WVU at USF Preview
Tampa, FL - West Virginia has needed second-half comebacks to win its last two games, but pulling off a third straight might be particularly tough to do.
The 20th-ranked Mountaineers hope to assert themselves as serious Big East title contenders in Friday night's visit to South Florida, which is trying to rebound from back-to-back losses to the league's other top teams.
Oddsmakers from online sports book Sportsbook.com have made West Virginia –3.5 point spread favorites (View College Football odds) for Friday’s game (Game Matchup). Current public betting information shows that 67% of bets for this game have been placed on West Virginia –3.5 (View College Football bet percentages).
The Mountaineers (6-1, 2-0) are trying to keep up with reigning league champion Cincinnati and Pittsburgh, both of which are more highly ranked and also unbeaten in conference play.
West Virginia will face both of those teams in November, but first it must focus on the Bulls, who helped derail the Mountaineers' national title hopes the last time the teams met in Tampa. South Florida's 21-13 win on Sept. 28, 2007, was then-No. 5 West Virginia's only road loss in an 11-2 campaign.
The Mountaineers have averaged 15.0 points in their last three games against the Bulls, going 1-2. West Virginia won 13-7 at home last season despite being outgained 326-280.
"(South Florida coach) Jim Leavitt is a great defensive coach," West Virginia coach Bill Stewart said. "It's still his stuff, and he has a lot of input and flavor in that defense."
Stewart would certainly prefer to see his team get ahead early. The Mountaineers trailed Marshall 7-3 at the half before winning 24-7 two weeks ago, and they were behind Connecticut on Saturday before Noel Devine's 56-yard touchdown run with 2:10 to play gave them a 28-24 win.
The game was an emotional one as UConn played for the first time following the death of cornerback Jasper Howard, who was stabbed in an on-campus incident the previous weekend.
West Virginia's conference-best running game has keyed the Mountaineers' current four-game winning streak, as Devine is averaging 148.0 yards per game in that stretch.
The star junior, ranked seventh nationally in total rushing, had 171 of his 178 yards in the second half against UConn.
"You have to tell yourself you're going to do something," Devine said. "When you put your mind to it, you can do it. And I had my mind set on it that I was going to do it no matter what."
Quarterback Jarrett Brown was unspectacular against the Huskies as he returned from a mild concussion, and the Mountaineers may try to rely on Devine again. South Florida (5-2, 1-2) ranks first in the Big East defending the pass but seventh against the run, allowing 132.4 yards per game.
After giving up 189 rushing yards to Cincinnati in a 34-17 home loss Oct. 15, the Bulls allowed 214 to Pitt en route to a 41-14 road defeat Saturday as All-American defensive end George Selvie had just one tackle.
"We've got to play defense, and we didn't play defense," Leavitt said. "We've played really poor defense since the second half of the Cincinnati game."
The Bulls also struggled offensively against the Panthers, as redshirt freshman quarterback B.J. Daniels - filling in for injured senior Matt Grothe - went 4 for 8 for 54 yards and two interceptions.
Daniels may need a better performance through the air, considering that West Virginia's defense is ranked ninth nationally against the run. UConn quarterback Cody Endres threw for 378 yards against the Mountaineers, although he was intercepted three times.
The Bulls are 21-6 at home since the start of 2005 and they could provide a strong test for West Virginia, which is just 1-1 on the road. The Mountaineers won at Syracuse but lost 41-30 at Auburn on Sept. 19.
"We are 6-1 for a reason," Stewart said. "We're good when we play good. Our players believe that we can only stop ourselves. When we quit doing that, we're a pretty good football team."
Posted: 10/27/09 11:38AM ET