Cincinnati's trouble on defense is understandable. The Bearcats changed systems in Brian Kelly's last season before leaving for Notre Dame and his replacement, former WVU assistant and Central Michigan Coach Butch Jones, has a very young group this season.
The offensive exploits are actually even more commendable when you consider not who the Bearcats have, but who's been missing. They've played without a full host of skill positions this season, particularly at receiver, where USC transfer Vidal Hazelton tore an ACL in the opening game and two coveted recruits have had to sit out because of eligibility issues.
Cincinnati lost to Syracuse on Oct. 30 with quarterback Zach Collaros sidelined with a knee injury. Jones said Monday that Collaros completed practice Sunday and the Bearcats "fully anticipate he's going to play" at WVU.
"The thing is just growing up," Jones said. "We're starting eight sophomores on defense. That's not a crutch, but we need to get better in a hurry. That's why we talk about how every meeting, every lifting session is critical in overall development.
"I think with the evolution of our offense, we had three very, very special players that aren't playing this year who were just taken out of our offense. We were behind the eight ball a little bit."
For both teams, though, their problems have gone beyond offense or defense. WVU's losses are by six, five and three points. Cincinnati lost by two touchdowns at Fresno State and by 11 points at North Carolina State, but was only two points short against ranked Oklahoma and had a lead in a shootout against USF before losing 38-30.
"They're much like us," Stewart said. "They haven't finished, haven't closed, haven't put the fire totally out of the opponent when the chance was there. Just look at last year. They won a tough game at Fresno State in Cincinnati last year. Fresno had the ball 44 minutes. This year, Fresno capitalized.
"Oklahoma, a very good team, undefeated at the time, it's 24-22 with a few minutes to go and Cincinnati has a chance to go down the field and score. They haven't hit on all cylinders, just like us."
Both teams create that narrow margin between wins and losses and let the opposition exploit it. Cincinnati is the only team in the Big East worse than WVU in turnover margin. The Mountaineers are No. 101 of 120 FBS teams while the Bearcats are No. 116. Cincinnati is No. 88 in red zone offense, while WVU is No. 98. The Bearcats are No. 66 in red zone defense while WVU is No. 95.
"The two telling stats we stress as a football program are red-zone efficiency - scoring touchdowns and making the opponent kick field goals - and also turnover margin," Jones said. "And there's no secret. We've turned the football over.
"When we've limited turnovers, or haven't turned the ball over at all, we can play with anyone. We just can't be a team that beats ourselves."
Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at mi...@dailymail.com or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/wvu.