NCF Nation: East Hartford 0810

Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett
 
 David Butler II/US Presswire
 UConn's Donald Brown, the nation's leading rusher, was held to 82 yards by a stingy West Virginia defense Saturday.

EAST HARTFORD, Conn. -- West Virginia defensive line coach Bill Kirelawich told his players he had a nightmare this week. He envisioned Connecticut running a sweep to Donald Brown, who then cut back across the field for a touchdown.

Kirelawich needn't have worried about that dream coming true. If the Mountaineers have counted on one thing this season, it's their defense.

The latest example of that came in Saturday's 35-13 win over UConn. They held Brown to a season-low 82 yards, the first time all year the nation's leading rusher failed to surpass the 100-yard mark. They came up with five turnovers and pitched a shutout in the second half for the fifth time in their past six games.

This is a defense that returned only four starters and saw its top tackler from 2007, linebacker Reed Williams, shut it down after only two games with shoulder problems. Eight of Saturday's defensive starters are freshmen or sophomores. Yet West Virginia leads the Big East in scoring defense, allowing just 14.8 points per game.

"We know they're not going to give in, even though we're not putting up 70 points," quarterback Pat White said. "They're always going to fight."

Opponents better throw their haymakers early, because the Mountaineers almost never give up points late. On Saturday, UConn came out strong, scoring on three of its first four drives and fumbling on the West Virginia 30-yard line on the lone failed attempt. Brown was patiently waiting for seams and piled up 77 yards in the first half, including a 21-yard score. West Virginia whiffed on some arm tackles.

"We really didn't do anything except overpursue some plays," defensive lineman Scooter Berry said. "We got out of gaps trying to play somebody else's responsibility. Coach just sat us down and told us to play our gaps."

The Mountaineers dodged a bullet to open the second half, when UConn quarterback Cody Endres and receiver Kashif Moore barely missed hooking up for a long touchdown pass. After that it was lockdown time.

The Huskies had only 72 yards in the second half and committed four turnovers. Brown lost a fumble and had four carries in the second half for 5 yards. His 19 carries for the day were nearly 10 fewer than his season average. Every time he tried to stretch a run out or cut back like in Kirelawich's nightmare, West Virginia's speed cut him off.

"Our defense was very tenacious in the second half," head coach Bill Stewart said. "They turned the whole ballgame around."

Once UConn fell behind and had to throw, the game was effectively over. Endres was picked off three times. Cornerback Brandon Hogan, a converted wide receiver, had two of those interceptions.

"We had a game plan all week to get on top early and make them pass the ball," Hogan said. "That's something they weren't used to doing."

It took a while for that plan to take effect, but West Virginia's defense is like bad fast food -- it's always better late.

The Mountaineers haven't allowed a second-half point in their last three games and have yielded only 28 points after halftime all year. Defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel doesn't take credit for any brilliant halftime adjustments.

"I think our kids needed to feel them out a little bit today," he said. "That's been their M.O. They've done a good job adjusting themselves as the game goes on."

Berry had his own explanation for the second-half dominance: "That means we're in shape."

And with only three seniors, this defense should be in good shape for a long time.

"They're not young kids anymore; we're eight games into the season," Casteel said. "They've gotten better and better as the year has gone on."

Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett
 
  AP Photo/Bob Child
 West Virginia quarterback Pat White (5) is congratulated after a touchdown run in the Mountaineers' 35-13 win over UConn.

EAST HARTFORD, Conn. -- Pat White said he played the worst first half of his life. Scooter Berry predicts a loss is coming if West Virginia doesn't change its ways. Coach Bill Stewart used words like "we're not very good" and "I'm frustrated" in his post-game news conferences.

The Mountaineers are not happy with themselves. And this is not a good development if you root for another team in the Big East.

If West Virginia can feel dissatisfied after stomping Connecticut 35-13, after pushing away a highly-motivated Huskies team on their field, then the rest of the league could be in trouble. The Mountaineers already looked like the class of the Big East (again) after their 34-17 win over Auburn in Morgantown. But they feel like this is just the beginning.

"We're not at the point where we're supposed to be," wideout/running back Jock Sanders said. "We feel like we've got a whole 'nother level we can show."

For starters, well, they're not very good starters. West Virginia was behind 10-0 after the first quarter on Saturday and trailed 13-7 at halftime. That marked the third straight delayed reaction by the Mountaineers, who were down 17-3 in the second quarter against Auburn and led only 7-6 at halftime against Syracuse.

Stewart talked to his team all week about "setting their alarms" for this game. He warned against sluggishness with the noon kickoff. But that didn't help as West Virginia mustered one good drive in the first half, cashing in when White glided in for a touchdown on third-and-goal from the 24.

"I don't know what it is, but we've got to get rid of it and get rid of it fast," defensive lineman Scooter Berry said. "If we can't figure this out, sooner or later, it will come back to hurt us."

The defense missed some tackles early, but the offense really struggled to get going. White completed just four of his nine passes in the first half and at one point missed Sanders on a post route for what would have been a walk-in touchdown.

"I had receivers wide open and I wasn't getting them the ball," White said. "I was underthrowing it, missing behind, missing short. I'm just glad they kept giving me a chance."

Everything changed in the second half for the team and for the quarterback Stewart calls "the greatest winner in college football." West Virginia had been reluctant to let White run the ball much since he suffered a head injury against Rutgers. Against Auburn, though, White drive-blocked a defender into the sidelines during a Noel Devine cutback run. Stewart grabbed White's arm and asked what he was doing. His answer: "I'm playing football."

So Stewart figured he might as well let White loose against UConn, and he finished with 109 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 21 carries. It was just his second 100-yard rushing game of the season and first since the Colorado game. White had 200 yards of total offense for the first time this season against an FBS opponent. He went over 5,000 passing yards and 4,000 rushing yards for his career on Saturday.

Sanders also scored three second-half touchdowns, two of them coming out of the increasingly-effective I-formation that West Virginia has employed in recent weeks.

"I'm so small, how can you see me?" the 5-foot-8 Sanders said. "That's just the advantage I have over defenders. They can't see me back there, and if anybody comes in I can bounce it outside, or if they spread it out I can go inside."

West Virginia, which reeled off the game's final 31 points against Auburn, outscored UConn 35-3 after the first quarter Saturday. The defense created four of their five turnovers in the second half. If only it didn't take a quarter or two to flip the switch, this team could reach the potential that caused people to rank them No. 8 in the preseason.

"We've got to figure out a way to come out of the blocks and smoke this thing," Stewart said. "I'm frustrated about that. We're so close."

Close is good enough now for the Mountaineers to be 3-0 and sitting alone on top the conference standings with only two road games left. The rest of the Big East doesn't want to see them get any closer.

"At times we look like one of the best teams in college football, then at other times we look like one of the worst," White said. "We haven't clicked on all cylinders all year. I think when we do, it's going to be an amazing show."

Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett

  

EAST HARTFORD, Conn. -- Connecticut still can't beat West Virginia. Can anyone else topple the Mountaineers from their Big East perch?

Pat White ran for a late touchdown for the coronation as West Virginia continued its dominance over UConn. The Huskies did just as much to beat themselves, turning the ball over five times, including four in the second half.

After a strong first half, Cody Endres threw three interceptions in the second. His receivers didn't help much with a lot of drops. But this team is not built to air it out over long stretches. Donald Brown was neutralized for the first time all season and virtually disappeared after his third-quarter fumble.

West Virginia improves to 3-0 in the Big East and is in great shape for its fourth crown in five years. UConn falls to 2-2 and needs an awful lot of help to get back in the race.

More to come after my postgame interviews ...
Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett

EAST HARTFORD, Conn. -- Well, West Virginia isn't going to score 66. But just like last year, the Mountaineers are pouncing on Connecticut's second-half mistakes to take control of this game.

Cody Endres threw an interception that the Mountaineers turned into a touchdown, and later normally sure-handed Donald Brown fumbled to set up another seven West Virginia points. UConn has three turnovers today, just like it did last year in Morgantown, while the Mountaineers have zero.

Jock Sanders has all three West Virginia second-half touchdowns. Meanwhile, Pat White has gone over 5,000 career passing yards and 4,000 career rushing yards today. West Virginia has outscored Connecticut 28-3 since the first quarter.

If UConn loses, Huskies fans will long rue the second play from scrimmage of the second half. Cody Endres had Kashif Moore wide open for an easy touchdown on a play-action pass. The throw was a little long, and Moore had to really book it to get there, but then he dropped the ball. Next play, on a third-and-1, UConn had a false start penalty and ended up punting.

West Virginia finally got its offense going by using the I-formation, a new wrinkle in recent weeks. The Mountaineers started one drive by lining up in it twice; the first play was a 21-yard pass, and the second would have been a touchdown if Tyler Urban hadn't dropped a wide open, easy catch. Sanders' second touchdown also came when he ran as the deep back out of the I.

More bad news for UConn: After West Virginia's second score of the half, Darius Butler got hurt on the ensuing kickoff. Butler was helped off after injuring his left leg. He's not only the Huskies' best cornerback, but one of their top weapons at wide receiver and on special teams.

Unless Connecticut can change momentum in a hurry, West Virginia will be in the driver's seat of this Big East race.

Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett

EAST HARTFORD, Conn. -- It's pretty safe to say West Virginia won't score 66 points this year against Connecticut.

The Huskies defense has been terrific in the first half. The Mountaineers' only scoring drive came after a big punt return set them up near midfield, and Pat White scored on 3rd-and-goal from the 24-yard line like only he can. White now is responsible for 89 touchdowns in his career, second-most all time in Big East history.

But West Virginia went three-and-out on its next two possessions, then got pinned on its own 1 to end the half. On one key series, the Mountaineers got the ball at the 47 with 2:39 before halftime. They punted 35 seconds later. No sign of Jarrett Brown yet, either.

UConn is plugging the gaps on the outside, and White's throws have been a little off most of the game. This looks more like the West Virginia offense we saw all season before the Auburn game. Maybe Auburn is just really that bad.

Offensively for the Huskies, Cody Endres is making fans forget about their love for Zach Frazer. The redshirt freshman is 11 of 19 for 112 yards and looks calm and assured in the pocket. It's hard for the Mountaineers to defend both the passing game and concentrate on Donald Brown, who has 77 yards on 15 carries. Brown just has such good vision and strength, he's nearly unstoppable when he goes north-south.

The Huskies have nearly twice as many total yards and almost three times as many first downs as the Mountaineers. A turnover and two drives that ended with field goals instead of touchdowns are the only things keeping the game this close.

But Dave Teggart has been perfect on his two field goal attempts; had he been the starting kicker at Rutgers, perhaps UConn is 3-0 in the Big East right now.

Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett

EAST HARTFORD, Conn. -- This is just the start Connecticut needed in order to finally beat the Mountaineers.

The Huskies kept West Virginia on its side of the field on the Mountaineers' first three possessions and have driven the ball deep all three times they've had the ball.

UConn coach Randy Edsall added more speed to his defense. Julius Williams, normally a defensive end, has moved inside to tackle, with Lindsey Witten getting the start on the edge. The Huskies have also gone to two linebackers and an extra safety to counter the Mountaineers' quickness. It's worked, as West Virginia has only three first downs. Pat White is 1-for-4 passing and missed a wide-open Jock Sanders for what would have been a sure touchdown pass early on.

Meanwhile, Cody Endres has been sharp at quarterback for the Huskies, and Donald Brown is doing his usual thing including a 21-yard touchdown run. The UConn running game is plowing ahead for huge chunks of yardage. If not for a fumble by D.J. Hernandez after Endres had stood in and delivered a nice 25-yard pass, the Huskies could have three scores on the board.

The Mountaineers finally got past midfield right at the end of the first quarter, but both their offense and defense need to pick it up in a hurry.
Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett

EAST HARTFORD, Conn. -- Greetings from Rentschler Field on a cool and sunny November morning.

  

First, the quarterback news: Cody Endres will start for UConn. Endres made his first career start last week in a 40-16 win over Cincinnati, going 18-of-42 passing for 196 yards. Zach Frazer is healthy and is available if Endres falters, but he'll be the backup today.

It should be a good atmosphere here, although the crowd may be a little late-arriving with the noon start. That's especially early for the students, who live nearly 20 miles away in Storrs.

I'll be keeping an eye on the Browns today. You know all about Connecticut's Donald Brown and his talent. UConn defensive end Cody Brown was a beast in the Cincinnati game and could help disrupt the West Virginia offense. And then there's the Mountaineers' Jarrett Brown. He didn't play against Auburn but had been a vital part of the rushing attack the previous few weeks. He's supposed to be healthy, and I'm interested to see how he's used today.

I saw the Huskies play at Louisville earlier this year, and the Cardinals had huge holes to run through, especially in the first three quarters. That can't happen today for UConn, or West Virginia will score at will. I think we'll see a much more solid Connecticut defense that's in the right gaps. The key will be whether defenders can wrap up Pat White and Noel Devine.

Here's a stat that will surprise you: UConn is averaging more total yards (380.6 to 356.9) and points (26.4 to 23.9) than the mighty Mountaineers.

There are never any certainties in this league, but today's winner will have an early upper hand in the conference race. West Virginia would get to 3-0 with a victory, while UConn could improve to 3-1 with wins over Cincinnati and Louisville.

It should be a good one today. Much more to come ...

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