MORGANTOWN - If Saturday's victory at Cincinnati salvaged West Virginia's football season for the time being, then defensive end Bruce Irvin's sack of Zach Collaros may very well be the season's most significant play.
Irvin brought down the Bearcats' quarterback at his 1-yard line and forced a fumble defensive tackle that Julian Miller recovered for a touchdown in the 24-21 win. Collaros fractured his right ankle on the play and will miss the rest of the regular season.
Cincinnati (7-2, 3-1 Big East) remains in first place in the Big East, but will go on with backup quarterback Munchie Legaux. Irvin would rather that not be the case.
"After I saw him lying down on the field, I felt bad," Irvin said.
"If I could take that sack back for him to be good, I would."
If WVU (7-3, 3-2) wins the remaining two games, beginning with the Nov. 25 home game against Pitt (7 p.m., ESPN), and both Cincinnati and Louisville (5-5, 3-2) lose one more game, the Mountaineers get the Big East's BCS bid.
Irvin said he spoke with Collaros after the game to make sure Collaros was doing well.
"I hope he heals quick," Irvin said. "He knows I was just playing and giving great effort and just playing football. He understands the situation.
"It's unfortunate, but that's football. At the end of the day, that's football and that's something that can happen."
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WVU'S STRUGGLES with punting and field goals are overshadowing the success of the other parts of special teams.
The Mountaineers lead the Big East and are No. 12 nationally in punt returns (13.24 yards per return) and second in the conference and No. 20 nationally in kickoff returns (24.09).
The kickoff return defense is No. 103, but has been better after allowing a return touchdown against Syracuse. In the past three games, opponents averaged 19.67 yards per return. If that were the season average, the Mountaineers would rank No. 31 nationally.
The punt return defense is No. 107, but is severely skewed by Marshall's 87-yard punt return touchdown.
The average return is 13 yards, but without Marshall's score, WVU is allowing 5.6 yards on the other 10 returns. That would tie for No. 34. The Mountaineers have allowed 14 punt return yards the past six games.
"That's the thing about special teams: If it doesn't look good, everybody complains about it, but if it looks like it's supposed to look, everybody ignores it," Coach Dana Holgorsen said. "Referring to when things didn't look good on the kickoff team, everybody wanted to talk about it. Now that it looks good, nobody wants to talk about it.
"Give those guys credit. The effort was good, and we played well. We had guys step up."
Holgorsen highlighted receiver Willie Milhouse, linebacker Donovan Miles and cornerback Brodrick Jenkins on the kickoff coverage team. All are backups at their positions, but all three found ways to impact the team.