Mountaineers refuse Cardinals multiple offers to win game, lose 38-35
Given West Virginia's laundry list of successes on offense Saturday, it makes the team's shorter - but uglier -- list of screw-ups that much more maddening.
On paper, the Mountaineers should have won in a landslide against Louisville, after winning the yardage battle by 182 yards (533 yards vs. 351), gaining 28 first downs and an average of 6.8 yards per play.
But all the positives were bogged down by the negatives for the Gold and Blue, which lost two turnovers, missed one field goal and had another blocked and returned for a touchdown, dropped at least one guaranteed TD reception, continued its horribly inept specials teams play, and made yet another mediocre opposing quarterback look like an All-American. All of that added up to a 31-28 loss, the second such league disappoint in Morgantown this season.
WVU lost to Louisville for just the third time ever, and the first time U of L has won in Morgantown since 1990. The victory also snapped a four-game losing skid in the series for the Cardinals, whose 38 points was 14 points better than any of their previous games this season
West Virginia hadn't lost twice at home in the same season since 2003. The loss dropped WVU (6-3, 2-2 Big East) out of the polls with two conference losses for the fourth straight season. It also took the Mountaineers' destiny out of its own hands in the Big East title race, especially after first-place Cincinnati outlasted Pitt Saturday night to remain the only unbeaten in league play at 3-0.
Don't let Saturday's loss taint the 56th anniversary of the night Doc Brown hit his head on the toilet and invented the flux capacitor.
"I really don't care about yards," head coach Dana Holgorsen told the Charleston Daily Mail in this article. "We had the yard. We had good yards per game. Our third downs were right about 60 percent (8-for-14).
“We moved the ball and got in the red zone and had ourselves in position to be 6-for-6, but we couldn't convert on the two field goals, which is the difference in the game."
West Virginia's defense allowed the Cardinals, who entered the game just 12-for-17 in red zone scores, to go 5-for-5 with four touchdowns. Louisville's usually anemic offense had scored just eight red zone TDs all season, an average of just two per game.
“Words can't explain it,” West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith told the Register-Herald in this article. “It's just a total team loss. We obviously didn't make enough plays on offense to win the game and that's what hurts the most.”
Smith had another impressive day on the stat sheet, compiling his third 400-yard game on 31-of-44 passing. The junior finished with 410 yards and three touchdowns, but his costly fumble in the third quarter killed a WVU drive and led to a Cardinal field goal.
“We're definitely not doing what it takes to win,” Smith said in the previously-cited article.
Stedman Bailey had his sixth 100-yard receiving game, finishing with 8 catches for 108 yards and two scores. The wideout should have had a third TD catch, though, as he dropped a sure score that would have put the Mountaineers ahead early in the third quarter. As a result, WVU had to try for a field goal, which Tyler Bitancurt missed from 32 yards out.
Before the wheels fell off in the second half, things were looking promising for the Mountaineers.
After erasing an early deficit in the second quarter, WVU had just re-taken lead with a sustained drive downfield. The Mountaineers went 65 yards in 13 plays, with Smith spreading the ball to four different receivers. Shawne Alston capped the drive with a 2-yard score, and West Virginia went ahead 21-14.
Things went even further south for the Cardinals on the ensuing series with a QB sack and a delay of game, forcing a punt. The Mountaineers couldn't move either, though, and the first hint of the soon-to-be special teams meltdown showed up.
Punter Mike Molinari, who took over the job simply because Corey Smith couldn't seem to actually kick downfield, shanked an 11-yard kick to put the Cards in business at their own 44.
Louisville quickly took advantage as Bridgewater completed 5-of-6 on the quick strike, closing the drive with a 4-yard TD pass to knot the game at 21-21 at the half.
Despite the setback, WVU again looked to be in control when Najee Goode intercepted a tipped pass on the second play of the third quarter. Goode would have returned the pick to the UL 3-yard line, but a block in the back penalty behind the play forced WVU to set up at the 40.
The Mountaineers couldn't punch it in despite earning a 1st-and-10 at the 18, with two Smith incompletions and a false start drying up the series. Bitancurt was brought on for a 32-yard kick, but he pulled it badly left.
After forcing another punt, the first of two fumbles stung WVU, as freshman Andrew Buie was stripped at his own 15. Though the defense kept the Cards out of paydirt, the visiting team hit a 39-yard field to take a 24-21 lead.
Austin returned the ensuing kick 33 yards to give WVU yet another great opportunity to get ahead on the scoreboard. The drive moved to the opposing 38 before bogging down, where Alston was stopped short on a 4th-and-1 gamble by the coaching staff.
After a Louisville punt, West Virginia got back to business after Smith connected with Bailey for a 46-yard breakaway pass. The Mountaineers again couldn't bring it home, with Smith missing a forced fade route badly on third down to again bring on Bitancurt from 23 yards out.
(EDITOR'S NOTE- This might've been one of the worst play calls in recent memory. You throw 2 yard fades on first down. It's a low-percentage pass, especially when Geno's had trouble with it all season.)
That's when UL cornerback Adrian Bushell broke in nearly untouched to stuff the kick, and Andrew Johnson picked up the pigskin and took it all the way home for a 31-21 lead.
Just going out on a limb here, but I'm going to say it's bad when there's a picture of your holder chasing another guy with the ball.
(AP Photo/Jeff Gentner)
"It's a 10-point swing,'' Holgorsen said in this article from the Charleston Gazette. "It's not hard to look at the final score and figure out what a 10-point swing means.''
Smith was sacked and fumbled at the UL 28 at the outset of the 4th quarter to kill a promising WVU drive. The Mountaineers held the Cards on their following drive, but it took nearly 3 minutes off the clock to get the ball back.
West Virginia once again looked to rally, moving 96 yards in 8 plays. Ivan McCartney's 46-yard reception keyed the strike, and Alston's second TD rush from 7 yards out cut the UL lead to 31-28.
But the Cardinals were able to close out the game thanks to 66-yard drive in which UL converted two 3rd downs and one 4th-and-1 to keep the clock rolling. The 13-play drive killed 7 minutes and 3 seconds and ended with Dominque Brown's 3-yard score to make it 38-28.
Smith engineered a lightning-quick drive downfield, completing five straight passes and rushing 18 yards to reach the Cards' red zone. He found Bailey for the second time from 1 yard out to bring WVU within three at 38-35, but the Mountaineers couldn't recover the onside kick to keep the last-ditch rally alive.
Not sure why you'd want to, but here's the "highlights" from Saturday's game.
“Not a very hard one to figure out,” Holgorsen said in the previously-cited article. “You lose the turnover battle, you go 0-2 on field goals, that gets you beat.”
The Mountaineers will need to win out in their final three games against Cincinnati, Pitt and South Florida and will still need some help to have a shot at the league title and the accompanying BCS slot.
WVU's matchup with the Bearcats has been set for an ABC telecast with a Noon kick off on Saturday at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati.
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