WVU has just enough to nudge Pitt, stay in Big East, BCS chase
MORGANTOWN -- Black Friday was no bargain for West Virginia.
"We just played with as much energy as we can muster," WVU football Coach Dana Holgorsen said, "and when things don't go exactly the way you want, then, hell, you don't need to give up."
In the 104th Backyard Brawl, the Mountaineers mustered just enough to outlast Pitt, 21-20, remaining in the chase with Louisville - and perhaps another team or two - for the Big East title and a BCS berth.
Before the largest crowd for a conference game this season (60,932), the Mountaineers overcame a time-of-possession deficit of nearly 13 minutes and won despite all but abandoning their dropback passing game in the final two quarters.
WVU (8-3, 4-2 Big East) came from a 20-7 deficit in the second half, after getting off to another sputtering start. Now, it needs to win Thursday night at South Florida and get some help to land the conference's BCS berth.
After rushing 10 times for minus-2 yards in the first half - that included three Pitt sacks oif Geno Smith for 23 negative yards - the Mountaineers switched out the right side of their offensive line - Quinton Spain and Curtis Feigt for Tyler Rader and Pat Eger -- and finished with a decisive 113 ground yards in the game.
Just as crucial was a superb performance by a defense that has been skewered on occasion this season.
Not only did the WVU defense hold Pitt to 296 yards on 81 plays. It posted 10 sacks of Panthers quarterback Tino Sunseri, who hurt his team time and again by holding onto the ball too long in trying to make a play.
Just as big was WVU holding Pitt -- one of the nation's top-performing red zone teams -- to a pair of field goals after the Mountaineers had fumbled away punt catches.
The 10 sacks were two shy of WVU's school team record, set in a win over Idaho in 2000. Tackle Julian Miller had four of those, tying the individual school record previously shared by Steve Hathaway, Gary Stills sand James Davis.
Yet, the conference race remains very complicated.
Consider that Pitt (5-6, 3-3) went in this long rivalry from having a chance to own the head-to-head tiebreaker edge on Louisville to now having to win next Saturday over Syracuse just to become bowl-eligible.
With Louisville's 34-24 win Friday at USF (5-6, 1-5), the Cardinals (7-5, 5-2) clinched at least a tie for the Big East championship. So, the Mountaineers need to beat the Bulls on Thursday night ... and more.
WVU has to have Cincinnati (7-3, 3-2) win out to land the Mountaineers a Bowl Championship Series berth. The Bearcats visit Syracuse (5-5, 1-4) on Saturday and then host Connecticut (4-6, 2-3) at noon next Saturday.
West Virginia loses the head-to-head tiebreaker with the Cardinals, due to Louisville's 38-35 win at Mountaineer Field three weeks ago. However, a three-team tiebreaker among the Cards, Bearcats and 'Eers should go WVU's way.
Those three teams are each 1-1 against one another (Cincinnati beat Louisville, but lost to WVU). In that instance, the Big East tiebreaker goes to the top team in the BCS standings.
Although the BCS reveals only the top 25 in its weekly standings, WVU entered the Backyard Brawl 26th in the BCS standings this week, trust me. Only two other Big East teams were among the 41 with BCS points last week - Rutgers (33rd) and Cincinnati (38th).
Louisville, at 7-5, is likely to get some BCS points when the new standings are permutated Sunday, but not enough to get into WVU's neighborhood. And if the Mountaineers and Cincinnati win out, the Bearcats are going to gain little, if any, on WVU.
Rutgers (8-3, 4-2), you ask? The Scarlet Knights finish the regular season Saturday in a noon game at UConn. A three-way tie among Louisville, WVU and Rutgers favors the Cards, who beat the other two.
As for a four-way tie among WVU, Louisville, Cincinnati and Rutgers, the Mountaineers and Cardinals are 2-1 in that group, while the Bearcats and Scarlet Knights are 1-2.
The Big East tiebreaker for the BCS bid rewards the higher BCS standings team among the two that are 2-1 -- again that would be a winning-out, 9-3 West Virginia over U of L.
If Cincinnati falls and eliminates WVU from the BCS chase in tandem, the Mountaineers are likely to head to the Belk Bowl on Dec. 27 in Charlotte, N.C., perhaps against Virginia (8-3), unless the Cavaliers down visiting Virginia Tech on Saturday then win the ACC championship game next week.
"There was nothing we could do to help South Florida beat Louisville, or what Cincinnati does," Holgorsen said when asked if he thought his players viewed the earlier Big East game Friday. "The only thing we could do is do our best to beat Pitt."
They didn't do their best, but what the Mountaineers did was good enough to allow them to sit in front of the tube Saturday and root for the Bearcats and Huskies before turning their attention to USF.