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West Virginia shuts down South Florida 20-6

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West Virginia forced three turnovers and held South Florida to just over 200 total yards as the Mountaineers ran their record to 5-1 with a suffocating 20-6 win over the Bulls in Morgantown.

MORGANTOWN, W.V.--West Virginia's Final Four basketball team of a year ago was honored after the first quarter, receiving a standing ovation by the crowd.

The crowd saved their loudest ovation, however, for a Mountaineers' football team that pressed South Florida (3-3, 0-2) from start-to-finish, and received their first Big East victory of the year, defeating the Bulls 20-6 at Mountaineer Field Thursday night.

No. 25 West Virginia (5-1, 1-0) has now won four straight home Big East openers.

“I'm really happy about that first Big East win, and I'm really excited about how hard our guys played,” said coach Bill Stewart. “It was a defensive game, and it was a game of field position. I was really proud of our defense. They came up big time and time again.”

The stifling defensive performance by West Virginia held the Bulls to a season-low 202 total yards, including just 65 on the ground.

South Florida quarterback B.J. Daniels, who torched the Mountaineers defense in a 30-19 win in Tampa last season, throwing for 232 yards and rushing for 104, was held to just 123 total yards, including only 4 rushing yards.

“It was all about containment with him,” said linebacker Anthony Leonard, a McKeesport graduate. “We held him in the box this time, and we didn't lose him. That was a huge part of our success and us keeping momentum on both sides of the ball.”

OFFENSE

West Virginia finished the game with just 298 total yards.

Sophomore quarterback Geno Smith played well for the Mountaineers, completing 24-of-31 for 219 yards and two touchdowns, including a beautiful 31-yard connection to Brad Starks, capping a 9-play, 80-yard drive late in the first quarter, giving West Virginia a 10-0 lead.

Smith completed six straight passes in the drive, and had a streak of 13 consecutive completions.

“The most proud I am of our offense is the way we moved the ball,” said Stewart. “Geno threw something like 13 straight passes on a drive, and it built up the kind of momentum we needed.”

Methodical drives were the theme for West Virginia, starting the first time they had the ball, when they travelled 70-yards on 11 plays, ending with a  27-yard Tyler Bitancurt field goal.

“They had good speed, but we have speed as well,” said Smith. “It's great to get a win against a Big East opponent, and especially one that has as good a defense as they do.”

The Mountaineers operated much of their offense out of a no-huddle, with Smith calling plays and making audibles at the line.

“I think our offense is just based on defensive schemes,” Smith said. “We want to make the best judgments, and coach gives me the freedom to call the checks and run different plays. I think for the most part we stuck to that today.”

West Virginia finished with 15 first downs and went 7-of-17 on 3rd down conversions. They struggled in the second half, posting just three points -- a 24-yard Bitancurt field goal with 3:25 left in the third quarter.

“I got really frustrated in the fourth quarter; I want to keep moving the ball,” said Stewart. “We're doing good things, but we just didn't finish late. I don't think people understand how fast this team is we played tonight. That's why we are 3-3 against them.”

The WVU running game was virtually shut down by South Florida, forcing Smith to earn his keep in the air. Star running back Noel Devine finished with just 29 yards on 13 carries, while Ryan Clarke was held to 27 yards on 10 carries.

“We just couldn't get the little guy loose,” said Stewart. “When we go spread, South Florida matches up. That's what has happened the last 4-5 years against them. They match up.”

DEFENSE

The hard-hitting Mountaineers defensive unit held South Florida to an average of just 3.3 yards per play and only one trip to the red zone all evening. The Bulls were an atrocious 1-of-11 on third down conversions.

“We stayed home when we blitzed, and last year we didn't. We leveraged the ball, and last year we didn't,” said Stewart. “Those guys can run. If you don't leverage the ball you're in trouble. I'm glad we were able to do that tonight.

“It's really tough, the 3-3-5 stack,” continued the coach. “They say you can't get sacks out of it, but we've been doing that pretty good this year. This defense is really starting to gel and I'm really proud of it.”

West Virginia sacked Daniels four times and intercepted the quarterback three times, including a Keith Tandy interception at the Mountaineers 34-yard line that halted a South Florida drive early in the fourth quarter.

“We just stuck to what we know best today,” said Tandy, who finished with a team-high 10 tackles. “We came after them hard, contained their quarterback and gave them constant pressure. It was a great way to start off the Big East schedule for us.”

PLAY OF THE GAME

With 40 seconds left in the half, Daniels threw an interception to Robert Sands, who returned the ball to the South Florida 11-yard line. On the very next play, the Mountaineers rain a momentum-busting hook-and-ladder from Jock Sanders—who caught the Smith pass—and then pitched the ball to Noel Devine, who scored by the right pylon to give West Virginia a 17-3 advantage at the half.

“It was a good play call coming off a big turnover,” said Sanders. “We just went out and executed it.”

“We just wanted to try and get a score,” commented Stewart about the play. “I thought the call was a great call by Jeff Mullen and our offensive staff.”

NEXT UP

West Virginia gets a 10-day break before facing Syracuse (4-1) Oct. 23 at noon at Mountaineer Field.

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