THE WATER COOLER: THE STREAK IS OVER
by : Brandon Priddy
The streak is over.
Forty-six days after WVU last won a game they once again left the field victorious. Maybe it wasn’t the prettiest thing in the world, but it sure was beautiful seeing the Mountaineers walk off that field winners. After five games of futility it was finally WVU making the big plays, WVU forcing turnovers and WVU snagging a win. When you started to break it down the reasons were amazingly, maddeningly simple.
The Big Back is Back
After spending the better part of 10 games on the shelf with only intermittent appearances, it was nice to finally get Shawne Alston back at full strength. His 19 carries for 130 yards and a touchdown provided the does of consistency and reliability in the ground game the Mountaineers needed. It’s not a coincidence that WVU didn’t even attempt a 4th down conversion all day.
Alston’s effectiveness rendered 4th down insignificant. Of his 19 carries, an amazing 10 of them gained first downs. Another was a 1 yard touchdown, and yet another was a 14 yard run on 1st and 16. Only once all day was he held for no gain and never was he hit in the backfield for negative yards. WVU only converted 6 of 14 3rd downs and 3 of those were on Alston runs.
Did the competition have a little to do with that? Sure, but Iowa State was far from a poor rushing defense. They ranked right in the middle of the country entering the game at 61st and right in the middle of the conference as well at 5th (ahead of two teams that WVU lost to on their slide). The Big Back was back at 100%, the Big Back was effective, and Mountaineer fans got a tantalizing glimpse of what might have been without the deep thigh bruise of doom. At least we get 2 more games.
The Zone of Redness
In the PRE-GAME RUN THRU we pointed out how effective Iowa State’s defense had been at giving up yards but not points. They were no different on Saturday as West Virginia spent a lot of time moving the ball between the 25s. A few things happened that let them do just enough to win the game, though. First Tyler Bitancurt was very good, hitting 3 of 4 including a 35 yarder into a stiff wind. The two makes were from 42 and yards. This Iowa State team doesn’t give away points, so it was important to get them when they were there.
Second the ‘eers managed a pair of touchdowns in their first two trips inside the 20 and that 35 yarder on their third. In each of the last two losses they had trips inside the 10 yard line end with nothing – not on Friday.
Keep Calm and Tavon
What else is left to say about Tavon Austin. College football’s most exciting player put on another show in Ames, rushing for 74 yards, receiving for 99 more and gaining 88 more on kick and punt returns. 261 total yards if y0u’re scoring at home; nowhere near his 572 from a week ago but still mighty impressive.
His powers were on full display in a zigging, zagging, streaking, stopping and starting 69 yard 4th quarter punt return that seemingly gave the Mountaineers the lead before the last 20 yards were wiped out by a beyond-dumb K.J. Meyers holding penalty. It was a sight to behold (check it out here at the 3:45 mark) not only because of Tavon’s prodigious skill, but because he has displayed such a flare for meeting the moment that we EXPECTED him to do something big. And when the Meyers penalty reduced his 6 points to 3 and the Cyclones took the lead back on another field goal – well, Austin just did it again.
His streaking 75 yard run off a tip-pass from Geno Smith was an exercise in pure unadulterated speed. A slight slowdown to follow his blocks and then the familiar explosion of speed that makes him such a unique force in America. Having an angle was irrelevant – there are no angles that can stop Tavon Austin.
It drove home a point that Austin has been making all season, even if we weren’t always noticing. He’s among the most exciting players in the country and deserves a seat at the finalist table when the Heisman is given out in New York City next month. Now I’m enough of a realist to understand that his team’s performance has made his walking away with the award an impossibility, but you can’t tell me that a player who has notched all-time great performances in four different areas – runner, receiver, kick returner, punt returner – doesn’t merit recognition at the highest levels.
This isn’t a receiver who has put up gaudy numbers as part of some “system.” This is an all-around otherworldly offensive force who was one of two players this year to score touchdowns 4 different ways in a single season (the other was Tennessee’s Cordarrelle Patterson). The last time someone did that? 2008. It’s not normal to do the things he does, and it’s even less normal to do them when he does them. Consider that his lone kick return TD was the singular attempt at a spark among his entire team during the Kansas State route and his punt return TD against TCU came in the 4th quarter of a tie game. That’s aside from a battle against 12th ranked Oklahoma where he was the entire offense for long stretches and scores like his 4th down 40 yard TD catch down in Austin.
Time and time again – particularly during this maddening 5 game losing streak – the West Virginia Mountaineers have turned to #1 when they needed a big play. He’s called upon his amazing abilities to create breathtaking moments and has delivered every time. It’s not his fault he spent the early part of the season overshadowed by his quarterback teammate who was throwing up numbers rarely seen or that he’s had to work in the anonymity of a losing streak while the sports media was easily distracted by the snappy nickname of the month (Johnny Football!). Tavon is on the very short list of all-time great Mountaineers and certainly on the even shorter list of “most outstanding collegiate football players.”
He belongs in New York with the rest of them.
Jed's Signals from The Sideline
If you were listening in on the WVU radio broadcast you might have noticed a little halftime chaos. As Jed was beginning his halftime interview with Dana Holgorsen there was some commotion and Dana had Jed “hold on” as he helped separate some Mountaineers and Cyclones who were mixing it up a little on the way into their respective locker rooms. It happened because renovations at ISU’s Jack Trice Stadium were just completed (like that week) and this was the first game where the Cyclones would go to their new locker room while the visiting ‘eers went to the Cyclone’s old locker room. Problem was the teams had to cross each other en route to their halftime destinations. Might be something the Cyclones want to consider in the stadium layout going forward, but there was really no incident. The players were untangled and Holgorsen did the interview. Heck, with Dana holding things up at least one Mountaineer got a stop to end the first half.
For the third time the visiting Mountaineers found themselves facing gusting winds unlike anything seen in the Mountain State. But they’re getting better. While a couple long passes caught up and were swept over the receiver, there was one play in particular that stood out. With the ‘eers driving early in the 2nd quarter, Geno Smith launched a pass from the ISU 28 to hit Stedman Bailey running a post to the end zone. But at its apex, the ball was hit by a big gust and began wobbling and falling. Bailey made a fantastic adjustment and came under the safety to make a sliding catch at the 5 yard line. It was excellent concentration and the type of play that wasn’t made a month ago.
It was a surprisingly lively crowd on Friday afternoon. 53,792 were right below Jack Trice Stadium’s capacity of 55,000. This to watch a 6-5 team play a visiting 5-5 team in the hopes of heading to a third-tier bowl. Oh, did I mention that gusts took the wind-chill adjusted temperature down to near 0 at times? It was an impressive demonstration of fan support – one that Mountaineer fans would do well to learn from.
It will never cease to amaze me how quickly that whole thing fell to pieces. Just glad WVU caught a lifeboat..
And it didn’t do either of those things, which was pretty good for the Mountaineers.
Big point here. Can’t say enough about the job Bitancurt did. Having come out the Oklahoma game where many pointed towards his missed PAT as a major reason for the loss, it’s a testament to the kid’s mental toughness that he nailed a 42 yarder, 44 yarder and then a 35 yarder into the teeth of a very stiff wind – and the one he missed was a 49 yard doink job off the upright. The game was played tight with the difference a single score for most of the day and those were huge kicks. He’s taken his share of lumps, but it’s worth remembering that his career includes a lot of big kicks including a pair of game winners – one 50 yarder to upset Pitt in 2009 and another in South Florida that sent the ‘eers to the Orange Bowl. Remember that when he’s introduced on senior day.
Speaking of guys who have taken their lumps, how about Darwin Cook. We’ve come a long way from tackling Obie in the end zone. Earlier in the week during a press conference a reporter described Cook’s performance against Oklahoma as having played “well.” Holgorsen quickly corrected him “I wouldn’t say he played ‘well,’ he played OK.” Here’s hoping two key plays in the game-clinching stop can qualify as “well.”
But I mean, at least it was SOMETHING. That counts as improvement, right?
When you’re passing for 350 a game, who needs to run?
I just hope some Heisman voters were on Twitter….
That was my nomination for ‘dig of the week,’ which just barely edged out -
CornRutgers. Has a nice ring to it, huh?
I know folks are tired of hearing it and I guess I’m tired of saying it….but this is just a new class of team in the Big 12. That’s murderous.
How about I just not think of either of those two things ever again.
Karl Joseph is going to be a damn monster and everybody knows it. Very excited that we’re only at the beginning of this kid’s college career.
hehehehe…..we’ll always have the Seventy.
Here’s my parting shot. WVU fans, show up. I don’t care if it’s a little chilly or if the team is “only” playing for a Holiday Bowl or any number of other excuses. This is your team. These kids have killed themselves for WVU football and this group of seniors has come through disappointing seasons in 2009 and 2010, a tumultuous coaching change, a transformative conference transition and – oh, by the way – hung up a historic number in an Orange Bowl that provided a 1,000 watt jolt of energy that the program desperately needed.
Furthermore you’re bidding farewell to three of the greatest Mountaineers ever to lace ‘em up. Geno Smith will leave Morgantown holding every meaningful quarterback record there is. Stedman Bailey (who is a junior but may still be playing his final home game before declaring for the NFL draft) will do much of the same for wide receivers. And then there’s Tavon Austin, a young man who very well may be the best we’ve ever seen. These guys aren’t common, they’re exceedingly rare and if you miss out on a chance to see them play one last time you’ll regret it.
Mountaineer fans talk a lot about being among the best in college football. Well I didn’t see that two weeks ago against Oklahoma. I saw empty seats greet the 12th ranked team in America, not to mention one of the marquee names in the sport. Mountaineer Football is better than that. Mountaineer FANS are better than that. Your team needs you and your seniors DESERVE you.
I’m flying in from Nashville to go to the game. I hope to see you there.
Hope you enjoyed it and hope even more to see you in Morgantown for one last home hurrah. Join me in giving these kids the send-off they deserve.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org and follow me on Twitter: @abpriddy. I tweet throughout the game and love a little back-and-forth. Also check out some more of my work over at SmokingMusket.com where I was fortunate enough to become one of the newest staff writers.