Wild, Wild...East?

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Smith, the Big East's player of the week, has WVU back in the hunt.

Smith, the Big East's player of the week, has WVU back in the hunt.

Pittsburgh appeared to be kicked back in a comfy recliner heading into last week. The Panthers had a two-game lead in the loss column in the race for the Big East’s BCS bowl berth.

After losing to Connecticut, however, it’s like they’ve moved to an old couch. The cushion is gone.
“It’s disappointing,” said Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt after the 30–28 Thursday loss. “Not the effort, but that we didn’t take a step forward. After everything we went through in Utah and Notre Dame, I thought we would handle it better and we didn’t.”

Now, every member of the conference still has title hopes. The good news for Wannstedt and the Panthers is if they win their last three games, they still take the Big East championship and would advance to the BCS bowl.

Now, though, South Florida and West Virginia are also in control. Both can clinch at least a share of the league title by winning out. The other five conference teams would need help, but remain alive.

Connecticut contributed to the cause by receiving a career day from tailback Jordan Todman, who went for a career-high 222 yards on 37 carries, and some gutsy calls by coach Randy Edsall. The Huskies ran out the final 4:29 in part because of a pair of fourth-down conversions. Pitt, 5–4 overall, had three turnovers.

While the Panthers failed to become bowl-eligible, three Big East teams hit the mark. USF nudged past Louisville by 24–21 in overtime; West Virginia was a 37–10 winner over Cincinnati; and Syracuse slipped past Rutgers 13–10.

South Florida, which has now won three straight games, trailed the U of L 14–3 late in the second quarter, but received a 100-yard kickoff return from Lindsey Lamar to begin a rally. Bulls’ linebacker Mike Lanaris came up with a key stop on fourth-and-1 in overtime, allowing kicker Maikon Bonani to win the game.

West Virginia coach Bill Stewart’s seat cooled a bit after his team won after back-to-back losses to move to 6–3. “We just finally went out there and played like we could’ve played all year,” said Mountaineer cornerback Keith Tandy, who had a tackle for a loss, an interception and four pass breakups. WVU quarterback Geno Smith threw four first-half touchdown passes — two each to Jock Sanders and Tavon Austin. WVU’s defense, now ranked fourth nationally in total defense, shut out Cincy on 12 third-down situations.

Syracuse, meanwhile, became bowl-eligible for the first time since 2004 and clinched a winning season for the first time since 2001. Two late Ross Krautman field goals were key.

Rutgers, which has lost three straight, was led by a surprising performance from true freshman wideout Jeremy Deering, who rushed for 166 yards and a touchdown on 29 carries from the Wildcat formation.

Scoreboard
Connecticut 30, Pittsburgh 28
West Virginia 37, Cincinnati 10
South Florida 24, Louisville 21 OT
Syracuse 13, Rutgers 10

Lemon aid
With Syracuse’s second-leading receiver Alec Lemon on the sideline, Marcus Sales rose to the occasion Saturday against Rutgers. After catching just five passes for 39 yards through the first nine games, Sales, a junior, led the Orange with five catches for 73 yards.

Lofty ranking
Connecticut’s Jordan Todman is playing for a team with a 5–4 record, but his track record on the season is stellar. Todman, averaging 147 yards, is currently the nation’s second-leading rusher behind Oregon’s LaMichael James, who is averaging 158. In the last two games, Todman has rushed for 113 yards against West Virginia’s stingy defense and the career-high 222 against Pittsburgh. The Panthers hadn’t allowed a 100-yard rusher this season.

Gutsy call
With 2:50 remaining in Connecticut’s victory over Pitt, Huskies coach Randy Edsall made a risky call that paid off. On fourth-and-1, with the ball on the UConn 19-yard line, Edsall went for it. Jordan Todman made four yards. The Huskies then ran out the clock. “I don’t think I could have lived with myself if I said I’m going to punt the ball,” Edsall said.

Where to now?
The Rutgers quarterback position has been muddied all year. And it’s not any clearer after Saturday’s RU loss to Syracuse. Chas Dodd started, but was benched at the start of the second half after going 3-of-11 passing for 30 yards with two sacks. Previous starter Tom Savage came in to hit six-of-12 passes for 76 yards. RU coach Greg Schiano didn’t name a starter for next week’s game at Cincinnati.

Short return
Pittsburgh defensive end Greg Romeus, previously one of the highest-rated NFL prospects at his position, made his first start since back surgery earlier this year. After starting the game against Connecticut, though, Romeus twisted his knee and didn’t finish the game.

A third chance
South Florida kicker Maikon Bonani received a rare third opportunity to lift his team in a game. At the end of regulation, he drilled a field goal attempt from 52 yards, but Louisville was credited with a timeout before the snap. He missed the ensuing try wide left. In overtime, however, Bonani connected on a 37-yard attempt that proved the difference. “I was really nervous,” Bonani said of the game-winner.

A little running relief
With West Virginia back Noel Devine struggling this season with injuries, Mountaineer coach Bill Stewart has been seeking help at the position. He finally received some Saturday against Cincinnati when Shawn Alston gained 75 yards on 17 carries — 60 on 13 in the second half of the 37–10 Mountaineer victory. “I’ve been waiting for my opportunity and I had to make the most of it,” Alston said.

Mistakes, mistakes
Cincinnati certainly didn’t help itself in its loss to West Virginia. The Bearcats were penalized 10 times for 96 yards and didn’t convert one third down in 12 attempts. “We will win when we deserve to win,” said UC coach Butch Jones.
 

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Athlon recaps the week of action in the Big East. Pitt opened the door while South Florida and West Virginia helped their cause.