least a couple votes for Coach of the Year in the conference.

Louisville 20, West Virginia 16