Mountaineers win ugly, rooting for Bearcats
West Virginia is closing in on a BCS bid out of the Big East after escaping Tampa with a last-second win, and a share of the Big East championship, Thursday night.
Tyler Bitancurt‘s 28-yard field goal as time expired gave West Virginia a 30-27 win against South Florida and moved the Mountaineers one step closer to a possible BCS spot. Now tied with Louisville, West Virginia needs a Cincinnati win against Connecticut on Saturday to create a three-way tie for the Big East championship. With the three teams splitting their head-to-head match-ups this season the tiebreaker used would be base don BCS rankings, which play in West Virginia’s favor. If Cincinnati loses to Connecticut at home then Louisville would advance to the BCS as the Big East’s representative due to a head-to-head victory against West Virginia this season.
The Cardinals would play in a BCS game with one less win than Connecticut did last season. The Big East was nationally criticized for having an eight-win team in the BCS, which was really more of a bashing on the BCS system overall rather than the Huskies. That could all happen again this year if Louisville gets in to the mix with just seven wins this season.
West Virginia battled through some adversity to get the win Thursday night. After building a 10-0 lead in the second quarter, including a 52-yard interception return for a touchdown by Pat Miller, South Florida battled back. After trailing at the half 13-7, the Bulls kicked two field goals in the third quarter and two touchdowns in the fourth quarter to take a 27-20 lead. B.J. Daniels tied the game with his one-yard push up the middle for a touchdown and almost 20 seconds later JaQuez Jenkins gave the Bulls the lead on a 24-yard interception return for a touchdown off of West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith on West Virginia’s first play of the ensuing drive.
While Smith led the offense to tie the game with just over five minutes to play and to move in to field goal range with the game on the line, he had some trouble doing so. Smith had a tendency to hold on to the football too long, and with no timeouts he took a critical sack to push the Mountaineers back to midfield with the clock running. But he responded with a perfectly placed strike to Stedman Bailey to set up a third-and-ten, and the two connected on a fourth-and-ten for 26 yards to move in to field goal range. A South Florida substitution infraction gave West Virginia five more yards to make the field goal just a little easier.
For West Virginia, it was the third straight game won by a field goal or less to end the season.
“For three weeks in a row, we’ve put ourselves in precarious situations and figured out a way to win the game in the end,” West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen said. “Just give the guys a bunch of credit for hanging in there, continuing to play and not caving in. The way we pulled it out is who this team has become. We figure out ways to win.”
South Florida is now ineligible for postseason play, with a final record of 5-7. It was a season that started with some optimism for a chance at a Big East championship and a win at Notre Dame. The Bulls started the season with a 23-20 win in South Bend and a 4-0 start in which the offense piled up huge numbers against mostly weak competition. The first loss of the season came on a Thursday night at Pittsburgh in the Big East opener, and South Florida managed just one Big East victory, against Syracuse. Skip Holtz‘s team lost some close games along the way, including four games decided by a field goal (Cincinnati, Rutgers in overtime, Miami and West Virginia).
“Wins were elusive for us in a lot of different ways,” South Florida head coach Skip Holtz said. “You can’t ask this team to play with any more passion or heart… I’ve had teams in my past with better records. I don’t know if I’ve had a team that has probably taught me more about handling adversity, perseverance and having a positive attitude.”
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