Defense Leads the Way

Sands, WVU stymied the South Florida offense last week.

Sands, WVU stymied the South Florida offense last week.

The Big East is exactly halfway through its football season. Every team has played six games. And the results haven’t exactly been pretty. Only West Virginia at 5–1 is ranked, and only two others — Rutgers and Syracuse — have winning records at 4–2. The other five teams are 3–3.

The league, however, is now entrenched in conference play. Four teams — WVU, RU, Cincinnati and Pittsburgh — have 1–0 Big East records. And this week’s schedule features conference games across the board.

West Virginia took advantage of a tumultuous week in the Top 25 by downing South Florida by 20–6 last Thursday at Milan Puskar Stadium. The story of the game for the Mountaineers was their defense, which held USF to just 202 yards. Three different players registered interceptions.

“I thought it was a physical game,” said WVU coach Bill Stewart. “I thought our defense really did rise to the occasion and we kept them in check pretty good. I was really pleased with the way we disguised. I thought our secondary did a heck of a job in disguising and trying to keep (USF quarterback) B.J. Daniels from getting into a rhythm like he did last year.”

West Virginia QB Geno Smith, meanwhile, threw for 219 yards and two touchdowns on a 24-of-31 passing day.

South Florida, however, did hold Mountaineer back Noel Devine in check and limited the hosts to 79 rushing yards. The Bulls are now 0–2 in league play and alone in the conference’s cellar.

Offense, not defense, was the order of business in Friday’s Big East game as Cincinnati and Louisville combined for 887 yards in the Bearcats’ 35–27 road win.

The Cardinals built a 24–14 lead in the second quarter via two Bilal Powell touchdown runs, but the Bearcats’ duo of quarterback Zach Collaros and wideout Armon Binns was superior. Binns caught three of Collaros’ five touchdown passes on the night, helping Cincy to its 13th straight Big East win. Collaros completed 18-of-28 passes for 275 yards, while Binns had eight catches for 175 yards. Back Isaiah Pead added 145 rushing yards.

Louisville lost even though Powell had his second consecutive game with at least 200 rushing yards. He finished with 209 yards on 24 carries.

Syracuse, the league’s most surprising team this season, crashed against Pittsburgh in a 45–14 home loss, snapping a three-game winning streak. Pitt quarterback Tino Sunseri threw touchdown passes to four different receivers — including a 79-yard hookup with wideout Devin Street on the Panthers’ first play from scrimmage — and finished with 281 passing yards. SU wideout Alec Lemon had eight catches for 108 yards.

Rutgers was the lone conference team to play a non-conference game and walked away with a 23–20, come-from-behind win in overtime against Army. Rutgers trailed 17–3 after three quarters, but quarterback Chas Dodd threw a pair of fourth-quarter touchdown passes to force overtime. Back Joe Martinek won the game with a 1-yard touchdown run after the Scarlet Knights held Army to a field goal. Dodd completed 18-of-30 passes for 251 yards and two touchdowns.

West Virginia 20, South Florida 6
Cincinnati 35, Louisville 27
Pittsburgh 45, Syracuse 14
Rutgers 23, Army 20

Tragic injury
Rutgers’ football team was understandably shaken after its game with Army because of a violent collision that left junior defensive tackle Eric LeGrand motionless on the field. After being rushed to Hackensack University Medical Center, LeGrand was found to have no movement below the neck following surgery Saturday night for a spinal cord injury. Rutgers coach Greg Schiano spent the night at the hospital and said LeGrand’s spirits were as good as could be expected.

Quote of the weekend
Connecticut coach Randy Edsall on criticism leveled at him with the Huskies at 3–3: “I don’t know if anybody is criticizing me or not because I don’t read anything. I could care less. I could care less what the outside world thinks. I really could.”

Mid-season awards
It’s time to hand out some mid-season awards to those in the league that have excelled.

Top running back:
It’s a tie between Connecticut’s Jordan Todman (averaging 152.2 yards) and Louisville’s Bilal Powell (averaging 149.7). Todman is third nationally and Powell is fourth. The Big East has six backs (Toddman, Powell, Pitt’s Ray Graham, Cincy’s Isaiah Pead, Syracuse’s Delone Carter and WVU’s Noel Devine) ranked among the nation’s top 50.

Top quarterback:
Cincinnati’s Zach Collaros take this award. He’s first in the Big East in passing yards per game (242.5 average), total passing yards (1,455) and pass efficiency (163.56). Honorable mention to WVU sophomore Geno Smith, who is second to Collaros in all those categories.

Top receiver:
Cincinnati’s D.J. Woods nudges a good field by being first in receiving yards per game (91.67) and total receiving yards (550).

Top offense:
Louisville. New coach Charlie Strong built his name on defense, but the Cardinals are 19th nationally in offense, averaging 456.67 yards a game.

Top defense:
West Virginia. The Mountaineers are fifth nationally in total defense, allowing an average of but 245.83 yards.

Top defender:
A knotty tie between four players. Rutgers’ Antonio Lowery is the league’s leading tackler, averaging 10.83. Pitt’s Jared Holley and WVU’s Keith Tandy are tied for second nationally in interceptions, averaging .67 per game. And Louisville’s Rodney Gnat is tied for seventh nationally in sacks, averaging one a game.

Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt announced that three freshmen players — T.J. Peeler, Bernardo Nunez and Kevin Adams — have been suspended indefinitely for violations of team rules.

Sad anniversary
It’s been one year since Connecticut football player Jasper Howard was stabbed to death after a fire alarm was pulled during a school-sanctioned dance. He was 20. Howard’s girlfriend gave birth to Howard’s daughter on March 27.

A good, hard look
South Florida coach Skip Holtz said after his team’s loss to West Virginia that personnel, coaches and scheme will be examined in regard to the Bulls’ offense. “Our offense right now is not very productive,” he said. “I mean, it’s bad. It really is.”

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