Coach Dana Holgorsen shares a laugh following his team's 30-27 win over USF on Thursday night to earn a share of the Big East title.
All-Pro Photography/Dale Sparks photo
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Last night during MSN’s postgame locker room show, radio analyst Dwight Wallace referred to this year’s football team as the “Cardiac Kids.” While not original, it’s certainly appropriate.
Eight of the Mountaineers’ nine victories this season have been in comeback fashion, including a critical three game season-ending stretch against Cincinnati, Pitt and USF when the final outcome was not determined until the final play of the game.
The margin of victory in those three games was 3, 1, and 3.
“It’s been a long last three games and it’s been a long last three days,” said West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen. “We’ve had eight quarters of football in the last six days and those guys have given everything they’ve got.”
After trailing 3-0 early, West Virginia built a big lead at Maryland only to see that one become uncomfortable at the end.
Winning close games is a trait of good football teams. The Mountaineers have won four games by a touchdown margin or less this year, while on the other side of the field, South Florida dropped its fifth game by a touchdown margin or less.
“We’ve kind of figured out who we are. We are a team that plays hard for four quarters – plays with a bunch of energy and gets really excited to make plays,” said Holgorsen. “Above all else, just keep playing and in the end we’ll find a way to win.”
Holgorsen said he had no words of encouragement for kicker Tyler Bitancurt before he went onto the field to kick the game-winning field goal. “The more you talk to them the more you screw them up,” Holgorsen said. “I ignored him. I stayed completely away from him.”
The Mountaineers became just the 14th program in NCAA history to win 700 football games. No other Big East program has 700 victories. Here are the Big East’s top three in all-time football wins: West Virginia (700), Syracuse (684) and Pitt (669). Ironically, all three are leaving the conference.
Also, West Virginia is one of just three programs in college football to have won at least nine games seven straight years. Defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel has been here for all seven of those seasons.
“I’m really proud of it and there’s been a lot of great kids and a lot of great coaches come through here in the last nine, 10 years and I think everybody that’s been here feels a part of that,” said Casteel. “I’m close to everybody and there’s a lot of work that goes into that when you spread that out over 10 years. I’m proud to be a part of it and I’m proud of our kids this year."
Did you realize the team winning at halftime of the West Virginia-South Florida game has won all seven times?
2011: West Virginia led 13-7 at halftime and won 30-27 2010: West Virginia led 17-3 at halftime and won 20-6 2009: USF led 20-9 at halftime and won 30-19 2008: West Virginia led 10-7 at halftime and won 13-7 2007: USF led 14-3 at halftime and won 21-13 2006: USF led 14-6 at halftime and won 24-19 2005: West Virginia led 14-3 at halftime and won 28-13
West Virginia’s 30 points Thursday night were the most the Mountaineers have scored against the Bulls and their 364 total yards were the third-highest total, trailing the 437 they put up in a 2007 loss and the 394 produced in their 28-13 victory in 2005.
Devon Brown gets an A for effort trying to get extra yardage following his 21-yard catch over the middle to the USF 9 on the team's opening drive of the second half, but instead of attempting to run through three guys to get to the 8 or the 7, Brown would have been better off going to the ground at the 10.
By not doing so he got stood up by two guys and a third, linebacker Sam Barrington, came in from behind to strip the football out of his arms leading to Mike Lanaris’ fumble recovery at the WVU 2. Had West Virginia been able to punch it in from there to make the score 20-7, the ending might not have been so chaotic.
West Virginia was clearly at its best when running its fast-tempo offense but unfortunately, Holgorsen was somewhat reluctant to use it because of his team’s inability to convert third downs. WVU successfully converted just two of its 14 third-down tries and as a result, the Mountaineer defense was forced to play 83 snaps on Thursday night.
“When we tempo and started going faster, we limited what they did, but then the problem is when you’re not getting yards and you’re three-and-out then you’re putting your defense out there a lot,” said Holgorsen. “So that was really risky doing that but that’s what we should have been doing to where they were kind of base.”
Holgorsen admitted that he was forced to change the way he normally calls plays because the offensive line was having such a tough time controlling the line of scrimmage.
“There were a lot of times that I wasn’t confident in what we were calling but again, you can’t quit, you’ve just got to keep going,” said Holgorsen.
Holgorsen said Stedman Bailey’s sliding 26-yard catch that put the Mountaineers into position to kick the game-winning field goal was a play quarterback Geno Smith called.
“Him and Stedman have pretty good rapport and we were going to key that safety and if the safety played over we’re going to hit Tavon up the middle,” said Holgorsen. “But the safety didn’t play over. He played back and Stedman was able to come underneath him. It was a heck of a throw and catch.”
Dustin Garrison easily played his best game since running for 291 yards in week five against Bowling Green. The freshman had 87 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries against the Bulls, with 60 of those coming in the second half.
“Dustin, I think, just gets better as the game goes on,” said Holgorsen. “The more you give it to him and the more he plays, the better he is. He played well. We didn’t give up on the run and once we wore him down a little bit he was able to get free.”
The running game has by no means been spectacular this year, but West Virginia did manage to get 127 yards on the ground against the Bulls – the sixth time the team has rushed for more than 100 yards in a game this season.
Holgorsen said he was not that concerned going into his last drive without any timeouts left.
“I don’t pay a whole lot of attention to timeouts, actually,” he said. “You can do specific things offensively to stop the clock, whether you kill it, get out of bounds or have incomplete passes, so I encouraged Jeff to use as many timeouts defensively as he needed in the third quarter because we were out there so much.”
For most of the season, West Virginia managed to steer clear of major injuries but at the end of Thursday night’s game, the Mountaineers were running out of players, particularly on defense.
“We were beat up throughout the game and were almost having to call (the MSN radio crew) to come down from the press box,” joked Casteel. “We were really down on players but it was a team effort and the guys got it done.”
At one point in the third quarter, it looked like Casteel was ready to put on a helmet and go out and play the way he ran out onto the field to call timeout to get his defense reorganized.
“When we had to burn a timeout we probably could have used at the end of the game, but we had an issue with a guy on the field and we didn’t need him on the field – that was 12 – so we have to do a better job with that,” said Casteel.
Two streaks ended Thursday night: Holgorsen’s 74-game streak of having a quarterback throw at least one touchdown pass in a game and Geno Smith’s 14-game streak of tossing at least one TD pass dating back to last season.
Holgorsen said earlier this week the plan was for some of his assistant coaches to remain in Florida and spend the weekend recruiting. Teams having to play this weekend are a week behind in recruiting, the coach pointed out.