West Virginia 41, Rutgers 31
If Rutgers coach Greg Schiano was ever going to beat West Virginia, this was the year to do it.
The 25th-ranked Mountaineers were reeling after an embarrassing 49-23 loss at Syracuse the week before, a rare October snowstorm was rumbling up the East Coast, and paralyzed Scarlet Knights player Eric LeGrand made an emotional entrance into High Point Solutions Stadium by leading the team out of the tunnel at the beginning of the game.
All of that was working in Rutgers’ favor, but once again, Schiano came up short against West Virginia, 41-31 - his 11th loss in a row to the Mountaineers and the 17th straight defeat for Rutgers dating back to 1994.
But for the better part of three quarters it finally looked like Schiano was going to be talking about a big victory over his biggest nemesis. Rutgers was leading 31-21 at halftime and was controlling the football on the ground against a Mountaineer defense that is still struggling mightily against power running attacks.
Yet West Virginia’s D put up a goose egg on the scoreboard in the second half, and the offense erupted for three second half touchdowns, the go-ahead score coming from quarterback Geno Smith on fourth and goal at the 1 with 6:18 remaining in the game to put the Mountaineers in the lead for good, 34-31.
“If you don’t get it and they are backed up inside their one yard line, then you can use that to your advantage defensively,” said West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen of his decision of going for the touchdown instead of kicking a game-tying field goal. “I felt like we had it; I felt like we had the right play called and Geno kind of blinked a little bit. We were supposed to hit Tyler (Urban) over the middle and he didn’t trigger it and made a play – which we’ve been telling these guys a lot that it’s hard to call perfect plays on offense.
“If you don’t call a perfect play, that doesn’t mean a play can’t work,” Holgorsen added. “You’ve got to figure out a way to make it work. I was frustrated with Geno for a lot of the game today, but he did it in the fourth quarter.”
It was one of three times in the second half Smith used his legs to make something happen for the offense.
“He got a couple of scrambling first downs, which kept us out on the field and that’s called making a play,” said Holgorsen. “We don’t tell him to scramble and run, or scramble and throw, you’ve got to look at it and make a decision.”
Following Smith’s TD, Tyler Bitancurt missed the point after, allowing Rutgers the opportunity to tie the game with a field goal. The ensuing kickoff skidded out of bounds, giving Rutgers the ball at their own 40, but on second down, Julian Miller was able to recover Gary Nova’s fumble at the Rutgers 37.
Three plays after that, Smith hooked up with Tavon Austin for a 20-yard touchdown to give the Mountaineers a two-possession lead with just 4:50 left on the clock.
Austin’s score also gave the defense the freedom to eschew the run, and it stepped up on Rutgers’ next possession, stopping the Knights on fourth and 14 at the WVU 32 to give the ball back to the offense.
Brodrick Jenkins then iced the game with his second interception at the West Virginia 40 with 52 seconds left.
“The number one thing is effort and when adversity hits and you don’t make a play, what are you going to do? Are you going to shut it down or are you going to line up and play even harder?” said Holgorsen. “We did that in the second half.”
There were seven lead changes and for a good portion of the game Rutgers was controlling things by running the ball and using those runs to hit passes down the field to Mohamed Sanu, Quron Pratt and Mark Harrison.
Nova located Sanu for a 14-yard score, found Harrison behind corner Keith Tandy for a 45-yard touchdown, and Jawan Jamison added a pair of second quarter TD runs to give Rutgers its first double-digit lead over West Virginia since 1994, which, incidentally, was the last time it beat the Mountaineers.
West Virginia (6-2, 2-1) was the beneficiary of big plays in the first half, getting a 52-yard touchdown run from Shawne Alston and an 80-yard TD run from Tavon Austin in the first quarter. Alston, who finished with a career-high 110 yards on 14 carries, also got into the end zone from the two early in the second quarter.
Late in the second quarter, after Jamison’s 18-yard TD run, the Mountaineers missed a chance at getting points when it had the ball at the Rutgers 16 with 23 seconds left. Holgorsen chose to give the ball to Andrew Buie on a run and was trying to get off another play but the officials were slow placing the football, and that forced Holgorsen to frantically call a timeout with just one second remaining on the clock.
When West Virginia returned to the field, kicker Tyler Bitancurt never got a chance to get off a 36-yard field goal because holder Mike Molinari dropped the snap and was tackled by Ryan Logan at the 37 to end the half.
“We thought (the officials) would spot it quicker,” said Holgorsen. “It just took too much time and we had to call timeout. I was trying to get it set and take a shot real quick, but we just ran out of time.”
After forcing Rutgers (5-3, 2-2) to a pair of three-and-outs to begin the third quarter, the Mountaineer offense finally got going after Smith made West Virginia’s first third-down conversion of the game, a scrambling four-yard run to the Rutgers 38 on a third and two. Smith fumbled on the play but alertly was able to recover it.
Later, Smith lobbed a pass to Stedman Bailey in the back of the end zone for a pretty 19-yard score that Bailey was able to tip to himself. It was his first catch of the game.
Rutgers’ best opportunity to get points in the second half came early in the fourth quarter when the Scarlet Knights got to the West Virginia 11, using Nova passes of 21 and 18 yards to Wright to get there, but on third and seven, his pass intended to Pratt fell incomplete.
Instead of attempting a 28-yard field goal to go up by six, Schiano rolled the dice and tried a fake. Backup holder Patrick Kivlehan’s pass to freshman receiver Brandon Coleman was there, but Coleman was unable to hold onto the football in the end zone as Darwin Cook crashed into him.
That drop turned out to be a momentum turning play in the game for West Virginia.
Smith completed 20 of 31 passes for 218 yards and two touchdowns, but it was the running game that really made the difference today. The ground game churned out 210 yards and scored four touchdowns, averaging an impressive 5.7 yards per carry. Austin carried two times for 96 yards and Garrison finished with 23 yards on nine carries.
Bailey had his five-game 100-yard receiving streak snapped today, the sophomore catching just two passes for 51 yards, but Austin stepped up with eight catches for 67 yards.
“We didn’t execute great offensively in the third quarter but we were able to put up a couple of touchdowns and get a couple of turnovers,” said Holgorsen.
Overall, the Mountaineer offense finished the game with 428 total yards in horrendous conditions. Rutgers managed 386 yards, including 151 yards on the ground. It is the fourth time this year the WVU defense has allowed an opponent to gain more than 150 yards on the ground.
Jamison led the Scarlet Knights with 96 yards on 19 carries, while Nova completed 18 of 46 passes for 235 yards and two touchdowns.
Sanu, who came into the game averaging nine catches and 100 yards per game, caught just five passes for 48 yards.
“The conditions were horrible – this is as bad of conditions that I have ever played in or coached in for my entire career, the first half especially, because the field was covered in ice and slush,” said Holgorsen. “We had a tough time hanging on to the ball.”
The win today sets up a Big East showdown next Saturday in Morgantown against streaking Louisville, now 4-4, 2-1 after this afternoon’s 27-10 victory over Syracuse. Tickets are still available and can be purchased online at WVUGAME.com.
The game will kick off at noon and will be televised on the Big East Network.
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