By Dave Morrison
Register-Herald Sports Writer
West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen says his team will be focused on one thing tonight: Beating South Florida.
West Virginia (8-3, 4-2 Big East) travels to South Florida (5-6, 1-5) for its regular-season finale. The game kicks off at 8 p.m. at Raymond James Stadium and will be televised nationally on ESPN. West Virginia is a 1 1/2-point favorite.
There are big implications riding on this game. Possible Orange Bowl implications.
And Holgorsen did acknowledge how big this game is to the Mountaineers.
“The truth of the matter is that it does come down to this one game,” Holgorsen said. “It’s the only game left. For the bowl game, once we find out where we’re playing, right now this is the only game on the schedule, and we better give it everything we’ve got. This team will be remembered for what happens on Thursday night.”
West Virginia won’t know its BCS fate until Saturday, when Cincinnati hosts Connecticut at noon. If Cincinnati and West Virginia win, it will form a mini-conference between the three conference co-champions (WVU, Louisville and WVU would all be 5-2 in conference play) with the team with the highest BCS rating getting the nod.
Right now that is WVU.
If Cincinnati loses, Louisville will get the BCS berth by virtue of its victory over the Mountaineers earlier this season.
The Mountaineers are coming off a 21-20 Backyard Brawl win over Pitt.
The Bulls fell to Louisville 34-24 last week and have lost two straight and six of its last seven after starting 4-0. The only Big East win was a 37-17 pasting of Syracuse at Syracuse.
“We’re playing a very good team,” Holgorsen said.
“Their record doesn’t reflect what kind of a team they are, how well-coached they are, or what kind of players they have. They started well at 4-0, beat a good Notre Dame team, then the last six or seven games they’ve come up a little bit short.”
The Bulls may welcome the return of quarterback B.J. Daniels, who missed last week’s loss to Louisville.
On the year, Daniels has completed 194 of 321 passes for 2,378 yards and has rushed for 578 yards and five touchdowns.
Bobby Eveld stepped in for Daniels and on the year has completed 37 of 67 passes for 341 yards and a touchdown.
“He can make it with his feet, or he can make it with his arm,” Holgorsen said of Daniels. “Even if he does play, he’s probably not going to run very much with a shoulder like that. That’s pretty dangerous. The other guy’s probably not as much of a runner as Daniels is, but we don’t have a lot of material. B.J. has taken a lot of snaps for them over the past three years.”
Top receivers are Sterling Griffin with 40 catches for 493 yards and two scores and Deonte Welch has 26 for 366 yards and a score. Victor Mark (30-328-2) and Andre Davis (20-255-2) also figure into the passing catching unit.
Darrell Scott has a team-high 722 yards rushing and five scores and Demetris Murray has 469 and eight scores.
Quarterback Geno Smith leads the Mountaineer offense and set single-season records for completions, attempts and yardage in the 21-20 Backyard Brawl win over Pitt Friday night.
Smith has completed 291 of 448 attempts for 3,741 yards, with 25 touchdowns and five interceptions.
USF has made its defensive reputation on getting to the quarterback. The Bulls’ defensive coordinator is former Marshall coach Mark Snyder.
“They’re No. 1 in the country in sacks,” Holgorsen said. “They’re top three in negative plays per game. They don’t bleed too much, which means those guys up front are probably pretty good. By being able to create negative plays with just four guys up front is pretty good.”
Keeping Smith upright will be key. Holgorsen said that guard Quinton Spain and tackle Curtis Feigt, inserted into the game in the second half against Pitt, would start tonight.
When Smith has time, his receivers have reaped the rewards.
Stedman Bailey has 60 catches for a single-season record 1,117 yards (on 60 catches) and his 11 touchdowns is one away from the team single-season record held by Darius Reynaud and Chris Henry.
Tavon Austin has a record 82-receptions (for 1,009 yards and four touchdowns).
Ivan McCartney shows 46 receptions for 561 yards and three TDs.
Freshman Dustin Garrison leads the ground game, with 655 yards and five touchdowns and he has also caught 23 passes for 190 yards. Shawne Austin has 332 yards and 10 touchdowns on the ground.
South Florida needs the victory to become bowl eligible.
West Virginia has had its share of struggles in Tampa. The Mountaineers last won at South Florida came in 2005, taking a 28-13 victory. WVU fell 30-19 in 2009 and 21-13 in 2007.
WVU is 3-3 all-time against South Florida.