Pivotal Big East Matchup

West Virginia is coming off one of its worst performances of the season, but still managed to come away with a victory. It may not be as lucky if it has a similar outing against Cincinnati.

The fifth-ranked Mountaineers continue their push for the Big East crown on Saturday when they visit the 21st-ranked Bearcats, who are back in the thick of the conference chase.

Oddsmakers from Bodog have made West Virginia –6.5 point spread favorites (View College Football odds) for Saturday's game (Game Matchup). Current public betting information shows that 69% of bets for this game have been placed on West Virginia –6.5 (View College Football bet percentages).

West Virginia (8-1, 3-1) is a half-game back of first-place Connecticut in the Big East, while Cincinnati (8-2, 3-2) moved into third place in the conference after knocking off the then-No. 16 Huskies 27-3 last Saturday. The Mountaineers host No. 25 UConn next Saturday before concluding the regular season against Pittsburgh.

West Virginia beat Louisville 38-31 last Thursday to move up one place in the AP poll and one place in the BCS standings to sixth.

It was a sloppy victory, though, as the Mountaineers - the least penalized team in the Big East - were flagged a season-high 11 times for 116 yards and turned the ball over three times.

"I'd rather win ugly than lose pretty," West Virginia coach Rich Rodriguez said. "We certainly made enough mistakes today to last a full season, but we hung in there."

The Mountaineers' 14 turnovers are the second-fewest in the Big East, but the Bearcats lead the nation in both takeaways (35) and interceptions (22).

"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.

Despite its subpar performance last week, West Virginia got another strong effort from Heisman Trophy hopeful Pat White.

The junior quarterback threw two touchdown passes and scored the game-winning TD on a 50-yard run with 1:36 remaining. White finished with 24 carries for 147 yards and threw for 181 more.

"He's gotten a lot of respect from our team just because of the way he competes each and every day," Rodriguez said of White, who has rushed for 303 yards and passed for 325 in his last two games. "His leadership ability, which shows every day in practice as well, is what you want out of the quarterback."

White has rushed for 204 yards and two touchdowns and thrown for 198 yards and two scores in two career games against Cincinnati.

The Mountaineers are 13-1-1 against the Bearcats, and have won all five meetings in Cincinnati. The Bearcats' only win in the series was a 15-13 victory at Morgantown in 2003.

West Virginia beat the Bearcats 42-24 last Nov. 11 at home, and in their last game in Cincinnati on Nov. 9, 2005, the Mountaineers won 38-0.

This season, West Virginia is first in the Big East in scoring, averaging 40.4 points, while Cincinnati is second with 36.6 per game.

Mountaineers junior running back Steve Slaton ran for 129 yards and scored four touchdowns two years ago against the Bearcats. Last season against them, he rushed for 148 yards and two TDs on just 12 carries.

Slaton, who finished fourth in the Heisman voting last season, was held to 60 yards on 17 carries last week against Louisville. After averaging 125.5 yards per game and scoring nine touchdowns in his first four contests, Slaton is averaging 76.6 yards and has five TDs in his last five games.

Cincinnati is second in the Big East in rushing defense, allowing 98.8 yards per game, and held UConn to a season-low 22 yards on the ground last Saturday.

Ben Mauk threw for three touchdowns and ran for another against UConn. Mauk, who is second in the Big East with 21 touchdown passes, has thrown for 1,120 yards, 11 TDs and two interceptions in five home games.

Cincinnati has eight regular-season wins for the first time since 1993, and is looking to notch nine victories for the first time since 1976.

"What we want to do is continue to build our program so we are competing for a Big East championship," first-year coach Brian Kelly said. "We came in here with the philosophy that we want to change the perception of this football program. That means we are going to compete for championships."

by: Staff Writers - Email Us

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