"We have to turn it up a little bit because we’re in a vulnerable spot," Smith said. "And we can either go up or go down. I believe in my teammates. I believe in my coaches and I think - I believe - we’re fighters. I think we’re going to come out and respond."
Special teams The Bearcats have put together the best kicking game in the Big East, with Pat O'Donnell leading the league in punting and Tony Miliano tied for the league lead in field goal efficiency after last week's 4-for-4 performance at Pitt. West Virginia's Tavon Austin is a dangerous return man. He leads the Big East with a 14.5-yard punt return average and is second with a 25.5-yard kickoff return average, including a 100-yard touchdown return against against Marshall. Kicker Tyler Bitancourt is tied with Miliano in field goal percentage with 12 successful kicks in 15 attempts.
Win the turnover battle. UC ranks third in the country in turnover margin (+13), behind only Oklahoma State and LSU. West Virginia ranks 60th with a 14 giveaways and 14 takeaways. Whether it be Walter Stewart tipping a pass intercepted by Cam Cheatham or Drew Frey diving to snag an overthrown pass, UC has found itself in the right spots all season. The turnover binge has defined their defense. It must again to keep WVU's attack off the field. Zach Collaros efficiently avoiding red zone turnovers -- as he did against Pittsburgh -- will be imperative, as well. Don't be afraid to take three, because this game will likely be decided by that number.
"They took me in and really gave me the right path," Stewart said. "They just told me there's a lot more to life than hanging out and not doing anything. That's how football came along. As a freshman, they told me you can pick something that you want to do and we'll put you in it. It didn't matter that it was football. It could have been Key Club or anything. They just told me to get active and they would support me in whatever I decided to do."
"Effort gives you a chance," he said. "There are talented teams across the country that can go out there and play average and still win the game. There are only a few of them - there aren't many. Very few teams can line up and have just that much more talent and, regardless of what kind of effort they play with, can win the game. There are only a few of them. We're obviously not one of them. In order to win, we have to play with effort all the time." Jones said Cincinnati has had similar issues. The Bearcats followed their only loss at Tennessee with three wins by a combined 102 points. They led the games 59-0, 21-0 and 27-0. In the past three, though, Cincinnati has trailed 6-0, 7-0 and 13-6 and had trailed at halftime once and been tied twice.
"I think he means he wants us to step our game up another level and be excited about what we're doing," Rigg said. "He doesn't want us to play. He wants us to have fun and play hard for each other. He’s stressed he wants more energy, more effort, to play harder and get to the ball on defense to force turnovers. With these last three games, we need to step our level up higher."
"[Collaros] He's the guy that makes the thing go for them," said West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen. "He's willing his team to be able to get victories. He's determined. He's been there for a long time, and you can tell that he gets people around him to play better."
"It’s a weekly challenge of getting your guys ready to go," Holgorsen said. "We’re not overmatched, and we’re not going to be overmatched in any of the games that we play in this year. It’s a matter of how hard we play and about how well we play together as a team."
The constant talk about needing to play with energy from Holgo The Barbarian is a good sign for UC. Usually when a coach has to tell his guys to play with energy its already too late.
They’ll trade blows with the Mountaineers in a seesaw battle, but that knack for enduring this fall when the game hangs in the balance will truly come in handy in the waning moments. In a tremendous back-and-forth duel between the quarterbacks, Collaros will lose the statistical battle, but win the war by piloting the game-winning drive in a frenzied fourth quarter.
West Virginia at Cincinnati, noon, ABC. When the season started, I penciled the Mountaineers in for a win in this game. But now that I have watched both teams play, it is hard to pick West Virginia. The reason -- Cincinnati is simply a much more physical team both on the offensive and defensive lines. They attack more, they are more aggressive, and they are playing with a passion that has been sorely lacking from West Virginia. This one could turn into a shootout as I anticipate both teams taking advantage of matchup problems in the secondary. But Cincinnati has won each of its close games this season and will pull this one out. The magical season continues. Cincinnati 40, West Virginia 38.
Get physical. Cincinnati plays a physical brand of football. Can West Virginia match up, especially on defense? The Mountaineers have been sorely lacking in that area the past three games and are going to have a monster challenge trying to tackle Isaiah Pead, the best running back they have faced this season.