The West Virginia Mountaineers have been the most successful team in the Big East since the new teams joined the league in 2005. 2007 was no different. The Mountaineers finished atop the Big East with a 5-2 record, earning the Big East championship in a tie breaker over the Connecticut Huskies, who also finished with a 5-2 record. They finished 11-2 overall and dismantled Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl by a score of 48-28.
The 2007 meeting between West Virginia and Cincinnati was perhaps the most anticipated home game in the history of Cincinnati Football. The Big East title hung in the balance as the two teams took the field. The Mountaineers dominated most of the first half, but Cincinnati made a valiant comeback effort at the end. The efforts fell short, however, as the Bearcats lost 28-23 in a very competitive game.
On November 8th, the Bearcats travel to Morgantown to face West Virginia in hopes of continuing their march to a Big East Championship. The 2008 contest will be the sixth time in seven years that two schools have faced off, with West Virginia owning a 5-1 record over that span of time.
The Following is a recap of the 2007 season for the West Virginia Mountaineers:
What Went Right
A lot went right for West Virginia in 2007, especially on offense where the dynamic duo of quarterback Pat White and running back Steve Slaton kept opposing defenses on their heels. The offense put up an average of nearly 40 points per game, and did it mostly on the ground. Not only did opposing defenses need to keep track of Steve Slaton, but they also had to keep an eye on Pat White. Opposing defenses also had their hands full with standout freshman Noel Devine who is a good runner in his own right.
White led the Mountaineer attack, and did an exceptional job of it. In the passing department, White completed 66 percent of his passes for 1724 yards and 14 touchdowns, while throwing just 4 interceptions. His favorite target was Darius Reynaud, who caught 64 passes for 733 yards and 12 scores.
White was also exceptional in the ground game, as he was the Mountaineers leading rusher last season with 1335 yards on 197 carries and 14 touchdowns. He carried an average of over 100 yards per contest.
Slaton was also dominate on the ground in 2008. He carried the ball 211 times for 1104 yards and amassed 17 touchdowns. He was able to take the attention off of Pat White and give a lot of defensive coordinators headaches in 2007. Another solid player in the rushing game was lightning quick freshman Noel Devine, who carried 73 times for 660 yards and 6 touchdowns. His most impressive stat was his incredible average if 8.6 yards per carry.
What Went Wrong
While their defense was very strong statistically, allowing opponents just over 18 points per game, there were some causes for concern. At times the defense was unable to take advantage of loose balls and other opportunities for interceptions. They only recovered just over 50 percent of opposing teams' fumbles.
When the offense was struggling, they were often unable to force that big turnover that could swing the momentum their way. Their two losses came by a total of just 12 points, so all they needed in either loss was just one touchdown to swing the game in their favor.
In their two losses, the offense was unable to get anything going. They scored a combined 22 points in the two losses (9 against Pittsburgh, 13 against South Florida). Both of those teams had a solid rush defense that put pressure on the run game and put pressure on Pat White's arm. White was unable to perform in situation where he had to throw a lot, and they lost those two games as a result.
Why This Year Will Be Different
The Mountaineers do lose some stars on offense, most notably Steve Slaton and fullback Owen Schmidt. However, Noel Devine should be able to fill Slaton's role for the most part. The offense live this season understands the system very well, and is quite possible the best offensive line former coach Rich Rodriquez put together. The run game should not drop too much in overall production.
Pat White's arm may be a key to this season. With the departure of the go to running back, he will be forced to throw more often. While he did avoid making too many mistakes last year, he may need to win games with his arm this season, which may be a problem. With top wide receiver Darius Reynaud gone, the Mountaineers will be looking for a new face to step up and help out White.
On defense, linebacker Reed Willis is the top player of the four returning starters. He will be a solid player at the linebacker position, but will be without his running mate from last season Marc Margo. The Mountaineers also lose their two top linemen in Johnny Dingle and Keilen Dykes.
The defensive secondary loses every single starter from last season, and will be a major concern coming into this year. The mountaineers are expecting big things from hard hitting JUCO transfer safety Ellis Lanskter, and will need him to step up big if one of the top defensive units from last season expects to maintain its dominance.
The Mountaineers have a tough schedule in 2008. Outside of Big East play, they have to travel to East Carolina and Colorado, and host Auburn on a Thursday night in Morgantown. Even with all of this, the Mountaineers look to be the popular pick again this year to win the Big East crown, but they will have a lot of question marks to answer as the season progresses.