CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) - Protecting the ball is high on No. 5 West Virginia's to-do list this week.
The Mountaineers have lost only 10 fumbles all season, but three of those came in Thursday night's 38-31 win over Louisville.
Quarterback Pat White dropped the ball three times, losing two - White recovered one of his own fumbles. Running back Steve Slaton lost one of his two fumbles.
``We take a lot of pride in our ball security, and not just in games, but in practice,'' West Virginia coach Rich Rodriguez said Monday. ``Sometimes either the fundamentals slip or they do a good job of getting a hat on the ball and it comes out. It's kind of crazy. It seems like it happens in bunches for us, but hopefully, we'll get that corrected.''
In West Virginia's only loss, a 21-13 setback at South Florida on Sept. 28, the Mountaineers lost three of five fumbles and were intercepted three times. Remove the Louisville and South Florida games and West Virginia has only five turnovers.
Giveaways have become especially important to West Virginia (8-1, 3-1 Big East) because Saturday's opponent is No. 21 Cincinnati (8-2, 3-2). The Bearcats are one of the nation's top momentum stoppers, ranking third in turnover margin. West Virginia is fourth.
Cincinnati has made its statement with 22 interceptions, three more than any other Bowl Subdivision team.
``I know Cincinnati is one of the best in the country at creating turnovers and we can't afford to have any if we expect to win the game,'' Rodriguez said.
Even if it does hold onto the ball, West Virginia needs improvement in other areas.
West Virginia, the least penalized team in the Big East, was flagged a season-high 11 times for 116 yards against Louisville. Three were offensive holding calls and two were for blocking in the back.
``It wasn't the best performance, but at the same time we played a talented team, we got the win and we're certainly not going to apologize for that,'' Rodriguez said.
And Steve Slaton, who finished fourth in the Heisman Trophy voting last season, has been held under 100 rushing yards in four of the last five games.
It's White who has been dominant lately.
He has 147 and 156 rushing yards in his last two games. Against Louisville he ran 50 yards for the go-ahead score with 1:36 left in the fourth quarter and threw for 181 yards and two scores.
He has two passing TDs in eight of his last 12 games despite getting injured several times.
``He's a great competitor. He's proven that over his three years. He's not a real big guy - about 190 pounds - but he's not afraid to stick it up in there,'' Rodriguez said. ``He's gotten a lot of respect from our team just because of the way he competes each and every day. His leadership ability, which shows every day in practice as well, is what you want out of the quarterback.''
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