Louisville-West Virginia Preview
West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen liked the way his team overcame some tough conditions last weekend to emerge with a critical come-from-behind victory and keep pace in the Big East.
That could help the No. 24 Mountaineers as they face another big challenge with a visit from Louisville and its highly-ranked defense on Saturday.
Coming off a 49-23 loss at Syracuse, West Virginia (6-2, 2-1) came out slow against Rutgers before rallying for a 41-31 victory last Saturday.
In snowy conditions, quarterback Geno Smith ran the ball in on fourth-and-goal from the 1 to give the Mountaineers the lead while the defense tightened in the second half after giving up 31 points before the break.
"As a team, we had a chance to quit, but we didn't," Holgorsen said. "There were a lot of things that we overcame and the fact that we won the game says a lot about the character of our football team."
Smith completed 20 of 31 for two scores to tie Rasheed Marshall for third on the school's all-time list with 45 passing touchdowns. He also eclipsed athletic director Oliver Luck for fourth on the all-time passing chart with 5,787 yards.
"He's still got some room to grow," Holgorsen said. "Half of it is mental, half of it's making a play. He'll keep getting better from a mental aspect. ... Being able to overcome those (mistakes) is important."
West Virginia's quarterback is a big reason the team ranks 15th in scoring (38.6 points per game) and 13th in total offense (482.1 yards per game), but the Mountaineers will face a stiff challenge against Louisville (4-4, 2-1), which ranks 11th in the FBS in scoring defense, allowing 16.3 points per game.
A win this week is critical for the Mountaineers, who are trying to keep pace with first-place Cincinnati, which is 2-0 in conference play. The two face off next week in Cincinnati.
However, Holgorsen said the team has learned it has to take one game at a time.
"If anyone should have some momentum right now, we should," he said. "We're 6-2 and have a chance to finish strong. Does that give us an advantage? I doubt it. You have to line up and play every week."
They certainly know they can't overlook the Cardinals, who beat Syracuse 27-20 on Saturday for their second straight win following a three-game skid. Louisville held the Orange to 246 yards of offense. West Virginia gave up 443 yards to Syracuse.
Louisville's last victory was an emotional one after the team received a surprise visit from injured cornerback Anthony Conner, who suffered a broken neck the week before in a victory over Rutgers.
"We've been basing everything off 'AC,'" safety Hakeem Smith said. "We set our hearts on playing for AC. Everything we did was for him."
While its defense has been a constant, Louisville's offense continues to be a work in progress. The Cardinals, who rank 113th in the FBS in scoring (17.6 ppg) and 103rd in total offense (329.4 ypg), switched offensive coordinators last month.
The last two games have come with quarterbacks coach Shawn Watson handling play-calling duties. The ground game has improved, averaging 166 yards the last two weeks after the team rushed for 108.8 yards over the previous six. Victor Anderson ran for 93 yards on 11 carries against Syracuse.
Freshman quarterback Teddy Bridgewater also continues to improve. He completed 17 of 24 for 198 yards and two touchdowns last week.
While the offense will try to continue moving forward, the defense is excited about the challenge of matching up against Smith and West Virginia's potent offense.
"We have won two straight and we want to continue to build on this momentum and continue this success," linebacker Dexter Heyman said. "West Virginia is very explosive and can hang 50-60 points if you let them. One thing we have struggled with this year is stopping the big play. That's one thing you have to do against West Virginia, execute and get off the field on third downs."
The Mountaineers have won four straight over the Cardinals since a 44-34 loss at then-No. 5 Louisville on Nov. 2, 2006.