MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – At this point, West Virginia football (6-4, 4-3 Big 12) doesn’t have any championship rings on the line.
With two games left on the schedule, the Mountaineers can finish the regular season with as many as eight wins, which would improve their theoretical bowl-game positioning significantly.
It starts with the final home game of the year against Cincinnati (3-7, 1-6 Big 12) Saturday afternoon.
Simplifying the passing game
Despite back-to-back losses in the Houston and Oklahoma State games, the WVU air attack seemed to really hit its stride in October.
But in the last three games, junior quarterback Garrett Greene averaged just 172 yards and a 48.% completion rate while throwing four touchdowns and an interception.
“We need to thin-down what we’re doing from a pass-game perspective – which we’ve already thinned-down quite a bit – but we need to thin it down even more,” WVU head coach Neal Brown said. “And then we need to get really good at these plays on Tuesday and Wednesday, and try to give every look we possibly can to these small pass plays.”
Greene does have the advantage of one of the cleanest pockets in the country. The Mountaineers have allowed the fewest sacks in the Big 12, and the seventh-fewest in the country.
“I think that he’ll be better, and we’ll give him a better chance on Saturday,” Brown said.
Cincinnati scouting report
The Bearcats enter Saturday’s matchup ranked dead-last in the Big 12 with just one conference win and an uninspiring 3-7 record, but a couple numbers to jump off the stat sheet in favor of Cincinnati.
UCF is the only school in the conference rushing for more yards per game than Cincinnati (223.3), and the Bearcats are fifth in the Big 12 in passing defense (225 yards allowed per game).
“If you just looked and the stats, and didn’t look at the win-loss record, they’re a team that’s one of the top rushing teams in the whole conference,” Brown said. “Defensively, they stop the run at a high rate, and then you look at their win-loss record. They’ve won three games and one league game. It’s just really kind of a weird makeup.”
Cincinnati hybrid-linebacker Deshawn Pace is tied for sixth in the conference in tackles-for-loss despite playing only nine games this season, and his linebacker counterpart Jack Dingle leads the Big 12 in forced fumbles.
But Brown thinks the team’s defensive success stem from an impact player in the trenches.
“They have the best interior d-lineman in our conference,” he said. “He’s special, [Dontay] Corleone. He’s from Cincinnati there, and man, we’re going to have to really know where he’s at. He’s a disruptor. He’s one of those guys that – if you didn’t have to play against him – you’d really appreciate how he plays.”
Senior Day in the new era of college football
WVU will celebrate its seniors, and others playing their final game at Milan Puskar Stadium, for Senior Day Saturday afternoon. In the transfer-portal and post-COVID era, it’s becoming harder and harder to differentiate the two groups.
“I think the biggest thing that’s changed for me as a coach is – and a lot of it is due to the COVID year – you don’t know who’s walking and who’s not,” Brown said. “I don’t really make a big deal about it, and so it’s kind of up to the guys whether they want to walk or not.”
Eight players on WVU’s roster have expiring eligibility this season, and that does not include players who may forgo their final season(s) for the NFL Draft. Other graduating seniors may have up to two more years on their clock as well.
“Senior Day is always a tough, emotional day,” Brown said. “…It’s hard, especially [for] these guys that have been in this program, that are from the state, that it really means something to. Football’s a game of passion, and you’re talking about just before the snap of the ball, you’re put in a mental frame where you got to think abut [how] there’s a lot going through your mind, and so, I think you have to prepare your guys for that.”