West Virginia wants to break Bulls' jinx

October, 14, 2010
10/14/10
11:16
AM ET
West Virginia is used to being the bully of the Big East. The Mountaineers have never lost to Connecticut, have beaten Rutgers every year since before the Clinton administration and are working on a decade of dominance over Syracuse.

But there is one exception. Since the Big East formed its current alignment in 2005, only one conference team has a winning record against West Virginia. And none of the current No. 25 Mountaineers need to be reminded that Thursday night's opponent, South Florida, is that team.

"We've been thinking about that all week," receiver Stedman Bailey said. "Three of the last four years, they've beat our tails. We're looking to put a stop to that."

The Bulls began their run by stunning the Mountaineers in Morgantown 24-19 in 2006. A year later, they knocked out Pat White and won 21-13 in Tampa. White's final regular-season game was a hard-fought 13-7 West Virginia triumph in the snow. But last season, the Bulls did it again with a 30-19 victory.

"We have been lucky to win one game," West Virginia coach Bill Stewart said.

[+] EnlargeGeno Smith
Charles LeClaire/US PresswireGeno Smith has made the Mountaineers a legitimate passing threat.
Why has South Florida been so successful where so many other league teams have failed? There are many theories, but the most popular one is that the Bulls are the one Big East team that consistently matches the Mountaineers in speed with all of their Florida-born athletes. They could do a better job of containing White, Steve Slaton and Noel Devine on the perimeter because they were just as fast.

"Their speed and some of the things they do have given us some problems in the past," West Virginia running backs coach Chris Beatty said. "I think a lot of that is matchup related, and that is why all of the games are exciting and why most of them are low scoring."

But both teams are a little different heading into Thursday night, and perhaps that will tilt the series in a different direction.

South Florida can no longer just try to game plan around stuffing the belly option. The Mountaineers are third in the league in passing offense, and sophomore quarterback Geno Smith is tied for the conference lead with 12 touchdown passes. This is now an offense that will throw downfield effectively if defenses cram the box.

"I was really shocked when I found that out," South Florida defensive tackle Terrell McClain said. "They've been a running team the last couple of years, and they will be a very different team going into the game this year."

The Bulls might have to keep West Virginia under 20 points again -- way under. Their own offense is scuffling and failed to score a touchdown in last week's 13-9 loss to Syracuse. Now they're going up against the Big East's best defense.

Last year in Tampa, USF quarterback B.J. Daniels racked up 336 total yards and threw three touchdown passes as the Bulls jumped ahead early and never relented.

"He went through us, around us, over us and under us," Stewart said. "Anything he wanted to do, he did."

So far this season, Daniels doesn't seem to be able to do anything he or the coaching staff wants. South Florida coach Skip Holtz said this week that he's really happy with his team's defense and special teams, the offensive line and the improvement of the receivers and running backs. That leaves the quarterback, and Daniels has struggled with interceptions (seven), missing open receivers and general decision making.

The sophomore did a lot of his damage last year with his feet, including a 104-yard rushing day in that win over West Virginia. But now he's being asked to run more of a pro-style set, and he's become far less dangerous. Daniels has only 186 yards rushing in five games, and most of that came in the Florida loss when the Bulls broke out some option and quarterback sweep plays. Perhaps they need to go back to that Thursday night.

"We've got to sit down and say, 'What can B.J. do?'" Holtz said. "He's as frustrated as anybody else who wants to be good. We have to turn and look as a staff at what we need to do to put him in position to have success on a consistent basis."

South Florida has had consistent success against West Virginia. On Thursday night, the Mountaineers look like heavy favorites, based on the way both teams have played. History, though, makes them wary.

"I don't know how anybody can say South Florida is not a great program," Stewart said, "because they have sure handed our fannies to us."

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