Backyard Brawl Notebook
The rebirth came from one-time defensive tackle Curtis Feigt, who got his first collegiate snaps at offensive tackle during West Virginia’s second-half comeback against Pitt, and the redemption came from Corey Smith, the team’s starting punter at the beginning of the year who lost his job after the Bowling Green game only to find his way back out onto the field in the second quarter Friday night.
Feigt helped the ground game churn out 115 second-half yards and a pair of scores after the team finished the first half with minus-2 yards, and Smith consistently kicked the Mountaineers out of trouble to help a defense that limited Pitt to just three points and 80 yards in the second half.
Feigt made the key block that sprung running back Shawne Alston free for his go ahead 1-yard touchdown run with 6:10 left in the fourth quarter, and it was Smith’s 60-yard punt from the West Virginia 14 with two minutes left in the game that flipped the field and helped preserve a 21-20 lead.
“There were 18 punts in that game and I guess our punter was just a little bit better, which helped in some field position,” said West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen.
After a shanked punt led to Pitt’s second touchdown, Holgorsen went back to Smith, who last punted against Maryland, and he responded with a booming 57-yard kick that ignited the crowd.
Smith's average of 57.2 yards per punt turned out to be one of the big differences in the game.
Feigt, who started the second half at right tackle alongside Quinton Spain at right guard, also made a big difference. It the first collegiate action for Feigt while Spain has only seen spot duty for most of the year.
“We just felt like it was the right thing to do,” said Holgorsen of the changes up front. “Our play calling in the second half didn’t put as much pressure on the O-line. I thought our coaches did a good job at halftime of figuring out what we needed to do a little differently in order to move forward.”
Feigt admits he was a little surprised when offensive line coach Bill Bedenbaugh told him he was starting the second half at right tackle. In fact, his immediate reaction consisted of two words, “Oh crap,” Feigt said in his thick German accent.
“If you’re second string you don’t really expect to get in. When you are waking up (in the morning before the game) you’re not like, I’m going to get to play today,” Feigt said. “When he said I was going to start out the second half I was like, alright, I’ve got to get ready to go and execute to the best of my ability.”
The former defensive tackle performed well enough to play the remainder of the game.
“It means a lot that coach trusted me and my ability to go out there and then to keep me out there,” said Feigt. “After the first series he could have put Pat Eger back in.
“I think during halftime we were talking to each other and trying to help each other out and get our confidence up,” said Feigt. “When they put me and Quinton in, I think it brought a new fire along the line and everybody was excited that Quinton and I got a shot at playing.”
Holgorsen admitted he altered his play calling in the second half to help the offensive line better handle Pitt’s constant pressure.
“They were just pinning their ears and coming and getting us and we couldn’t block them,” Holgorsen said. “We ran the ball 30 times and we threw it 31 times, and of the times that we threw it in the second half, probably only once or twice did we throw it where it was actually a drop-back pass, which is incredibly discouraging. It means we’re not doing 60 percent of our offense based on the fact that we couldn’t block them.”
As for Smith, he remained upbeat and positive while waiting to get another opportunity to prove himself, and that opportunity ended up coming during the biggest game of the year.
“Whenever things go bad you’ve just got to keep your head up and get through it,” Smith said. “It’s a rite of passage, I guess. Everyone is going to have a bad game. It’s just how you respond to it.”
On the most important play of the game, backed up close to his own end zone, Smith came through in a big way with his booming punt.
“I knew I hit it well,” said Smith. “I have to give credit to Cody Nutter for giving me a good snap. It shuffled me away from the rush on the left side to let me roll a little bit and then a lot of credit to the cover guys for getting down there and making the tackle.”
Smith says the key for him moving forward is to build on Friday night’s performance.
“I’ve just got to make sure I’m consistent next week,” he said.” If I don’t do anything next week then it’s kind of irrelevant.”
Holgorsen says he will continue to make sure every position on the football field is performing up to standard.
“We tell everybody that they are going to be held accountable for what they do and if they are not playing very well then we are going to replace you,” he said. “We had some issues with a couple of guys up front and that’s no different than what we did with Corey Smith after game three. A lot of times you don’t know how a guy is going to respond until you put him into a game situation.”
He may have gotten some answers on Friday night.
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