With the Big East still up for grabs, West Virginia picked a great day to conjure up its most complete game against a conference opponent this season.
Noel Devine's 48-yard run was a sign that WVU's star might finally be back to full health. (WVU Photo)
Using its stellar as always defense and an inspired performance by its offense, West Virginia kept its BCS hopes alive on Friday afternoon, thrashing rival Pittsburgh 35-10 at Heinz Field.
All season long, if there was one criticism that the Mountaineer coaching staff had about their defense, it was the low number of takeaways that they had been able to force opposing teams to.
Needless to say, that was not a problem on Friday.
On Pittsburgh’s first possession of the game, the Mountaineers grabbed the momentum quickly when Brandon Hogan picked off a Tino Sunseri pass and returned it to the two-yard line where Ryan Clarke punched it in on the next play.
That was the first of four turnovers that the Panthers would commit in the game. And of those four turnovers, the Mountaineers turned around and scored three touchdowns, which really proved to be the difference in the game.
After the early touchdown gave West Virginia a 7-0 lead, Pitt was able to gain a little bit of momentum near the end of the first quarter. With 2:33 to go in the quarter, after driving down the field using the running game, Sunseri used a play-action fake to get Robert Sands to bite before finding Devin Street in the corner of the end zone for an eight-yard touchdown pass to tie it up 7-7.
The second quarter is when the Mountaineer offense really took over.
Both teams struggled getting anything going for a lot of the quarter, but after a Ray Graham fumble gave the ball back to West Virginia, the Mountaineers drove down the field quickly to score on three plays to give them the lead.
The Will Johnson touchdown catch was set up by a 48-yard run by Noel Devine – the first real sign in a while that he’s getting back to full health.
With such a close game in the first half, it became evident that the game would come down to how well the Mountaineer offense could come to play in the second half.
And like the defense did with forcing turnovers, the offense answered the call.
After scoring just 16 second half points in the first five Big East games combined, the Mountaineers put up 21 points in the final two quarters of play on Friday, putting the nail in Pitt’s coffin and eliminating nearly any hope that the Panthers had of winning the Big East.
Of those three touchdowns that West Virginia scored in the second half, two of them came through the air from Geno Smith to Tavon Austin.
Smith only threw 12 passes in the game, but completed nine of them for 212 yards and three touchdowns.
In the running game, Devine only carried the ball four times for 27 yards and Shawne Alston continued his emergence in this Mountaineer offense, finishing with 16 carries for a game-high 71 yards.
For Pittsburgh, Tino Sunseri looked pretty good, with the exception of his interception on the first drive, completing 28 of 46 passes for 284 yards and a touchdown. The receiving duo of Jon Baldwin and Mike Shanahan combined for 10 catches and 151 yards.
And, as always, the WVU defense did what it has done all season long, stop the run.
The Panthers only ran for 78 yards, averaging less than three yards per carry in the game.
Keith Tandy led WVU with nine tackles, while Najee Goode, Brandon Hogan, J.T. Thomas and Julian Miller all forced fumbles. Thomas and Miller were also able to get into the backfield and sack Sunseri.
With the win, the Mountaineers keep their BCS hopes alive. To win the Big East, West Virginia will have to beat Rutgers next week and Connecticut will have to lose one of its final two games of the season.