Plenty To Play For

When Pittsburgh lost on Thursday night at Connecticut, it brought a host of teams with two early Big East Conference losses back into contention for the league title. One of those teams is Bill Stewart's West Virginia squad, but the head coach said no such long-term goals are even being discussed in the Milan Puskar Center.

"I can tell you on my oath that not one team or staff member has heard Bill Stewart say anything other than, ‘It's round five, game five in the Big East,'" said the Mountaineers' third-year head coach. "I did not tell anyone to watch last week's Thursday night game [a 30-28 win for the Huskies]. I didn't tell the staff, and I didn't, to be perfectly honest, watch it."

Regardless of whether Stewart or any other WVU players or coaches were tuned in, the game happened and it served to bring the Mountaineers (sitting at 6-3 overall and 2-2 in the league) back into the race for the conference's BCS bowl berth.

West Virginia is one of four teams with two losses in Big East play -- along with Syracuse, South Florida and UConn. They all still trail Pitt by one game, but the Panthers still have three games left to play, including a noon kickoff at Heinz Field against WVU in the Backyard Brawl on the Friday after Thanksgiving.

But with a game at Louisville this weekend to worry about before his team can begin to prepare for what could be a pivotal game with the Mountaineers' arch-nemesis, Stewart again emphasized that the short-term goal of beating the Cardinals had to come before anything else at this point.

"People can say, ‘I don't know if I buy that' -- but all I can tell you is the truth," Stewart said. "I was worried about Cincinnati [last week], and this week, I'm worried about Louisville. And I will not, nor will I tolerate any staff member, tell our guys to look down the road at a Pitt or a Rutgers game, or whatever. Just take care of business. That's as honest as I can be."

LEAGUE HONORS

It wasn't the gaudiest day in terms of yardage totals, but Geno Smith was accurate and effective in his West Virginia team's 37-10 victory over Cincinnati on Saturday. The quarterback's performance was impressive enough to earn him Big East Conference offensive player of the week honors.

Smith completed 15 of 25 passes for 174 yards and four touchdowns (along with one interception) in the Mountaineers' victory over the two-time defending league champion Bearcats in Morgantown.

While it was Smith who earned the recognition, his head coach said the award was the result of a complete team effort on offense, starting with solid blocking from WVU's front five and routes that were ran well by receivers Tavon Austin and Jock Sanders, who each grabbed a pair of touchdown tosses from the sophomore signal-caller.

"I thought the line protection was where it all started," Stewart said.

"I just thought Geno was protected very well. I thought he made a couple nice throws and it was a pretty good individual effort, I thought, by Tavon with pretty nice routes. Jock's two were just in Geno's reach. I thought the young men just performed what they had been coached to do, and they did a nice job of it. They made some pretty good plays."

But while Stewart thought the praise should be shared amongst several members of the Mountaineer offense, he said he did say he has seen growth in his sophomore quarterback throughout this season, his first as the starter.

"Geno made some really key quick decisions with his reads," Stewart said. "I watched his head watching the film last night before I went home, and I really liked what he was doing with his eyes. He really did a good job looking people off and things like that. So he's getting better."

TRADING CARDS:

For the second straight week, Stewart's WVU squad is not sure exactly who will line up under center for its opposition.

Cincinnati quarterback Zach Collaros played in Saturday's Mountaineer victory after dealing with knee issues. Bearcats head coach Butch Jones had indicated throughout most of the lead-up to that contest that Collaros would likely play.

There was no such tipping of the hand from Louisville's first-year coach Charlie Strong on the Big East football coaches' teleconference Monday morning, as he did not give any update on the status of quarterback Adam Froman, who has missed the Cardinals' last two games with a deep thigh bruise.

Froman has completed 132 of his 218 pass attempts this season for 1633 yards and 11 touchdowns. He's thrown four interceptions. His backup, Justin Burke, has gone 29-of-55 through the air in the last two weeks, throwing for 284 yards, five touchdowns and one interception.

Burke led U of L to a 28-20 win at Syracuse two games ago and was under center for the Cards' 24-21 overtime loss to South Florida this past Saturday as well.

Both Froman and Burke are seniors, and West Virginia's head coach said that experience shows.

"They're all good quarterbacks," Stewart said. "Those guys are playing well and there's belief there. They're big guys -- you know, big strong-armed guys. They're veterans. They're seniors. So they've been around the block, so to speak. They just bring a lot of maturity to that position, both guys."

That may make it harder for the Mountaineers' highly-rated defense (10th in the country in pass efficiency defense) to use confuse whoever starts at quarterback for Louisville with the disguised coverages that have worked so well against other teams this season.

"Older guys are very hard to confuse, because these two guys ... have been around the block," Stewart said. "It's hard to fool those guys. You know, a young quarterback, you can make him say, ‘Oh, man, I missed that one.' These guys have been out there and playing, though, so it's very hard to fool them. We're going to have to play our ‘A' game and not tip our hand and really do a good job disguising."

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