What to watch in the Big East, Week 11
1. Tony Pike and the Cincinnati passing game vs. the West Virginia defense: The Mountaineers lead the Big East in points allowed and passing efficiency defense. But Cincinnati has the best passing offense in the league at more than 260 yards per game, and that's despite all the injuries the Bearcats have weathered at the position. Pike has a big arm and the young Mountaineers secondary hasn't been tested by a team this good through the air. UConn had receivers open last week, but drops and an inexperienced quarterback kept the Huskies from taking much advantage. Exploiting this matchup looks like Cincinnati's best chance for the upset.
2. Pat White, Noel Devine and Jock Sanders against the Cincinnati defense: Don't read too much into the 182 yards rushing the Bearcats gave up to South Florida last week. They were keeping extra defenders back to guard against the Bulls' spread passing attack and didn't mind if Matt Grothe handed off. Still, this week presents a huge challenge against a West Virginia running game that's revving up to Rich Rodriguez levels. Most teams change their schemes against the Mountaineers, like UConn did last week by bringing in an extra safety and playing three defensive linemen. Cincinnati coach Brian Kelly said his team will have to play differently as well. The Bearcats' defensive strengths lie in their secondary and pass rushers. That won't be the priority on Saturday.
3. Mardy Gilyard vs. West Virginia's kickoff coverage team: The Mountaineers are last among 119 FBS teams in covering kicks, allowing 29.58 yards per return. Gilyard leads the Big East with more than 27 yards per return. West Virginia coach Bill Stewart promised personnel changes on special teams this week. Gilyard doesn't have to score to have a huge impact on this game. If he can help give Cincinnati some short fields to work with, that would make the Bearcats' offense that much more potent.
4. West Virginia's I-formation: The I was closed during the Rodriguez years, but new offensive coordinator Jeff Mullen has used it to great effect in recent weeks. Devine sprang a 92-yard touchdown run against Syracuse out of it, and Sanders scored twice out of it last week as the formation helped jumpstart the offense. White even threw out of it a couple times at UConn, showing off a new wrinkle. West Virginia's little backs can hide behind a burly blocker in the I, and it gives Cincinnati something else to think about.
5. LeSean McCoy: The Pittsburgh running back is one of the hottest offensive players in the country, going over 140 yards in each of his last five games and scoring 10 touchdowns in that span. On Saturday he gets a Louisville defense that was steamrolled by Syracuse's Curtis Brinkley for 166 yards last week. The Cardinals have been working on stopping the run all week, but no one's really found a way to slow McCoy in two years.
6. Hunter Cantwell vs. Pitt's pass defense: The Panthers have allowed 619 passing yards and nine touchdowns through the air their past two games. They finally seemed to find some answers in their coverage during the second half of the Notre Dame game, and they'll need to keep that up against the cannon-armed Cantwell. The good news for Pitt is, with Scott Long injured, the Cardinals don't have any receivers nearly as good as Kenny Britt to deal with.
7. Heinz home-cooking: Every time the city of Pittsburgh gets ready to embrace its local university football team, the Panthers seem to throw out a clunker at home. Happened in the season opener against Bowling Green. Happened against Rutgers two of the past three years. Maybe it's all the consternation and criticism Dave Wannstedt has taken from the fan base that gives the home team a little performance anxiety. Who knows? But beating Louisville at home is a must, not just to stay in the Big East race, but to build the excitement in the area.
8. Mike Teel: The last time we saw Teel, he was bombing away for six touchdown passes against Pittsburgh. It was an incredible turnaround from his poor performances in the Rutgers' first seven games. So has Teel turned the corner, or was that an aberration? And how will the team's bye week affect the timing between him and his receivers? Syracuse does not have a great secondary, and a couple of key defensive backs are nursing injuries this week, so the opportunity for another terrific Teel throw-a-thon is there.
9. Curtis Brinkley: As mentioned earlier, Brinkley is coming off a big game against Louisville and has set a school record with five straight 100-yard performances. Can he do it again against a Rutgers defense that has been sturdy of late but still ranks next-to-last in rushing defense in the Big East? One more 100-yard game, and Brinkley will tie Jim Brown and Joe Morris for the most in a career with seven. He'll probably need to get there for the Orange to have any chance of grabbing their second straight league win.
10. Cam Dantley's well-being: Call it coincidence or credit Rutgers' hard-hitting ways. Three of the last four quarterbacks who have gone against the Scarlet Knights defense could not finish the game. West Virginia's White left with a head injury, while UConn's Zach Frazer and Pittsburgh's Bill Stull each suffered concussions. Even Cincinnati's Chazz Anderson sprained his knee, though he kept playing. Rutgers players and coaches say they're not trying to hurt quarterbacks. But if you're a friend or family member of Syracuse signal-caller Dantley, you might be a little more nervous this week. Andrew Robinson better keep his arm loose just in case.