West Virginia: Mountaineers' pass defense shows some leaks
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TAMPA, Fla. -- West Virginia coach Bill Stewart didn't let practicality get in the way of superstition last night.
The game-time temperature when the Mountaineers kicked off against South Florida?
The public address announcer said it was 85 degrees, then quickly added, "feels like 92."
No matter -- Stewart wore a woolen sweater vest atop his polo.
The same sweater vest he had worn as West Virginia won four consecutive games.
If the extra layer didn't crank Stewart's temperature up as the Mountaineers (6-2, 2-1) lost, 30-19, to South Florida (6-2, 2-2) at Raymond James Stadium, the play of Bulls quarterback B.J. Daniels certainly did.
Daniels, who took over after Matt Grothe injured his knee in the third game of the season and entered last night's game the engineer of a team that had been beaten twice in a row, threw for 232 yards and ran for 104.
To put it another way: Daniels single-handedly provided 13 more yards of offense than West Virginia's team total and put a large dent in the Mountaineers' hopes at a Big East Conference title.
"We lost contain, basic, elementary football," Stewart said of the transgressions that allowed Daniels do to his best Major Harris impersonation for much of the night. "Now, does his athleticism have something to do with it? You bet; he's a great player."
As Grothe made his way up the tunnel aided by a pair of crutches on his way to where shouts of elation could be heard from his team's locker room, he offered praise for his understudy.
"He just did a great job," Grothe said. "No, it wasn't unexpected by me. He knows what he's doing out there, he knows how to play and he's getting the opportunity now. He didn't force anything and he let it all come to him."
Funny thing is, West Virginia took it right at South Florida at the beginning, on an 11-play opening drive where the Bulls looked totally out of whack.
That wouldn't be the case for long.
It was the one drive all night the West Virginia offensive line was able to exhibit some semblance of control over South Florida bookend defensive linemen Jason Pierre-Paul and George Selvie.
After that initial drive, whether it was batting passes down, forcing West Virginia quarterback Jarrett Brown out of a rhythm or sealing up would-be running lanes for Noel Devine (42 yards), Pierre-Paul and Selvie were major disrupters to everything West Virginia wanted to do on offense.
On the other side, West Virginia cornerback Keith Tandy served as South Florida's most indispensable component, getting beaten badly twice on deep balls thrown by Daniels.
Tandy's first flash of ineptitude allowed receiver Carlton Mitchell to pull in a tying, 49-yard touchdown pass -- over Tandy's head -- to strike right back after West Virginia's opening drive.
From there, after South Florida kicked a field goal and West Virginia registered a safety and the Bulls realized a 10-9 advantage after the first quarter, Tandy's ineffectiveness resurfaced.
Mitchell blasted Tandy over the head again, this time a 69-yard play to the West Virginia 9 that led to an 11-yard touchdown three plays later and a 17-9 South Florida lead midway through the second quarter.
"[Mitchell] is better than our No. 8," Stewart said, alluding to Tandy.
Even with Tandy offering little resistance, West Virginia was still in it, trailing, 20-12, at halftime.
On the first drive of the second half, West Virginia marched through the teeth of South Florida on nine plays -- seven rushes -- with Brown scoring on an 11-yard run to pull the Mountaineers within a point, 20-19.
It served as a flash of early third-quarter momentum, which if seized would have gone a long way; instead, West Virginia allowed South Florida to swing right back, going 69 yards on eight plays capped off with Daniels hooking up with Sterling Griffin for a 6-yard touchdown.
That made it 27-19, and a 44-yard field with just over 12 minutes left propelled the Bulls to a 30-19 advantage.
With Daniels at quarterback, it was more than enough of a buffer.
West Virginia safety Robert Sands said of Daniels: "He was everything we thought he was. We thought he was a pretty good athlete."
Talk about your understatements.
First Published October 31, 2009 12:07 am