September 16, 2010

Week 3 preview in the Big East

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THE SCHEDULE
THURSDAY
Cincinnati at N.C. State, 7:30 p.m.
SATURDAY
Maryland at West Virginia, noon
Connecticut at Temple, noon
Louisville at Oregon State, 5:30 p.m.
Maine at Syracuse, 7:15 p.m.

Anyone who followed Geno Smith's high school career at Miramar (Fla.) High likely wasn't too surprised by West Virginia's rally at Marshall.

As a senior at Miramar - a Fort Lauderdale suburb - three seasons ago, he led his team to a touchdown in the final 12 seconds to beat Miami Carol City in Florida's Class 6A regional semifinal. In the next week's regional final, Smith passed for 368 yards and four touchdowns in a 34-30 win over Deerfield Beach, a team quarterbacked by Michigan's Denard Robinson.

"Through high school at Miramar, we were in five or six of those kinds of drives," Smith said. "It was really amazing to be a part of it then."

The feeling was similar against Marshall on Friday, although it took three quarters and a lucky break for Smith to find his late-game magic.

After West Virginia fell behind 21-6 in the fourth quarter, the Mountaineers appeared to be finished when Smith lost a fumble on a sack. But Marshall fumbled at West Virginia's 4.

From that point, Smith was 15-of-20 for 167 yards and a touchdown, leading scoring drives of 96 and 98 yards in the fourth quarter.

If the atmosphere was familiar to Smith, so were some of the personnel. Smith completed three passes for 43 yards in the last three possessions to Stedman Bailey, a former Miramar teammate.

"The fumble was second life," Smith said. "If they scored, we would have lost. [Instead] we looked in each other's eyes and said, 'Let's get it done.' "

Going into the season, Smith was one of the biggest question marks on a team that returned eight offensive and nine defensive starters. He saw occasional duty last season when starter Jarrett Brown was injured in games against Auburn, Marshall and Florida State. Making matters more questionable was Smith's inability to fully participate in spring practice because of a broken foot.

Smith has answered some of those questions. Even before the last two possessions of the fourth quarter and the winning possession in overtime, Smith was a respectable 17-of-25 for 149 yards.

But beating Marshall and Coastal Carolina is one thing. Competition will improve as the season goes along, starting perhaps with Maryland on Saturday. The Terrapins went 2-10 last season but upset Navy 17-14 on Labor Day. After Maryland, West Virginia visits LSU on Sept. 25.

"I learned that he is one cool customer," WVU coach Bill Stewart said. "I like to think of myself as not getting too rattled when things are tough. To stand and do rah-rah cheers isn't for me. Our quarterback is different. At one point, I saw him blistering the offensive line; he threw his helmet down and got after them a little bit. What else would I need to say?"

Best matchup: Cincinnati's offensive line vs. NC State's blitz packages. After the eight-sack debacle against Fresno State, Cincinnati made one change on the offensive line, replacing left guard Evan Davis with Randy Martinez. Indiana State still had two sacks last week. The line will need to be on its toes against NC State's aggressive defense. LB Audie Cole had three sacks last week in a win over UCF.

Player on the spot: Connecticut MLB Greg Lloyd and DTs Kendall Reyes and Twyon Martin. Michigan gashed Connecticut's defense for 287 rushing yards and three touchdowns in the opener. After a tune-up against Texas Southern, Connecticut's defense faces another run-oriented team in Temple. The Owls aren't the speedy spread team Michigan is, but RB Bernard Pierce can cause problems if he's fully healthy.

Numbers game: Pittsburgh led the nation with 47 sacks last season. With E Greg Romeus (eight sacks) out until late in the season following back surgery, Pittsburgh has eight players on its roster who combined for 23 sacks last season. The returning leader without Romeus is E Jabaal Sheard (five). Romeus may return late in the season.

What they're saying

"He did not play at all against Kentucky because he did not practice well. ... Guys have to understand if you don't practice well, you're not going to play, and you don't ever want to send a message and then not do it. If you say it, you have to do it. Lots of guys say, 'I'm going to play anyway.' Well, we'll see. I think guys are getting that message." - Louisville coach Charlie Strong, on DT Rodney Gnat. Gnat did not play against Kentucky but recorded four sacks against Eastern Kentucky

"There are some mistakes that I don't think they should be making right now and they are. You have to live with it. They're young. They're playing for us, so they're doing a lot of things right." - Rutgers C Howard Barbieri, to The Newark (N.J.) Star-Ledger, on the Scarlet Knights' offensive line

"That would be a tremendous addition for us for the ninth [football] member to come from within. ... It would enhance our league. It would make things easier as our league as a whole in all sports. If you include them in football, it helps us from a scheduling standpoint and brings in that media market in the Philadelphia area as well." - Connecticut coach Randy Edsall, on the possibility of Villanova becoming a FBS football member of the Big East

Etc.: West Virginia suspended CB Brandon Hogan indefinitely after he was charged with DUI on Sunday. The Mountaineers' opponent this week, Maryland, attempted only five passes against Navy and 25 against Morgan State. ... Cincinnati RB Isaiah Pead (knee) will be a game-time decision for NC State after missing the Indiana State game. ... Rutgers RB Joe Martinek sustained an ankle injury against FIU, putting his status in question for next week's game against North Carolina. ... Rutgers SS Joe Lefeged was named the league's defensive and special teams player of the week after recording six tackles, two forced fumbles, an interception and two blocked punts in the 19-14 win over Florida International. ... Connecticut's 62-3 win over Texas Southern on Saturday was the most lopsided Huskies win since they became an FBS member in 2000. ... Pittsburgh RB Ray Graham (knee) didn't have a carry against Utah but returned to rush for 115 yards and two touchdowns on nine carries against New Hampshire. ... Pitt RB Jason Douglas "is seriously in jeopardy" of not playing for the Panthers again, coach Dave Wannstedt said. Douglas was charged with striking a pedestrian while driving drunk. Starting LB Dan Mason, a passenger with Douglas at the time of the incident, was demoted to second string. ... Louisville CB Darius Ashley, who rushed for 462 yards last season before moving to defense, recorded his first career interception against Eastern Kentucky last week. ... Louisville junior Josh Chichester, who is 6 feet 8, moved from wide receiver to tight end during the fall. Now he's back at slot receiver after a rash of injuries. ... USF WR Dontavia Bogan (ankle), OT Jake Sims (ankle), DE Craig Marshall (knee) and DT Terrell McClain (undisclosed) are sitting out practice with injuries during USF's off week.

David Fox is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at dfox@rivals.com.




 

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