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WVU football: Defense leads again in 17-10 win

LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- West Virginia's defense silenced one of the Big East's best offenses for a second straight week and allowed just 171 yards and two conversions on 13 third downs to take a 17-10 victory Saturday at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium.

The Mountaineers won despite an offense that finished with its second-worst yardage total of the season, completed fewer than half its pass attempts and had a fumble recovered in the end zone.

"For the offensive enthusiast, that probably wasn't what you came to see, but it's a win, a big win for West Virginia," Coach Bill Stewart said.

WVU (7-3, 3-2) remained alive for at least a share of the Big East title entering Friday's noon game at Pitt. The Panthers (6-4, 4-1) won at South Florida Saturday, 17-10. They're No. 1 in the Big East in scoring offense and No. 2 in passing offense.

A week after keeping Cincinnati well below its conference-best average for total yards and allowing no conversions on 12 third downs, the Mountaineers stopped the Big East's best running game and No. 2 offense.

The Cardinals, who average 192.3 yards per game on the ground, had just 26 on 30 carries before a Senior Day crowd of 51,772. The rushing total included a 21-yard run by punter Chris Philpott in the first half.

Louisville had minus-1 yards in the first half and minus-3 in the third quarter. Running back Bilal Powell, who was No. 5 nationally with 134.11 yards per game, carried four times for no yards. Louisville Coach Charlie Strong said Powell was sick and victimized by fatigue.

Louisville was averaging 391.2 total yards per game overall finished with 171. That's the lowest total allowed this season by WVU, which entered the game ranked No. 4 nationally in total defense (253.33 yards per game). WVU was also No. 3 in scoring offense (13.22 points per game) and No. 7 in rush defense (94.89 yards per game).

"Best defense in the nation," WVU quarterback Geno Smith said. "You can't go wrong with those guys. Time and time again they bail us out. We want to score points, but we understand if we don't turn the ball over and give the other team points, they won't score because those guys rarely give up touchdowns."

The loss dropped Louisville (5-6, 2-4 Big East) to 3-4 at home, its first losing home record since 1997. The Cardinals had two late possessions and the first advanced to WVU's 47-yard line, but Josh Chichester dropped a pass on fourth-and-6 that would have given the offense a first down with fewer than five minutes remaining.

"At that point we had nothing going on and I didn't want to send our defense out there with five minutes to go and try to get a stop," Strong said.

WVU running back Shawne Alston, who carried 17 times for 75 yards last week, entered and ran five times for 30 yards to set up a 41-yard field-goal attempt. Chichester deflected the kick with 2:33 remaining to give the Cardinals one last chance.  WVU's Keith Tandy got his sixth interception of the season on the next play - and the fifth on a tipped pass as safety Sidney Glover managed to tip the pass in coverage.

"He made a good play on it," quarterback Justin Burke said. "I probably forced it. I should have just got a positive play."

The Mountaineers had only 261 yards of offense and Smith was just 9 for 20 for 133 yards. He was sacked four times and on one lost a fumble that was recovered in the end zone for Louisville's only touchdown.

"Those guys sent every blitz imaginable," Smith said. "They blitzed cornerbacks. They blitzed safeties. The linebackers come from everywhere. They do a lot of stunts. They're really well-coached and run a variety of defenses."

Noel Devine had most of WVU's 128 yards rushing and finished with 58 yards and a touchdown. Jock Sanders tied the school record for career receptions with two for 11 yards. Devine was WVU's leading receiver with 61 yards on three catches, one that went for 48 yards to set up a score.

The Mountaineers trailed 3-0 after Philpott kicked a 43-yard field goal, but responded with 10-play drive that traveled 78 yards. WVU converted two third downs with a 25-yard pass from Smith to Tavon Austin against a blitz on third-and-8. On a second third-and-8 Smith connected with Sanders on a short pass that Sanders turned into an 11-yard gain and preceded Devine's 2-yard touchdown run.

The Cardinals used their special teams and defense to regain control. Philpott's punt put WVU at its 15 and on first down defensive end Rodney Gnat went right around left tackle Don Barclay and hit Smith to force a fumble. Louisville's Daniel Brown recovered in the end zone.

It was the first fumble recovery/return touchdown against WVU since USF's George Selvie in 2006.

WVU responded with a 2-yard run by Ryan Clarke one play after Smith and Devine connected on a 48-yard pass play. The Mountaineers led 14-10 at the half.

Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at mikec@dailymail.com or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/wvu.


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