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Thursday, September 22, 2011
What to watch in the Big East: Week 4

By Andrea Adelson

We have been watching off-the-field developments for nearly a week. How about what to watch on the field in Week 4?

1. Big week for an impression. The Big East has three national games this weekend, its biggest chance yet to get people talking about good performances as opposed to the survival of the league. Cincinnati plays NC State tonight, but Saturday provides the biggest opportunity when Notre Dame travels to Pitt and No. 2 LSU plays at No. 16 West Virginia. The Panthers have had recent success against Notre Dame, but are going to have to find a way to make adjustments in their pass defense against another quick-strike offense. West Virginia played LSU close last year before losing. The Mountaineers were the last Big East team to beat a top 3 opponent, taking down No. 3 Oklahoma in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl.

2. LSU D-line vs. WVU O-line. This is my biggest key in the game, and you can see more about it in my Game of the Week video later this afternoon. The Tigers have speed, size and depth along their front and that has allowed them to be one of the top run defenses in the nation. Last week, they forced Mississippi State into 15 negative rushing plays. West Virginia does not have nearly as much depth on its offensive line and has struggled with run blocking. "They have great intensity, good passion for the game all around their defense and they fly to the ball," left tackle Don Barclay said. "We have to match their intensity."

Geno Smith
Geno Smith will face his stiffest challenge yet against LSU's stingy defense.
3. Geno Smith vs. LSU D. The Tigers are stingy in giving up big plays, while West Virginia wants to hit as many as possible. LSU has only allowed two completions on throws of 15 yards or longer this season, while West Virginia has 14 such completions, including five touchdowns, according to ESPN Stats & Information. What's more, West Virginia already has 17 completions of 20-plus yards in 2011, fifth most in FBS. Last season, West Virginia only had 35 completions of the same distance in 13 games.

4. Pitt defense. The Panthers have been gashed in the fourth quarter in all three games this season, so they have to learn how to finish. They also need better play out of their linebackers in the short, underneath passing game and forcing more turnovers is a must. The Panthers have yet to recover a fumble this season and only have two interceptions.

5. Cincinnati secondary. The last time the Bearcats played a top-level opponent, they gave up over 400 yards passing against Tennessee. NC State quarterback Mike Glennon has the capability of hitting Cincinnati for some big plays. Has the Cincinnati defense made improvements in this area or will it be a problem all season?

6. USF rolling along. The Bulls have played overmatched opponents since their season-opening win over Notre Dame and face yet another one in UTEP. The Miners are 4-47 all-time against teams ranked in the AP poll and 0-20 since 1998 against schools from automatic-qualifying conferences.

7. MAC attack. Two of the top teams in the MAC travel to play Big East teams Saturday, and neither should be taken lightly. Toledo plays at Syracuse and Ohio visits Rutgers. The Rockets nearly upset Ohio State a few weeks ago, but penalties and missed opportunities on special teams cost them. Ohio is off to a 3-0 start for the first time since the 1970s behind its version of the Pistol offense. There is one more MAC game in the Big East, between UConn and Buffalo.

8. Syracuse secondary vs. Eric Page. The Rockets have one of the best all-purpose players in the nation in Page, who has the potential to hurt Syracuse the way T.Y. Hilton hurt Louisville. Considering the Orange are banged up in the secondary and had problems against the pass last week, this is going to be a key area to watch in the game.

9. Rutgers run game. The Scarlet Knights tinkered with their offensive line and running back rotation during the bye week. Look for true freshman Savon Huggins to get more carries. Will that translate into better play on the ground against Ohio?

10. UConn offense. This has been a storyline every week and will remain a storyline until the Huskies get this fixed. The quarterback situation is shaky, but perhaps most alarming has been the offense's inability to consistently get the ground game going. This is a function of a few factors -- defenses stacking the box and coach Paul Pasqualoni making some changes along the offensive line. The Huskies averaged 2.6 yards a carry last week against Iowa state.