NCF Nation: Kevin Harper

Big East weekend rewind: Week 10

November, 5, 2012
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One last look back at the weekend that was in the Big East:

The good: Louisville continued to carry the conference flag, improving to 9-0. Cincinnati snapped a two-game losing streak by beating Syracuse. South Florida snapped a six-game losing streak by beating Connecticut.

[+] EnlargeTeddy Bridgewater
Andy Lyons/Getty ImagesThere are 34 players from Florida on Louisville's roster, and Charlie Strong recruited 27 of them, including QB Teddy Bridgewater.
The bad: Some of the losing teams from Saturday surely will be scratching their heads, particularly Syracuse, which turned the ball over twice (leading to two Cincinnati touchdowns), committed 12 penalties and had one field goal blocked and missed another. And Pitt blew a 14-point fourth-quarter lead in the house of the now-No. 4 team in the country, missing a potential game-winning field goal in double overtime and going with some questionable play calling late in regulation against Notre Dame.

The ugly: UConn fell at USF for its fourth straight loss. The Huskies did not reach the end zone, and though they kicked a third-quarter field goal, they still have not scored a second-half touchdown since the third quarter of their Sept. 29 home win over Buffalo.

Uh, refs: Losing the way Pitt did hurts enough. But it turns out after the fact that the Panthers should have gotten another chance. Tied at the end of double overtime with a chance to win the game with a 33-yard kick, Kevin Harper booted it wide right after a bad snap. But Notre Dame had two players wearing No. 2 on the field at the same time -- corner Bennett Jackson and receiver Chris Brown -- which the refs didn't see. Pitt should have been awarded a first down and would have had another chance to score and seal the win. "It was a coaching mistake," Irish coach Brian Kelly said afterward.

About time: USF had not one but two picks in its 13-6 win over UConn, becoming the last FBS team to record an interception this season. Better late than never.

Take a bow: USF quarterback B.J. Daniels' college career is over after he suffered a broken left ankle. Sad to see the senior go under those circumstances, especially less than 400 yards from breaking Matt Grothe's Big East record for total yards (10,875).

No more Munchie magic? Munchie Legaux was pulled from the Bearcats' win over Syracuse and backup Brendon Kay did not disappoint, leading consecutive scoring drives to put his team back in front. Kay's numbers don't say much -- 3-of-3 passing for 32 yards and a touchdown, three rushes for 18 yards -- but he played well, and the competition will reopen this week between him and Legaux.
What did we learn in the Big East in Week 10? Glad you asked.

1. Pitt gave it the ol' college try. And by the ol' college try, I mean Pitt blew a 20-6 fourth-quarter lead against No. 3 Notre Dame and found a way to lose. There were so many turning point moments in this game. Forget about the phantom pass-interference call on K'Waun Williams that led to the Irish closing the gap to 20-12. Pitt had several opportunities to put a clamp on the game. But questionable play calling has left many scratching their heads. Pitt had the ball with 3 minutes, 59 seconds left in the fourth quarter, still leading, and the first call from its own 20 was a pass. The Panthers eventually went three-and-out. After Notre Dame tied the game, Pitt went three-and-out again. All of a sudden, an offense that was having no problem running the ball on the Irish could do nothing. In the second overtime, a botched snap led to Kevin Harper missing what would have been a game-winning 33-yard field goal. There are only so many chances you have to take down one of the best teams in the nation. You got the feeling as the fourth quarter wore on that Pitt would find a way to lose. The Panthers did.

2. Louisville is H-O-T. Instead of letting Temple hang with them for four quarters, the Cardinals ditched the Owls midway through the second quarter, ending the game on a 28-0 run and moving to 9-0 -- the best start in school history. Louisville won 45-17 for its sixth consecutive home win, the longest streak under coach Charlie Strong. What more can I say about Teddy Bridgewater, the runaway choice for Big East Offensive Player of the Year? He had another outstanding game, throwing a career-high five touchdown passes on a shaky secondary. Louisville has Syracuse and Connecticut coming up, giving the Cardinals a great shot at being undefeated going into the regular-season finale at Rutgers.

[+] EnlargeBrendon Kay
Frank Victores/US PresswireIn place of the benched Munchie Legaux, backup QB Brendon Kay led Cincinnati past Syracuse.
3. Brendon Kay may be the future at Cincinnati. Bearcats fans have been complaining about Munchie Legaux for the entire season, but the criticism reached a fever pitch the past two weeks, as Legaux threw five interceptions combined in losses to Toledo and Louisville. Coach Butch Jones stuck behind his starter headed into Cincinnati's game against Syracuse, but Legaux struggled in the passing game again. So Jones yanked Legaux in the third quarter with the Bearcats down 24-21. Backup Kay led back-to-back scoring drives, and Cincinnati won 35-24. Jones said after the game he would open up the quarterback competition this week. "I felt we needed a spark," Jones said. "Brendon Kay has been working really hard, and I thought he deserved an opportunity. We will go back and evaluate the film, see where we are and then let those two battle it out in practice."

4. Syracuse cannot avoid mistakes. I said this Saturday on Twitter: Watching Syracuse is so maddening because this team should be bowl eligible by now, given some of the plays we have seen the Orange make this season. But in the same way misery loves company, mistakes love the Orange. They can't quit each other. Syracuse had many opportunities to beat the Bearcats, but mistakes compounded themselves. There were two turnovers that led to 14 points, a blocked field goal, missed field goals, 12 penalties and costly drops. The Orange are now going to need wins in two of their final three games (Louisville, at Missouri, at Temple) to become bowl eligible. "We have people in position to make plays," Syracuse coach Doug Marrone said. "When we make them, we play pretty darn good." Problem is, Syracuse has not made enough of them this year.

5. South Florida knows how to win. That was not so clear over the course of the past two months, when the Bulls dropped six straight games, including four close ones in the fourth quarter. The defense took a particular brunt of the criticism from not only fans but also coach Skip Holtz, who said last week he would consider making staff changes when the season ended. Well, the Bulls responded against UConn, winning 13-6 with a particularly strong fourth quarter. When was the last time somebody said that about the Bulls? After team leader B.J. Daniels went down with an ankle injury, the defense got its first two interceptions of the season -- the last Football Bowl Subdivision team in the nation to get a pick -- and preserved the close victory. The defensive front had its best performance of the season, consistently pressuring the Huskies quarterbacks. USF had a dominating defensive performance without starting linebacker Sam Barrington, who was suspended for the game. USF has to win out to get to a bowl game, but breaking a six-game losing streak and winning a close game certainly feels better than what the Bulls have gone through since their last win -- Sept. 8 at Nevada.

Improbably, Irish survive Pitt

November, 3, 2012
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SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- T.J. Jones walked into the postgame interview room donning a puffy winter hat with earflaps, the victory meal box safely in his hands.

"Chicken, bread, some beans," the junior said, looking down at dinner, "all right."

Some comfort clothing and food for a Saturday night preceded by four hours, seven minutes of nerve-racking drama that refused to end until Notre Dame, once and for all, had vanquished its ninth opponent of the season.

If the Irish are going to do what more and more are starting to believe they can -- improbably run the table, validate the third-year coach stigma and somehow sneak into the national title game -- they will count their lucky stars when looking back at what was anything but a Picasso.

Notre Dame 29, Pitt 26. Triple overtime.

This was everything the 2011 campaign was -- except the final score, meaning this unlikely 2012 run can roll on.

"I'm tired of talking about last year," coach Brian Kelly said. "I think this year the way our guys believe in each other, they believe in their coaches, they believe. They've won these games before. They believe they're going to win. I just think it's a great group of guys. The leadership is outstanding. We've got great competitors, and we've made some plays at the end that we needed to make.

"I just think it's more about this group and how they believe in each other and they believe in their coaches."

That's six believes in one answer, yet there was really no other way to describe how the Irish climbed out of a 20-6 fourth-quarter hole and reached 9-0.

[+] EnlargePitt's Kevin Harper
Matt Cashore/US PRESSWIREA missed 33-yard field goal attempt by Pitt's Kevin Harper in the second overtime allowed Notre Dame to win in the third OT.
They committed five penalties in the first quarter, eradicating their most productive opening period of the year in a frame that finished tied at 3.

They missed one field goal attempt and an extra-point attempt, leaving a metaphorical gray cloud hanging above two potential game-tying drives.

They pulled one quarterback, benched the replacement after a costly pick and watched the original starter throw a seemingly dooming interception in the end zone with less than four minutes to play, jeopardizing all the good the previous eight games had brought.

Then, after the original starter took his biggest growth spurt -- responding with a two-play scoring drive that ended with him plunging across the goal line to convert a needed two-point conversion -- they watched their running back cough up the ball on a goal-line leap in overtime No. 2, setting Pitt up for a 33-yard game-winning field goal try.

"Please fall or get a bad snap," Jones pleaded to no one in particular. "Penetration, miss it -- something. You want to yell, you want to like run on the field. There's a lot of different emotions that you want to do, but you can't."

DaVaris Daniels felt a pit in his stomach and turned away. Zack Martin sat and stared straight down into nothing.

And Kelly, the man who once cracked after a spring game that watching his starting quarterback gave him a heart attack?

"I really -- in all of those situations, there is just so much going on that I can't ever stop for one play and think about one play," Kelly said, his head down as he allowed himself a brief laugh. "I'm always thinking about something else that has to happen. So I couldn't give you a great answer other than I hope he misses, because I'd like to win this game."

Kevin Harper missed from 33. Notre Dame got the ball back. Everett Golson completed the next step of his evolution by diving in from a yard out, withstanding a replay review to cap his 301-yard day.

The Irish survived a misplaced page from the 2011 scrapbook -- three giveaways to Pitt's none. An exasperated Kelly survived a postgame presser straight out of last year -- a couple of testy answers following a close win.

The Irish can use Sunday morning's extra hour to sleep a little bit better, knowing some way, somehow, they survived their most frightening scare of the season.

"It's a very special team," Martin said. "We got great guys fighting to the end, but we've been on the other side of this for so many years, and I think the character of the guys we have here, and the way we fight to finish a game, is really thick. And it's gotten us to that next level."

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Notre Dame remains perfect after a 29-26 triple-overtime win against Pitt. Here's how it happened:

It was over when: Kevin Harper missed a 33-yard field goal attempt in the second overtime that would have won it for Pitt. He hit one in the next OT, but the Irish left no doubt by scoring a touchdown on an Everett Golson rush from 1 yard out to clinch it.

Game ball goes to: Golson came up big for Notre Dame when it mattered most, leading the Irish out of a 20-6 fourth-quarter deficit and diving in for the game-winning touchdown run. Golson finished the day 23-of-42 for 227 yards with a touchdown pass and an interception. He had 15 carries for 74 yards.

Stat of the game: Notre Dame somehow survived despite losing the turnover margin 3-0. Pitt had questionable play-calling late with the lead and was unable to put away the Irish. Tough loss to swallow for the Panthers.
Here are my picks for the Big East all-conference team.

Offense
QB B.J. Daniels, USF
RB Lyle McCombs, UConn
RB Ray Graham, Pitt*
RB Montel Harris, Temple*
TE Ryan Griffin, UConn
OT Justin Pugh, Syracuse
OT Martin Wallace, Temple
C Mario Benavides, Louisville
OG Chris Jacobson, Pitt
OG Mark Popek, USF
WR Alec Lemon, Syracuse
WR Andre Davis, USF

Defense
DE Trevardo Williams, UConn
DT Scott Vallone, Rutgers
DT Aaron Donald, Pitt
DE Ryne Giddins, USF*
DE Walter Stewart, Cincinnati*
LB Khaseem Greene, Rutgers
LB DeDe Lattimore, USF

LB Sio Moore, UConn
CB Logan Ryan, Rutgers
CB Adrian Bushell, Louisville
S Hakeem Smith, Louisville
S Duron Harmon, Rutgers

Special teams
PK Kevin Harper, Pitt
P Pat O'Donnell, Cincinnati
RS Ralph David Abernathy IV, Cincinnati

* = tie

Notes: About those ties. Graham is a no-brainer all-conference back when healthy. The only problem is I have no idea how healthy Graham is right now or how healthy he is going to be when the season ends. He could start slow and finish fast. Or maybe he won't regain his old form. So I am hedging my bets a little and putting him on there with Montel Harris of Temple. Harris has the potential for a 1,000-yard season.

Defensive end: I really think Williams, Giddins and Stewart have the potential to hit double-digits in sacks this season. That is how highly I think of them. And if the Big East coaches have ties on their all-conference team at the end of the year, so can I!

Tight end: This was a tough one. Griffin is in my preseason Top 25 countdown, but I was a little worried when I saw he would not be starting against UMass. Coach Paul Pasqualoni said not to pay attention to the depth chart because he and John Delahunt are interchangeable. Still got me to thinking that Hubie Graham of Pitt could very well be the first-team tight end at the end of the season.

Receiver: This is a toss-up. I really love Davis' potential. I know a lot are going to clamor for Devin Street to be on the list. He is my next man up. I went with Lemon over Street because I have more confidence in the Syracuse passing game than Pitt.
We have come to the final group in the 2011 postseason position rankings: special teams. This one is all encompassing -- kickers, punters, returners, and team coverage -- which has made it quite the task to evaluate as one group. Some teams had returns that excelled and kickers that were so-so. Some had great kickers but a so-so return game.

I tried to give equal weight to all parts. In the end, I took the rankings in several special-teams categories and used an average ranking to help determine these. Special weight was given to game-changing plays as well.

1. Cincinnati. The Bearcats ranked in the top two in four of the five statistical categories I used to evaluate special teams as a whole. The only area lacking was field goals, but I thought overall Tony Miliano had a decent year for a true freshman, even considering his missed kick against West Virginia. Ralph David Abernathy IV emerged as a dynamite kickoff man, and Pat O'Donnell was the best punter in the Big East again. Kickoff coverage was solid as well. Preseason ranking: 5.

2. UConn. Nick Williams averaged just 5.6 yards a return on punts. He was not particularly dynamic on kickoff returns, either, ranking No. 4 in the Big East after going into the season as one of the top returners in the league. UConn was one of two Big East teams without a kickoff return for a touchdown. But still, the Huskies were solid in every other category. Dave Teggart once again was the Big East first-team kicker, and Cole Wagner averaged 41.1 yards a punt. Preseason ranking: 1.

[+] EnlargeTavon Austin
Charles LeClaire/US PresswireTavon Austin had two kickoff returns for touchdowns last season.
3. West Virginia. Tavon Austin was hands down the best returner in the Big East this season, and one of the best in the nation. But since this is an evaluation of special teams as a whole, everything is taken into account. West Virginia had the worst punting situation in the Big East, and ranked last in kickoff coverage. There were several critical blocked field goals as well. Special teams absolutely improved as the year went on, and some players made big plays -- Eain Smith comes to mind. But Austin alone wasn't enough to elevate the group higher. Preseason ranking: 7.

4. Rutgers. Once again, the Scarlet Knights were highly effective at blocking kicks -- a staple under coach Greg Schiano. Jeremy Deering was solid in the kickoff return game as well. But San San Te had the worst field goal percentage in the Big East (64.5 percent), and kickoff coverage ranked No. 7 in the conference. Rutgers only had an opportunity to return 16 punts last season, averaging about 6 yards a return. Preseason ranking: 6.

5. Pitt. The Panthers lost their punter and field goal kicker from a year ago and did perhaps better than expected in special teams overall. Punter Matt Yoklic was second in the league in punts, though Kevin Harper did struggle at times with his field goals. Losing Cameron Saddler really hurt the punt return game as well. Preseason ranking: 8.

6. Syracuse. Ross Krautman led the Big East in field goal percentage (78.9) but he only had 19 attempts on the season, second fewest in the Big East. Punt returns were essentially nonexistent -- with only 12 attempts for an average of 3.1 yards a return. Jeremiah Kobena was a nice addition at kickoff returner, but the Orange still ranked No. 6 in the Big East in that category and kickoff return coverage as well. Preseason ranking: 4.

7. Louisville. Chris Philpott had a disappointing season, ranking No. 7 in the league in field goal percentage (66.7). He and Josh Bleser averaged 37.3 yards a punt. Punt returning ranked No. 7 in the Big East as well, and aside from Adrian Bushell's 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown, that category was just average for the Cardinals. Preseason ranking: 3.

8. USF. I think the Bulls were the biggest disappointment in this category. Lindsey Lamar, who was the first-team Big East selection at returner last year, had zero this year and ranked No. 9 in the league in kickoff return average. His average was down some six yards from last season. When Terrence Mitchell got hurt and missed the second half of the season, no one was dynamic at punt returner, either. Maikon Bonani ranked No. 3 in field goal percentage but fairly or not is going to be remembered for missing a field goal that would have beaten Rutgers, and eventually gotten the Bulls bowl eligible. Preseason ranking: 2.

Big East helmet stickers: Week 14

December, 3, 2011
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How about a few helmet stickers on the final week of the regular season for a job well done.

Tavon Austin, KR, West Virginia. Austin returned a kickoff 90 yards for a touchdown in a 30-27 win over USF, becoming the first Mountaineer to score on at least two kickoff returns in a season since Shawn Terry scored on three in 2000.

Tyler Bitancurt, K, West Virginia. Bitancurt made a 28-yard field goal with no time left to give the Mountaineers a 30-27 win over USF, clinching a share of the Big East championship. Bitancurt did have a miss in the game, but he also made a total of three field goals, including one from 42 yards.

Kevin Harper, K, Pitt. Harper kicked a career-high four field goals in a 33-20 win over Syracuse. Harper made kicks from 37, 47 and two from 36 in the victory, though he did miss one from 44 yards.

Brandon Lindsey, DE, Pitt. Lindsey was a huge reason why Pitt beat Syracuse 33-20. He had a hand in half of Syracuse's six turnovers -- with two forced fumbles and an interception that directly led to 13 points. Lindsey added a sack, three quarterback hurries and six total tackles.

Walter Stewart, DE, Cincinnati. Stewart got the game started with a huge play, snatching the ball out of Johnny McEntee's hands in the end zone for a defensive score, as the Bearcats went on to beat UConn. It was the first touchdown of Stewart's career. He was credited with a sack, tackle for loss, forced fumble and fumble recovery on the play.

Derek Wolfe, DT, Cincinnati. Wolfe recorded 10 tackles, 2.5 sacks and five tackles for loss in a 35-27 win over UConn. Wolfe moves into fourth place on the school career sacks list with 19.5, and 10th on the career tackles for loss list with 35.

Halftime: Pitt 20, Syracuse 10

December, 3, 2011
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In the battle for bowl eligibility, Pitt has a 20-10 lead on Syracuse going into halftime thanks to several Orange mistakes.

Syracuse turned the ball over twice in the first 2:25 of the game, leading directly to 10 points for Pitt. The first half has been all about mistakes for the Orange, who have nine penalties for 90 yards. One of them -- a personal foul on Ri'Shard Anderson -- helped Pitt score its lone touchdown on a prolonged offensive drive, when Anthony Gonzalez scored on a 17-yard run out of the Wildcat.

The Orange have been able to move the ball, but their drives stall. They had one first-and-goal at the 9 but settled for a 22-yard field goal from Ross Krautman.

Pitt has not exactly looked crisp on offense, either. Running back Zach Brown and receiver Ronald Jones are both out. Tino Sunseri has taken several sacks as well, including one in the red zone that forced the Panthers to settle for a 36-yard field goal from Kevin Harper.

The winner of this game becomes bowl eligible. Syracuse has lost four straight. Running back Antwon Bailey has 30 yards in the first half, getting him to over 1,000 yards on the season.

Pitt leads WVU 20-14

November, 25, 2011
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MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- West Virginia showed it can run the ball, but special teams hurt the Mountaineers once again in the third quarter against Pitt.

Tavon Austin muffed a punt deep in Pitt territory, and the Panthers converted that into a 27-yard field goal by Kevin Harper. It was the second muffed punt of the game for the Mountaineers. But perhaps lucky for them, the defense has been able to hold Pitt to field goals both times it was pinned deep.

Still, Pitt took a 20-7 lead on that field goal. West Virginia answered with a touchdown to close the gap to 20-14, on a powerful run by Shawne Alston. That seven-play, 60-yard touchdown drive had 44 yards of rushing. In fact, West Virginia ran for 75 yards in the third quarter after having minus-2 yards on the ground at the half.

The Mountaineers had a chance late in the third quarter to seize momentum, but failed to convert a fourth-and-4 from their 30. Somehow Pitt is holding on without doing much on offense in the third quarter. The Panthers also are without starting running back Zach Brown, out with a bruised sternum. Pitt has lost its top two backs to injury this season, after Ray Graham was lost for the season with a torn ACL earlier in the year.

Pitt dominating West Virginia early

November, 25, 2011
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MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- Pitt has dominated West Virginia up front, and that is a big reason why the Panthers are up 14-0 after the first quarter.

Special mistakes haven't helped West Virginia, either. Jorge Wright was called for a personal foul on a missed 38-yard field goal by Kevin Harper, giving the Panthers new life. They ended up scoring their first touchdown on that drive, after successfully converting a fourth down.

Pitt scored its second touchdown after a Michael Molinari punt traveled 22 yards and gave the Panthers the ball at their own 48. Still, the Panthers have pushed West Virginia around on both lines, opening up running lanes for the offense and harassing Geno Smith on defense.

Both Pittsburgh touchdowns have come on the ground. Pitt has 62 yards rushing in the early going. The success on the ground has enabled the play-action to work well, and Pitt already has 123 total yards. West Virginia has failed to convert on third down (0-for-4). Aaron Donald notched his 10th sack of the season, and the Panthers have several other hurries and tackles for loss.

West Virginia is generally a slow-starting team, so we shall see how the Mountaineers respond.

Weekend Rewind: Big East

November, 7, 2011
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Let us take one final look back at Week 10 before moving on to Week 11.

[+] EnlargeZach Perkins
AP Photo/Jeff GentnerZach Perkins and Louisville had plenty to celebrate after beating West Virginia on Saturday afternoon.
The good: Cincinnati moved to 3-0, but this is a team living on the edge right now. The Bearcats have faced second-half deficits of nine against Louisville, 10 against USF and 10 against Pitt in their three Big East games, but have been able to come back to win all three. I am sure coach Butch Jones would like to not have to sweat a game out, but the Bearcats are going to be in for another huge test Saturday when they play West Virginia. Both teams have high-powered offenses to be sure, but against Pitt, Cincinnati did not have a passing touchdown for the first time this season. ... Meanwhile, Louisville is on a roll, having won three straight league games for the first time since 2006. The Cardinals have been bolstered with excellent first quarters, outscoring their past five opponents 41-7 in that period. The win was particularly stunning because West Virginia has owned the series. It was the first win for Louisville since a 44-34 win at home in 2006. Teddy Bridgewater continued his improvement, throwing for a career-high 246 yards. He has completed more than 70 percent of his passes in back-to-back wins against Syracuse and West Virginia. ... UConn got a much-needed win against Syracuse, and relied on its ground game to get it. The Huskies had a season-high 198 yards on the ground against an FBS opponent. Lyle McCombs had a career-high 152 yards rushing and UConn got three rushing touchdowns after getting just one in its first seven games against FBS teams. ... Rutgers is bowl eligible for the sixth time in seven seasons after a comeback win against USF. It was the second time this season the Scarlet Knights erased a double-digit fourth-quarter deficit. They won both those games in overtime. Receiver Mohamed Sanu has 81 receptions for 844 yards on the season, and needs 12 catches to break Larry Fitzgerald's single-season league record of 92. ... Syracuse safety Phillip Thomas leads the Big East with six interceptions after getting two against UConn. It was his second multi-interception game of the season.

The bad: The Bulls have lost their past four games with every breakdown imaginable. The defense faltered in losses to Pitt and Cincinnati; the offense faltered in a loss at UConn; special teams hurt bigtime in a loss to Rutgers. They have now lost four straight games for the first time in program history. Incredibly, USF has scored first in all eight of its games this season. The Bulls just cannot hang onto wins. They have had second-half leads in their past three games, but have lost all three. ... Meanwhile, West Virginia has dropped two conference games for the sixth straight season after a disappointing loss to Louisville. The Mountaineers have not finished better than 5-2 in league play since going 7-0 in 2005. It was just the third time they lost a game when scoring at least 30 points since 2000. They are now 73-3 since 2000 when scoring 30 or more points. They had a blocked field goal returned for a touchdown, the first such score against West Virginia since Virginia Tech did it in 2004. ... Syracuse forced a season-high five turnovers against Connecticut, which should be good. Except the Orange failed to turn any of them into points and lost their second straight game. It actually is the second time this season a Big East team forced five turnovers and lost (Rutgers against North Carolina). ... Pitt has had tough luck in close games, but the Panthers have themselves to blame. In four of their losses this season, they have held second-half leads. Against Iowa, Notre Dame and Cincinnati, those leads were lost in the third or fourth quarters.

Notable

Stedman Bailey, WR, West Virginia, had a career-high eight receptions for 118 yards, his sixth 100-yard game of the season.

Justin Francis, DT, Rutgers, had a career-high 11 tackles with four tackles for loss and two sacks against USF.

Khaseem Greene, LB, Rutgers, had a career-high 17 tackles against USF.

Kevin Harper, K, Pitt, made a career-long 52-yard field goal against Cincinnati, marking the longest field goal by a collegiate player in Heinz Field history.

DeDe Lattimore, LB, USF, had a career-high 2.5 sacks against Rutgers.

Alec Lemon, WR, Syracuse, had a career-high 157 yards receiving on nine catches against UConn, becoming the ninth player in school history with 100 career receptions.

Nick Provo, TE, Syracuse, has 39 receptions this season, setting a single-season record for a Syracuse tight end.

Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia, threw for 410 yards and moved into second place on the school's career passing chart with 6,197 yards. He had his third 400-yard game of the season.

Devin Street, WR, Pitt, had a career-high eight receptions for 118 yards against Cincinnati.

Week 11

USF at Syracuse, 8 p.m., Friday, ESPN2

Pitt at Louisville, noon, Saturday, Big East Network

West Virginia at Cincinnati, noon, Saturday, ABC

Rutgers at Army, 3:30 p.m., CBS Sports Network

Final: Cincinnati 26, Pitt 23

November, 5, 2011
11/05/11
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Call 'em the Comeback Cats.

For the third consecutive Big East game, Cincinnati came from behind to win. This time, the Bearcats overcame a 10-point third-quarter deficit to beat Pitt 26-23 and remain in first place in the league standings. At 7-1 and 3-0 in the Big East, the Bearcats are the team everybody is chasing. They could even afford to lose a game and still win the Big East because they already beat the only other team with a loss -- Louisville.

The big difference in the second half for Cincinnati was the way it was able to get after Pitt quarterback Tino Sunseri. After a first half in which Sunseri looked confident and comfortable, he was out of sorts because the pressure got to him. Sunseri had two turnovers in the second half -- an interception and a fumble -- that the Bearcats converted into 10 points — and that obviously made a huge difference.

But the Bearcats could not put the Panthers away because they could not sustain their own drives. Zach Collaros threw an interception late in the fourth quarter, and Pitt was unable to capitalize. The Panthers went for it on fourth-and-6 from the Cincinnati 36, rather than attempt a long field goal, and Sunseri threw a bad incompletion.

Cincinnati went three-and-out, giving Pitt yet another chance. The Panthers drove 56 yards to get into field goal range, but Kevin Harper missed a 50-yard field goal with 14 seconds left.

The Bearcats won despite going 2-of-13 on third down and getting outgained by Pitt. But as has been the case all year, the Bearcats just find ways to win.

First quarter: Pitt 10, USF 7

September, 29, 2011
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PITTSBURGH -- Pitt leads No. 16 USF 10-7 after the first quarter. Here are a few quick observations:
  • The Pitt offensive line has done a good job of protecting Tino Sunseri so far, even after starting guard Lucas Nix left the game with an injury. He has not been sacked and has been mostly on target. The Panthers had two unfortunate drops from Mike Shanahan -- one that would have been a sure touchdown, another on the next play that most likely would have been a first down. But so far, they are doing a nice job of mixing the run and pass
  • Both starting running backs for Pitt and USF are running hard. Ray Graham and Darrell Scott have been able to gain big chunks of yards already in the game -- Graham with 55 total yards and Scott with 35. The USF defense gave up a lot of yards last week in the first half against UTEP, so we will see if the Bulls can make some adjustments.
  • The USF defense continues to be opportunistic. The lone Bulls' touchdown came off a Pitt fumble.
  • Kevin Harper, who has struggled at times this season, kicked a career-long 47-yard field goal to give the Panthers a 10-7 lead. That marks the first time USF has trailed all season.

Sudden-change defense providing boost

September, 26, 2011
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Notre Dame committed two more turnovers Saturday at Pitt, which was actually an improvement after giving the ball away five, five and three times in its first three games, respectively.

[+] EnlargeStephon Tuitt and Prince Shembo
AP Photo/Keith SrakocicNotre Dame's Stephon Tuitt, 7, celebrates with Prince Shembo, 55, after sacking Pittsburgh's Tino Sunseri. The Irish defense has been at its best following a turnover by the offense.
Nonetheless, the Fighting Irish are tied with Tulsa for the nation lead with 15 turnovers, and they are all alone at the bottom in turnover margin, at -2.50.

The latter figure is of less importance to the Irish because of just how effective their defense has been. And, more specifically, because of how effective their defense has been once the offense turns the ball over.

Following Notre Dame's past four turnovers, Irish opponents have totaled just 12 yards on 14 plays, an average of just less than .86 yards per play. Two field goals are all the Irish have allowed during that stretch.

The sudden-change defense was at its absolute best in the first quarter Saturday, after Pitt's Andrew Taglianetti forced a Tommy Rees fumble on a third-and-12 at the Irish 26 yard line.

Pitt took over at the 23, committed a false start penalty and, two plays later, lost five more yards when Manti Te'o sacked Tino Sunseri. The drive, which ended with a 45-yard Kevin Harper field goal to put Pitt ahead 3-0, totaled -5 yards on four plays.

A week earlier, following a John Goodman fumbled punt deep in his own territory in the fourth quarter, Notre Dame's defense responded three plays later by picking off Michigan State's Kirk Cousins in the end zone to seal the game.

"I think Coach [Bob] Diaco and the defensive staff do a great job of talking about it," Brian Kelly said of his defensive coordinator during his Sunday teleconference. "I think it's something that we coach every day and talk to our players about, and they then -- I think right now, any time you have some early success in that, it starts to build a confidence level where they are talking about it themselves, and I think we have got that going for us."

That's no lie. Just a week earlier, following the Irish's win against the Spartans, Te'o said being ready for such situations is part of the defense's DNA.

Fifth-year safety and captain Harrison Smith said the unit has come to enjoy being ready to get back out there, acknowledging the unusualness of the statement by adding, "as sick as it sounds."

Notre Dame's defense has just five takeaways on the season, but Kelly doesn't see that as a problem.

Given the circumstances the unit has been put in, it is doing just fine.

"Well, I think there's a balance there in terms of big plays," Kelly said. "We really have not let up any big-play runs, and if you are going to gamble a little bit and look to get that takeaway, there's a chance that you give up some more big plays.

"We are philosophically more in line with wanting to be gap sound and disciplined against the run game. I mean, we are doing pretty good this year relative to teams in running the football. I'm more interested in that right now than gambling on defense to get some more turnovers."

Sloppy play in the early going

September, 24, 2011
9/24/11
12:46
PM ET
PITTSBURGH -- It wouldn't be a Notre Dame first quarter without a Fighting Irish turnover, and Pitt made sure of that. Andrew Taglianetti drilled Tommy Rees on a third-and-12 play. Rees fumbled and Greg Williams recovered for the Panthers at the Irish 23.

Negative five yards later, Pitt took a 3-0 lead on a 45-yard field goal from Kevin Harper.

With just more than two minutes remaining in the first quarter, we've seen one turnover, five combined penalties and one scoring drive that went for -5 yards. That about sums up this sloppy start for both teams.

Maybe there was something to a noon kickoff being an adjustment.

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