Sunday, October 23, 2011
What we learned in the Big East: Week 8
By Andrea Adelson
What did we learn in the Big East in Week 8?
1. Cincinnati in control. Raise your hand if you thought the Bearcats would be the team in control of the Big East race after three conference games. Everybody outside of Cincinnati surely has their hands in their laps. All the talk going into Saturday focused on West Virginia and its super high-flying offense. But following a stunning weekend that featured losses by the Mountaineers and Rutgers, it is Cincinnati on top of the league at 2-0. The Bearcats are off this week before traveling to Pitt. Three of their final five games are on the road, so it is not going to be easy to run the table and clinch a BCS berth. But a tough 37-34 road win over South Florida surely gives Cincinnati confidence that is can overcome whatever tests come their way on the road.
Syracuse provided the blueprint for beating West Virginia: pressure Geno Smith and play power football.
2. West Virginia overrated. Everybody had the Mountaineers overrated, yours truly included. I should have seen the warning signs, but touchdown passes and beaucoup yards and points blinded me and every other voter in this country. Should have seen this team has failed to put together a complete performance all season; should have seen this team has been mediocre on the ground; should have seen this team is not quite equipped to beat a much more physical team. Of course, I can say that now after the Mountaineers were exposed in a 49-26 loss at Syracuse. Now there are serious questions about this team, and rightfully so. They were completely outcoached, outphysicaled and outplayed. Syracuse laid out the game plan for how to beat West Virginia -- get pressure on Geno Smith, and play power football. It has worked now two years in a row.
3. Orange Crush. Where has that Syracuse team been all season? I realize the Orange have been severely undermanned on defense, but not even the offense looked quite this good in four other wins this year. Syracuse went into this game having won its games by an average margin of 5 points. But they were an unstoppable force against West Virginia, posting its highest point total since 2003 -- and that 49-47 win over North Carolina lasted three overtimes. The offensive and defensive lines played their best games of the season. Tight ends caught four touchdown passes. Ryan Nassib was the best quarterback on the field. Dorian Graham had a kickoff return for a touchdown, the first for the Orange since 2008. Syracuse utilized its bye week to perfection, coming up with the right plan to stop the Mountaineers. Doug Marrone proved once again why he is one of the most underrated coaches in the nation.
4. True freshmen ups and downs.One of the big differences between Louisville and Rutgers in the Cardinals' 16-14 win on Friday night: Teddy Bridgewater had a run game to help take the pressure off him. Gary Nova did not. The true freshmen quarterbacks made their share of mistakes, but it was Bridgewater who led his team to the win, thanks in part to a rejuvenated ground game that rolled up a season-high 187 yards. He also only threw one interception. Nova had three, including one late in the game as the Scarlet Knights tried to come back. The running woes continued for Rutgers, as the team had 91 total yards and just 3 yards a carry.
5. Should USF be worried about a bowl? The Bulls are 4-3, having lost three straight to drop to 0-3 in conference. The rest of the schedule features just one team with a losing record (Louisville). The three-game stretch ahead is daunting. After a bye, the Bulls are at Rutgers, at Syracuse and then home to Miami. The finale is home to West Virginia. The Bulls have the talent to do it, but they have played undisciplined football in these three losses. They forgot how to tackle and play gap control against Pitt; they had four turnovers and nine penalties against UConn; they added another four turnovers and 10 penalties in a loss to Cincinnati. Those penalties were of the game-killing fashion: personal foul calls on two fourth-quarter drives aided the Bearcats; penalties negated two separate B.J. Daniels touchdown scores on the same drive. The effort was there Saturday. But these little mistakes all add up to big-time losses.