I can remember many times listening to former West Virginia coach John Beilein talk about the fickle nature of college sports. One of his favorite sayings was/is, “Nothing surprises me.”
Well, if you watch college sports long enough and realize that what we are dealing with here are a bunch of 18, 19, 20 and 21-year-olds, then nothing should surprise us.
But, of course, all of us were surprised Saturday afternoon by the way West Virginia played against 11th-ranked Oklahoma State. The defense was swarming like bees, the offense wasn’t shooting itself in the foot, the kicking game was once again solid and the punt returners at least managed to catch the football in the air – even the ones inside the 5.
That was in stark contrast to last weekend in Baltimore where West Virginia couldn’t get out of its own way in a 37-0 loss to Maryland. The Terps, having dropped seven in a row to West Virginia, wanted to beat the Mountaineers badly and it showed.
Yesterday, West Virginia, following the embarrassing loss to Maryland (coupled with last year’s embarrassing loss to Oklahoma State in Stillwater) wanted to beat the Cowboys badly and it showed.
“It was a tough week,” admitted WVU coach Dana Holgorsen. “The whole week was a challenge and you guys (media) know that; get that. I’m really proud of our team – the coaches and players – of just staying the course and getting to the point where we were playing ball.”
Saturday’s performance was by no means flawless. At times it looked like something you’d see out in the backyard or down at the Lair, footballs flying all over the place, guys fielding punts they shouldn’t have, players running out of bounds when the clock was working in their favor, delay of game penalties … you name it, but the Mountaineers played hard, especially on defense, and whenever that happens you always have a chance.
“When we got to the game we felt like we could win. We did. So we went out there and we wanted it pretty bad,” said Holgorsen. “It wasn’t pretty in some situations, but we did a great job.”
Florida State transfer Clint Trickett
gave the offense a much needed spark, the defense came through with a critical touchdown to break the seal on a scoreboard that's not been too friendly to the Mountaineers lately, and the kicking game kept the field from flipping in the second half when the offense was having a tough time getting back on track.
Trickett, making his first WVU start, didn’t put up the numbers you usually see Holgorsen’s quarterbacks enjoy, especially his completion percentage, but he did run around and make some plays Saturday afternoon to keep things interesting.
“Clint did a great job of keeping the play alive - and we had a sense that he could do that just watching film from when he was at Florida State. You could see that was kind of what he was doing,” said Holgorsen, adding that his quarterback still doesn’t operate the offense the way he wants him to.
“Everybody is going to ask the question, why hasn’t he been playing? He’s been getting better and better and better and the operation for me on the sidelines was incredibly frustrating. I threw a few temper tantrums, which I’m quite embarrassed about, but the communication just needs to get better. But he did what we thought he could do, which was just be a ballplayer and get out there and keep the play alive and he does do a good job of throwing the deep ball.”
Twice, Holgorsen lost his composure and both times it was a matter of his guys not fully understanding the circumstances at key moments of the game. One came when Trickett got hurt attempting to throw a pass in his own end zone, and, instead of coming to the sideline or staying down on the field, he got back to the huddle late and that cost the team five critical yards because of a delay of game penalty.
“That’s just his competitive spirit but, dude, when you get hurt lay down and let somebody come and tend to you so we don’t get a delay,” said Holgorsen. “One, he was slow getting to the huddle and then the communication is not very good, so it took longer than I wanted to get the play called. We got a delay and obviously that’s not good."
The second time Holgorsen lost it came near the end of the game when the Mountaineers, leading by six, were milking the clock to get into position to kick another field goal to make it a two-possession game. First, running back Dreamius Smith
ran out of bounds at the OSU 7 instead of remaining in bounds to keep the clock running, and then while West Virginia was subbing, it took too long for Trickett to get the ball snapped causing a second delay of game penalty. That made a chip-shot field goal try a little bit tougher.
“I just don’t know what to say other than I have to coach them better,” said Holgorsen. “There were a couple of them that resulted in a temper tantrum.”
But yesterday the team (and its coach) was able to overcome those issues, with the help of a loud and enthusiastic Milan Puskar Stadium crowd - something Holgorsen made a point of mentioning afterward.
“I really want to compliment our fans,” he said. “I thought they did a phenomenal job. There was obviously a lot of talk about people giving up on this team and we were going to get blown out, no matter what it was, but I didn’t sense that out there on Mountaineer Field. The fans were as good as I’ve seen them and kudos to them.”
Now, West Virginia moves from one big challenge to another next Saturday at undefeated Baylor, which has scored 209 points in its first three games against Wofford, Buffalo and Louisiana-Monroe. The Bears were off last weekend, just as Oklahoma State was idle the weekend leading up to yesterday’s game.
“I just told the team, enjoy the win and get ready because it’s going to happen again next week,” Holgorsen said. “We get to enjoy this for about 12 hours and then we have to get back to work to face another undefeated, (nationally ranked) team. That’s just life in the Big 12.”
Life in the Big 12 with a bunch of 18, 19, 20, and 21-year-olds that by now shouldn’t surprise us, but they always seem to anyway.Check out Antonik's book The Backyard Brawl: Stories from One of the Weirdest, Wildest, Longest Running, and Most Intense Rivalries in College Football History available in bookstores and online at your favorite retailers. A portion of the sales benefit the WVU Department of Intercollegiate Athletics. Also, be sure to "Like" the new Backyard Brawl Facebook page and tell us your personal WVU-Pitt story.