West Virginia tries to close out South Florida

| Thursday, Dec. 1, 2011

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — In his first year as a Big East head coach, even Dana Holgorsen heard all about this competitive conference.

Though his West Virginia team was predicted to win the Big East, he said it didn't mean a lot because he knew every game was going to be a struggle.

"As many close games as there are in the Big East, you've got to find a way to get it done," Holgorsen said. "It's going to be pretty tight. We've got to find a way to get it done."

Holgorsen and No. 22 West Virginia team expects another close one when it heads to South Florida Thursday for an 8 p.m. game at Raymond James Stadium.

A West Virginia win would mean a share of the Big East title, and a win by Cincinnati Saturday would, in all likelihood, send the Mountaineers to the BCS.

But for that to happen, West Virginia must find a way to win a close game Thursday. The Mountaineers have been able to do that this season, but South Florida hasn't.

The Bulls have run into a bit of bad luck. After starting the season 4-0 and ranked 16th, South Florida has lost six of its last seven. Not counting its first loss in that streak — a 44-17 loss to Pitt — the Bulls have lost by an average of five points.

South Florida held a second-half lead in four of its six losses, but mistakes, turnovers, special teams blunders and injuries have defined the Bulls season.

"The only thing I know to do is roll your sleeves up and keep moving forward," coach Skip Holtz said. There's not a quick fix other than go out to practice, get better every week and hopefully we can eliminate some of the mistakes and find a way to win one of these close football games."

On the other hand, West Virginia found a way to win in its last two close games. The Mountaineers blocked a field goal to seal a victory at Cincinnati, then recorded a sack on four of the last seven plays to clinch a win over Pitt.

Part of that has been the energy on the sidelines. After the Louisville loss, Holgorsen called out his players for a lack of enthusiasm in games and on the sidelines.

During both the Cincinnati and Pitt wins, West Virginia's sidelines have been lively and energetic.

"The excitement and atmosphere on the sideline is definitely something that's changed in the past two games," defensive tackle Julian Miller said.

If it carries to this game, West Virginia's third straight win would mean a share of the Big East championship. Then, the players would become Cincinnati fans Saturday in hopes of earning the BCS berth.

But that becomes irrelevant if West Virginia can't beat South Florida on Thursday night.

"We have to go take care of business first of all," quarterback Geno Smith said. "We can't go think about any other scenarios but going out and getting a win on Thursday."

Mountaineers Game Day

West Virginia at South Florida

When/where: 8 p.m. Thursday/Raymond James Stadium, Tampa, Fla.

TV/radio: ESPN/WVAQ-FM (101.9), WBGG-AM (970), Mountaineer Sports Network

Favorite: West Virginia by 1.5

Records: West Virginia 8-3, 4-2 Big East; South Florida 5-6, 1-5 Big East

Series: Tied, 3-3

Last meeting: 2010: West Virginia, 20-6

Outlook: Quinton Spain and Curtis Feigt will make their first career starts at right guard and tackle, respectively, after replacing Tyler Rader and Pat Eger in the second half against Pitt. Corey Smith will start at punter. ... West Virginia is 25-19 in NFL stadiums and 1-2 at Raymond James Stadium. ... South Florida coach Skip Holtz is 1-4 all-time against West Virginia. He was 1-3 while at East Carolina and lost last year in his first season with South Florida. ... With a win, South Florida would be bowl eligible for the seventh straight season.

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