West Virginia coach Bill Stewart likes to call the Big East race a seven-round fight.
Well, the Mountaineers just knocked out the opponent that's been the Buster Douglas to their Mike Tyson.
South Florida, which had beaten the Mountaineers three of the past four years, was no match Thursday night in Morgantown in a 20-6 win for the home team. It was a physical, low-scoring game as expected, but West Virginia surpassed 19 points -- barely -- against the USF defense for the first time since 2005.
And that's because of Geno Smith. The Bulls once again bottled up Noel Devine and the Mountaineers' running game, but unlike other years, Stewart had more options. Namely, the passing game behind Smith, who finished 24-of-31 for 218 yards and two touchdowns. It's become no surprise to league observers by this point, but Smith showed a national audience how cool and poised he is for a guy who has made just six career starts.
West Virginia came into the game ranked No. 25 and looking like the best team in the Big East. There's no reason to doubt that right now after an impressive overall performance.
South Florida, meanwhile, has problems, all of them on offense. B.J. Daniels continues to struggle and threw three more interceptions Thursday to give him 10 for the season. The killer one came at the end of the first half with South Florida down only 10-3, but the interception led to a backbreaking West Virginia touchdown.
Skip Holtz tried to let Daniels run more, but West Virginia's defense did a great job of containing him and getting pressure. Daniels finished with 123 total yards after posting more than 330 total yards last year against the Mountaineers. The Bulls simply don't have enough offensive playmakers around Daniels, and he's making things worse with poor decision-making. Is it worth it for Holtz to sit Daniels for a week and let him watch from the sidelines? Backup Bobby Eveld came in for the last, meaningless drive.
USF now hasn't scored an offensive touchdown in its past two games. At 3-3, the Bulls may have a hard time making a bowl game this year unless the offense improves. Remember that a road game at Miami still awaits, so they can probably only afford two more conference losses to reach bowl eligibility.
The West Virginia defense held the Bulls to 202 yards of total offense and continues to be the secret weapon of this team. The Mountaineers have only completed one round of their Big East fight, but right now they look like the top heavyweight in this division.