MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (AP) - Geno Smith threw four first-half touchdown passes, West Virginia frustrated Big East passing leader Zach Collaros and the Mountaineers beat Cincinnati 37-10 on Saturday.
West Virginia (6-3, 2-2 Big East) broke a two-game losing skid and is back in the conference chase after first-place Pittsburgh's loss to Connecticut on Thursday night. Smith wasn't overpowering but exploited Cincinnati's inexperienced defense when he needed to, finishing 15 of 25 for 174 yards. He threw two TD passes apiece to Tavon Austin and Jock Sanders.
Cincinnati (3-6, 1-3) couldn't overcome a 30-3 halftime deficit. It marked the first game this season that Collaros, who has 20 TD passes, failed to find the end zone. The two-time defending Big East champion Bearcats now must win their final three games against Rutgers, Connecticut and Pittsburgh to become bowl eligible. The Bearcats' three-game losing streak is their longest since 2006.
Cincinnati was forced to throw after West Virginia jumped out to its big early lead and Collaros had little luck against the nation's fourth-best defense. Collaros, who returned from a knee injury that forced him to miss Cincinnati's previous game, was sacked five times, intercepted twice and he lost a fumble. He also was called for intentional grounding in the end zone that gave the Mountaineers a safety and was plagued by several dropped passes.
Collaros finished 25 of 45 for 221 yards. West Virginia cornerback Keith Tandy sent a statement when he drilled D.J. Woods and broke up a short pass that ended one Cincinnati drive late in the first quarter. On Cincinnati's next series, Tandy got position on Armon Binns in the end zone for an interception after Collaros had completed three straight passes of more than 15 yards to Binns.
West Virginia cornerback Brandon Hogan made up for a dropped interception by picking off Collaros one series later. Collaros added one mistake to another by hitting Hogan late out of bounds. West Virginia took over at the Bearcats' 6 and Smith, waiting for Sanders to get open, found him for a 6-yard scoring toss in the back of the end zone for a 28-0 lead.
West Virginia coach Bill Stewart conducted a top-to-bottom examination of his offense after an overtime loss at Connecticut two weeks ago. Against Cincinnati, Stewart alternated Noel Devine, Shawn Alston and fullback Ryan Clarke with success. Devine did all the work himself on West Virginia's first series of the third quarter, carrying five times for 35 yards, including breaking a tackle and going 13 yards into the end zone for the final margin.
Alston got 10 carries on West Virginia's next series, which ended when Clarke was stopped for no gain on fourth down at the Cincinnati 1. That was about the only thing that went wrong for the Mountaineers. They made it an unhappy return to Morgantown for Cincinnati first-year coach Butch Jones, who was a West Virginia assistant coach under Rich Rodriguez in 2005 and 2006.
Things went wrong for the Bearcats from the start. D.J. Woods dropped a punt after the first series of the game and West Virginia recovered at the Cincinnati 32. Smith then found a wide-open Austin in the end zone on the next play. Austin caught a 10-yard TD toss late in the period when he slipped past safety Drew Frey, one of eight sophomore starters on Cincinnati's defense.
Sanders got his first score when he broke two tackles on a short pass and went 48 yards into the end zone midway through the second quarter. Cincinnati's only touchdown came when Isaiah Pead went 53 yards on fourth down on Cincinnati's first series of the third quarter to make it 30-10.
Cincinnati punted eight times and the most penalized team in the Big East was flagged 10 times for 96 yards. Devine finished with 77 yards on 18 carries and Alston, who entered the game with six carries the entire season, had 17 carries for 75 yards.
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