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WVU'S ADJUSTMENTS OPEN UP BIG EAST RACE
November 13, 2011

SCS.com The setting might have been a bit unusual as West Virginia played Cincinnati at Paul Brown Stadium in downtown Cincinnati, but the college football was alive and well on the home field of the Bengals. Both teams scored an early touchdown and it looked like the shootout was on. However, both teams then faced huge obstacles that slowed the pace of the game down and forced both teams to make adjustments. Although West Virginia made more adjustments early and looked to be in control at halftime, Cincinnati made a few adjustments of their own and came storming back in the third quarter. Just when it seemed like all hope was lost for the Mountaineers, an epic 80 yard drive led the Mountaineers to a late lead. But Cincinnati was not finished yet: backup quarterback Munchie Legaux led the Bearcats down the field and set them up in the red zone with a chance to win or at least tie the game. Control of the Big East race for a BCS berth hung in the balance as Tony Milliano lined up for a tying field goal attempt. How would it end? Poorly for Cincinnati fans, as Tony Miliano's field goal attempt was blocked on the final play of the game. Just like that, the Big East race is wide open again.

Cincinnati suffered the first setback from which the Bearcats needed to adjust. Down 10-7 in the second quarter, quarterback Zach Collaros dropped back on a deep pass play and was immediately flushed by two West Virginia defenders. In his attempt to evade the pressure, Collaros ran back to the edge of the end zone. Realizing this mistake, Collaros made a last gasp attempt as he was going down to twist his body and make a throw. Instead, Collaros ended up with a badly injured ankle and a fumble that was recovered by defensive lineman Julian Miller for a 17-7 West Virginia lead. In came sophomore backup Munchie LeGaux, who had only attempted seven passes in his college career. LeGaux threw an interception on his second pass attempt and could not seem to come close to his receivers for the remainder of the first half. West Virginia was content to play conservatively and go to halftime with a seemingly massive 10 point lead.

So Cincinnati needed to make adjustments, and quickly, to have any hope in coming back in the game. LeGaux stated after the game that Collaros offered some words of encouragement at halftime and from the headset on the sideline, while coach Butch Jones told him to use his legs to make some more plays. That is precisely what LeGaux did in the third quarter, busting out a 60 yard running play that put the Mountaineer defense on their heels. This play calmed LeGaux down and a few plays later, LeGaux finished the drive with a 7 yard touchdown run. On the next Cincinnati drive, LeGaux found wide open receivers and hit them with no problem, leading to openings for running back Isaiah Pead. Pead plunger in for a 10 yard touchdown early in the fourth quarter and surprisingly, the Bearcats were ahead. But the Bearcats were not the only team making adjustments.

West Virginia responded to the first Cincinnati touchdown of the game with a 59 yard touchdown pass from Geno Smith to Stedman Bailey. However, other than that one big play, West Virginia could not get anything going as Cincinnati's defensive line dominated the West Virginia offensive line. Particularly on the left side of the WVU line, Cincinnati would run stunts and spins that left WVU offensive linemen in the dust. Smith does not prefer to run, so being flushed from the pocket and being pressured stalled out the Mountaineer offense. Even with these problems throughout the entire first half, West Virginia was able to play conservative with the mistakes Cincinnati was making, staking the Mountaineers to the 10 point lead. Then Cincinnati figured out their offensive rhythm, and now West Virginia looked to be on the ropes after not generating any meaningful offense since the first quarter.

Rather than fold as they have in the second half multiple times this season, West Virginia kept their heads held high. The offense went out to the field with purpose on the drive following Cincinnati's go-ahead score, and a plurality of misdirection plays and screen plays allowed West Virginia to counter the pressure caused by the failures of the offensive line. Cincinnati's defense played right into this strategy and allowed West Virginia to regain the lead with just under 9 minutes remaining. Following the game, coach Dana Holgorsen observed that this is precisely what the primary focus was this week in practice. Keeping momentum going or switching it back around as a team. Without playing as a complete team, Holgorsen believes that the second half collapses would continue. However, the right adjustments were made on and off the field to regain the lead.

When both teams had adjusted to their adversity early in the game, it was time for the game to come down to one final big play. And just like a team that is used to finishing at the top of the Big East (first or second place 8 straight seasons), the Mountaineers came up with a big play on the road to keep themselves in the hunt for a BCS berth. By blocking Miliano's field goal, West Virginia goes into their bye week tied in the loss column with Rutgers, Louisville, Pittsburgh, and Connecticut. Although Cincinnati remains all alone in first place, the Bearcats must now face Connecticut, Rutgers, and Syracuse possibly without their leader Zach Collaros. Although Munchie LeGaux was impressive once he got rolling in this game, there is no guarantee that he will be able to replicate it for three weeks with a BCS berth on the line. Making adjustments was key to winning this important game, and will continue to be important as both these teams move forward to the remainder of their schedules. We can only hope that the final three weeks in the Big East title chase are as wild as the first five weeks have been. Until next time, keep making adjustments until you get it right.

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