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Defense comes up big as West Virginia tops No.23 Cincinnati

Nov 12, 2011 - 11:54 PM Cincinnati, OH (Sports Network) - Geno Smith passed for 372 yards and a touchdown, and West Virginia used two big defensive plays to earn a 24-21 victory against No. 23 Cincinnati.

Julian Miller recovered a fumble in the end zone during a second-quarter play that forced Cincinnati quarterback Zach Collaros from the game, and the Mountaineers blocked the Bearcats' field goal attempt as time expired to secure the victory.

Despite being sacked five times, Smith completed 29-of-43 passes for West Virginia (7-3, 3-2 Big East), which rebounded from last week's loss against Louisville.

"We faced some adversity all throughout the game, but I think we turned the corner today," Smith said. "Everyone was playing for one another and we were out there trying to make plays for our teammates."

Collaros completed 7-of-11 passes for 70 yards before suffering a leg injury, and will undergo further evaluation over the weekend, according to Cincinnati head coach Butch Jones. Backup Munchie Legaux threw for 144 yards with one interception.

Legaux also ran for 77 yards and a touchdown, while Isaiah Pead totaled 113 yards and two scores on the ground, but it wasn't enough to prevent Cincinnati (7-2, 3-1) from suffering its first conference loss.

"We had a lot of plays that should have gone for touchdown or should have been completed," Pead said. "I had a few plays that could have gone further than they did or could have gone for touchdowns. But you can't sit in self pity."

The Bearcats faced a 17-7 deficit at halftime and kicker Tony Miliano missed a 42-yard attempt midway through the third quarter, but they came back to take the lead thanks to Legaux.

The sophomore hit Pead with a 45-yard pass before scoring on a seven-yard run with 4:25 left in the third quarter, then engineered Cincinnati's next score.

The Bearcats got the ball back with 1:47 left in the quarter thanks to a West Virginia fumble, and Legaux completed four passes for 45 yards while converting two third downs. That helped bring the ball to the WVU 10, and Pead rushed into the end zone on the next play.

But Cincinnati's 21-17 lead didn't last long. West Virginia responded with a 12-play, 74-yard scoring drive that ended with 8:52 left, when Shawne Alston plowed into the end zone from a yard out.

The Bearcats punted on their next two possessions, but got one last shot after WVU kicker Tyler Bitancurt missed a 47-yard try with two minutes to go.

Cincinnati quickly reached WVU territory thanks to Legaux's 34-yard pass to Kenbrell Thompkins, and continued to advance. A short run by Legaux put the ball at the Mountaineer 14 with three seconds left, setting up Miliano to tie the game.

But defensive back Eain Smith blocked the attempt as WVU held on.

The Bearcats got on the scoreboard during their first possession, which lasted all of three plays. It started at their own 46 because WVU punted from deep in its own territory, giving Cincinnati a good field-position opportunity.

Pead helped the Bearcats take advantage. He ran for six yards on the first play, and after a short pass brought the ball to the WVU 40, Pead broke out on a touchdown run.

The Mountaineers responded with a quick scoring drive, highlighted by the touchdown play. Smith found Stedman Bailey for a 59-yard strike just more than three minutes into the game.

Cincinnati then had a prolonged scoring opportunity after advancing to the WVU eight-yard line for 1st-and-goal. It had numerous chances thanks to two Mountaineers penalties, but West Virginia stuffed Collaros on 4th-and-goal from the one.

The Bearcats didn't have as good a scoring chance for the rest of the half, and a turnover early in the second quarter helped West Virginia take control.

After Bitancurt made a 28-yard field goal, Cincinnati took over at its own 17 and couldn't gain ground. Collaros was chased back toward his goal line and fumbled as he was sacked in the end zone.

Miller recovered the ball, and WVU held a 17-7 lead with 9:35 left in the half.

Collaros was injured during the play, forcing Cincinnati to bring in Legaux for its ensuing drive. The Bearcats had promising field position at the WVU 48, but his second pass was intercepted.

West Virginia maintained the 10-point advantage until halftime, but missed an opportunity to expand its lead when Cincinnati blocked Bitancurt's 39-yard try midway through the third quarter.

Game Notes

Both teams gained 404 yards on offense...Bailey finished with six receptions for 104 yards, while teammate Tavon Austin had nine catches for 126 yards...West Virginia leads the all-time series 16-3-1, including an 8-1 mark in Cincinnati...The attendance of 48,152 at Paul Brown Stadium marked the highest attendance figure for a Cincinnati home Big East conference game.