THE WATER COOLER: BIG Win In Texas Edition
By: Brandon Priddy
Here it was again. That moment.
For 30 years all manner of WVU teams have gone on the road in high-profile games facing marquee teams in hostile environments. They’ve managed to be competitive in most of those games, but every time there has come a moment when the inevitable mistakes mount, the crowd smells blood and the moment is just too much. From Major’s fumbles at Beaver Stadium in 1989, to the blocked field goal at against Virginia Tech in 2004 and Ryan Clark’s pair of fumbles at LSU in 2010, it’s a pattern that WVU fans are all too familiar with.
Rinse, lather, repeat. Lose, get on a plane, wonder ‘what if.’
On Saturday night in Austin the familiar script was playing out again. Having already given away a touchdown in the first half after being sacked deep in WVU territory (the ball was recovered by the Longhorns in the end zone), quarterback Geno Smith AGAIN fumbled the ball away with 7:46 to go and Texas took over at the Mountaineer 12. The largest crowd in the history of Darrell K. Royal – Texas Memorial stadium was rocking, WVU was clinging to a field goal lead and a Texas touchdown which would swing the momentum irreversibly in the favor of the home team. It seemed inevitable. We’d seen this movie before.
Then a funny thing happened on the way to the end zone.
Yes it was an unforced error (mishandled shotgun snap) by the ‘Horns on 3rd and 6 that led to a Pat Miller sack for a loss of 16 yards. And yes they then missed the ensuing 41 yard field goal to come away empty-handed, but it was a pair of stout plays by the WVU D on first and second down that set things up and it was that same WVU defense that kept its composure to capitalize on the Texas 3rd down miscue.
We then saw the contagious nature of composure as the previously unflappable Geno Smith shed his brief moment of flappability to lead a statement touchdown drive that consisted of 7 runs in 8 plays – all by junior Andrew Buie into the teeth of a physical Texas defensive line. The WVU offensive line opened holes, Buie hit them hard and the Mountaineers stomped the life out of the crowd of 101,851.
It was a moment long waited for.
Placing it on The Shelf
Before we move on to some game analysis I think it’s worth taking another brief moment to reflect on this game’s place in Mountaineer history. I had an interesting conversation with Jed on Sunday night where I asked him the inevitable “so does this one go above 1982 Oklahoma” question. As we had spent the previous several minutes talking about the amazing atmosphere and the importance with which Texas approached this game, I thought for sure his answer would be yes. Instead he made the point that Oklahoma ’82 will always stand alone. In Jed’s words “for nearly 100 years of football, there were just things WVU couldn’t do and wasn’t going to do. Yeah you can have your little program and run around and do some big things regionally but you’re doing very little on the national stage. That’s what everybody thought. That’s what we thought. Oklahoma ’82 changed all that.”
He’s 100% right. ’82 was the 4 minute mile for WVU football. It was as much about beating a mindset as it was beating a great team on the road. It provided a turbo-boost to the Mountaineer program that is still in evidence today and for that reason it will always be special. Furthermore I don’t even think that it’s fair to compare the two games because they represented such major yet different moments. By the same token you can’t compare those games to any of the BCS bowl games, each of which marked a monumental victory under vastly different circumstances with vastly different implications.
What you can do instead is mark those wins and acknowledge that they belong in the pantheon of great Mountaineer Moments, each special and each different, each marking a new and bigger step up the ladder to that elusive crystal football. Oklahoma ’82 was the nationwide arrival, Penn State ’88 was the notice that titles were possible, the ’06 Sugar Bowl showed WVU could WIN on the biggest stage and ’12 Texas showed this was a program that could stroll into the most hostile environment imaginable against the biggest name on the block and get a win. You can’t value those games against each other anymore than you could ask Warren Buffet to rank his first thousand, first million or first billion.
You needed ‘em all.
Brandon Is Smart
I don’t have many rules in life, but one of them is when I defend the most maligned player on the WVU squad after a historically bad day and said player then returns to make 3 HUGE plays in a program-defining road win, I get to refer to myself in the third person in my post-game blog. From Tuesday’s WATER COOLER:
Don’t forget that the same #6 who struggled mightily this week snagged a badly needed pick 6 against South Florida and a momentum-shifting turnover in the Orange Bowl. He has the ability to make plays. More importantly he’s what we’ve got and fans giving him a complex by voicing their frustration don’t do anything to make this defense better.
Can the much-maligned Pat Miller make a big play and bust things open? Don’t forget that his pick-six against South Florida came on a day when Dana Holgorsen’s offense didn’t get anything going until the final drive and his interception of Tajh Boyd was the first of two late-first half knockout blows that put Clemson on the ground for good. After the week he had you just KNOW #6 wants to come out and make something happen and it won’t take much. With expectations as low as they are something as small as a tipped ball or big hit could provide a surge of energy and enthusiasm to inspire the unit to play above their heads. You know what they say – redemption is a dish best served in front of 100,000 screaming maniacs.
So yeah, go me. But more than that, go Pat Miller.
I can’t remember being happier for a kid than I was for Miller on Saturday night. Starting with his tip of a David Ash 4th down pass, to his big-time break-up of another 4th down play with 8 minutes left and then his aforementioned tackle of Ash after the mishandled snap (with a deflected pass on Texas’ final drive tossed in for good measure), Miller made big-time plays when WVU needed them. More importantly he and the rest of the WVU secondary didn’t get beat deep all night. Yes they gave up some plays, but almost all were to the middle of the field and none went the distance for a long score. As we read in Jed’s great post last week, it’s a different universe here in the Big 12 and victory comes as much from making teams work to move up and down the field (maximizing the chance that they’ll….oh, I don’t know…..snap a ball through a QB’s hands) as it does keeping them off the scoreboard.
Put plainly if the WVU defense plays the way they played in Austin, the Mountaineers will win just about every game they’re in, and Pat Miller playing how he did is a big part of that.
Brandon is Dumb
If I’m going to pop my jersey when I’m right, it’s only fair that I call myself out when I whiff. I didn’t write it, but in conversations with folks all season and especially this week I expressed a ton of concern with Andrew Buie and the feature back role thrust on him by the absence of Shawne Alston. While Buie has seemingly worked through the fumbilitis that plagued him early last year, I’ve never been comfortable with him in short yardage and didn’t feel like he did a very good job of running through contact. Going against a physically imposing Texas front, I felt like the absence of big back Alston would be acutely felt and it would be a victory for the ‘eers and Buie to simply do enough to keep the defense honest – something to the tune of 70 or 80 yards.
That’s why we call this part “Brandon is Dumb.”
To say Buie ran like a man possessed does a disservice to the term “possessed.” Buie ran with a special blend of elusiveness, power and something that can only be described as “so-help-me-I-will-get-every-single-centimeter-out-of-this-carry-I-don’t-care-if-the-devil-himself-is-in-the-way.” From the crawling, clawing effort of that first 4th and 2 carry when WVU lined up in an I-formation and dared Texas to stop it to the shifty speed rush around the corner for the final touchdown, Buie ran with a speed and urgency not seen since a fella named Steve Slaton was carving up the Big East. It was a sight to behold and added another deadly element to an offense that already was in “embarrassment of riches” territory.
Signals from The Sideline
- A window into the significance of this game and the unique nature of the atmosphere could be found in a quick conversation with the crew manning“Smokey the Cannon.” In response to a comment about the frenzied setting they offered “it’s not always like this either. We’ve been waiting 12 months for this game.”
- It was 4th and 6. Trailing 38-34, WVU had driven to the Texas 40 yard line but needed 18 feet to keep the drive going. There was frantic action on the field. There were 100,000 people going insane with Godzillatron egging them on. And on top of all this there was “Big Bertha,” the 8 foot diameter bass drum named for a German WWI Howitzer. The reverberations from the mighty instrument seemed to defy (or amplify) the laws of physics as it literally shook the ground at field level. It was the most hostile, intense, intimidating environment imaginable. With the world going insane around him, Geno Smith stepped up and calmly fired an 11 yard strike to Tavon Austin. Seven plays later he hit Stedman Bailey in the end zone for the go-ahead TD. If that didn’t rattle him, is there anything that can?
- As he left the field at halftime having seen his team turn a 14 point lead into a 1 point deficit, his running back stumble en route to a certain touchdown and with the exceedingly hostile crowd smelling blood in the water coach Dana Holgorsen had one thing to say: “Ain’t this fun?” He was built for this folks.
- Stedman Bailey, he of the “83% WRONG AGAIN” grease board art in the Orange Bowl, once again felt inspired as he penned “66% RIGHT” on a grease board and paraded it around the WVU sideline as the clock ran down. It just didn’t have the same ring I guess and didn’t really catch on like his first effort. Keep fighting the good fight, Stedman. Here’s hoping you have a few more messages in you this year.
My favorite Dana Holgorsenism of the day comes from Pete Thamel’s fantastic game story (which I highly recommend if you haven’t read it already). When asked about WVU’s place in the national title picture, the coach used his unique style to douse the heady talk not with the normal balm of coach-speak, but instead with a cold bucket of reality.
“Should we be involved? Yeah,” Holgorsen said of the title race. ”Does it mean anything? No.”
But don’t forget that if WVU got the best shot from Texas and their fans, they gave their best shot too, and that’s pretty damn good. Don’t think for a second that the players didn’t notice and appreciate how many of the gold and blue faithful made the long trek. If 90% of success is showing up, WVU fans always do their part.
Again – WVU took Ivan Drago’s best punch and then turned around to cut him down with kidney-shots. A BIG FREAKING DEAL.
“Kid ran hard.” Damn you and your 140 character limits on awesomeness Twitter…..yeah….kid ran hard.
Is a little of Dana’s sarcastic tounge-in-cheekness where he’s not quite smug but also not not smug rubbing off a bit on Geno?…..God I hope so.
Stat of the night. It was a display of swagger that brought to mind LSU’s 5/5 performance against Florida en route to their 2007 title (first person to coin the Holgorsen equal of the term “Lesticles” earns my undying admiration and respect).
And yes, Holgorsen “gets it.” He gets that the offense has every single advantage (space, knowing what it’s going to do) working in its favor and he gets that he’s got a quarterback playing as close to flawless as possible and he gets that the reward of cashing in on a 4th down and deflating the defense / crowd far exceeds the risk of giving up 30 or so net yards in field position. Will they go 5 for 5 every night, certainly not, but they’ll get more than they don’t get and Holgorsen is a smart enough guy to recognize this. So stock the medicine cabinet with antacids……this WVU offense is going to see a lot of 4th downs this year.
This is worth noting. This WVU team made big plays when it needed to, but all in all was far from perfect. Aside from the foibles Mike lists here they also left 8 points on the board when they traded a pair of sure touchdowns for field goals when the normally sure-handed J.D. Woods dropped one in the end zone and the otherwise spectacular Andrew Buie fell victim to the fierce turf monster with nothing in front of him but green grass. 5 for 5 on 4th downs cures a lot of ills and this team didn’t need to play a perfect game to notch one of the biggest wins in school history. Again, worth noting.
Ugh. Here we go. You want a window into the tortoured mind of a WVU fan – seeing this just pissed me off.
(Stares lazer beams of hatred through his monitor)…Well those helmets sure looked great Irish! Keep up the good work!! (throws dart through Lou Holtz dartboard on wall)
And one final tweet to lead into something I’m going to attempt to cover in more detail later in the week….
First off Felder knows his football and is one my favorite twitter follows which is why I’m using this tweet as a bridge to a larger discussion about the concern that many have for WVU’s ability to play “power football.” He addressed it in greater detail as part of a post earlier in the week you can see here. As I said, it’s something I’m going to write more about later in the week but I think the Mountaineers put plenty of evidence out there that they can hold their own in the trenches (did you love that first 4th and 2 conversion out of the I-formation as much as I did?) and will be able to keep from getting run over when the occasion presents itself. Again…..more coming on this…..
Emotionally Deflating Quote of The Week
This one goes to my 4 year old daughter who took the air out of my sails in that special way that only adorable 4 year olds can. As I donned my old-school Amos Zereoue jersey to settle in and bask in the glow of the internet-love being poured upon my Mountaineers on Saturday night she asked with perfect doe-eyed innocence: “Is that your jersey from when you played?”
Shots from the Sideline
Thanks for reading and hope you enjoyed it. Please feel free to hit me up with ideas or suggestions on how to make these pre and post-game wrap ups better and more informative. We’re here for you. Shoot me an email at email@example.com and follow me on Twitter: @abpriddy.