West Virginia wins despite mistakes

Originally Published: October 6, 2012
By Mark Schlabach | ESPN.com

AUSTIN, Texas -- West Virginia didn't score 70 points on Saturday night.

The Mountaineers didn't throw the football all over the field at Texas.

And they didn't play perfect football.

But West Virginia still found a way to beat the Longhorns in its first Big 12 road game.

[+] EnlargeDana Holgorsen
Tim Heitman/US PresswireDana Holgorsen saw his team survive in a hostile environment.

"I'm really proud of the guys," WVU coach Dana Holgorsen said after the No. 8 Mountaineers knocked off No. 11 Texas 48-45 in front of a record crowd of 101,851 at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium. "I'm proud of the way they fought on all three sides of the ball. It was a tremendous team victory. For the fourth game in a row, we didn't turn it over."

Then Holgorsen shook his head and corrected himself.

"We probably did turn it over, now that I think about it," Holgorsen said. "There's a lot of stuff going through my head. Boy, we did turn it over two times, didn't we?"

That's all you really need to know about West Virginia's offense. The Mountaineers not only turned the ball over twice against the Longhorns, but quarterback Geno Smith coughed it up at two of the worst possible spots on the field. He fumbled in the end zone for a Texas touchdown in the first half and then fumbled again inside the WVU 15 in the second.

But Holgorsen didn't even remember the miscues. He's so confident his offense is going to score every time it touches the ball that he didn't even seem too concerned that his quarterback committed two potentially devastating self-inflicted wounds.

Or at least he didn't even remember them.

How many teams can overcome those mistakes on the road and win at a place like Texas?

"I can't say enough of how proud I am for these guys to come into this environment, which is a strange environment," Holgorsen said. "I've never seen this place like that. I've been here when it was not loud, but it was loud tonight. For us to be able to overcome that was something that was pretty cool."

Against Texas, the Mountaineers proved they're more than just Smith and his high-flying circus of speedy receivers. With Texas defensive coordinator Manny Diaz committed to preventing West Virginia from shredding his defense for big passing plays, its high-paced offense instead ran the ball pretty much at will. Even with leading rusher Shawne Alston remaining at home with a leg injury, the Mountaineers ran for 192 yards, including sophomore Andrew Buie's career-high 207 yards with two touchdowns on 31 carries.

[+] EnlargeGeno Smith
Tim Heitman/US PresswireGeno Smith got some more help on offense on Saturday against Texas.

"There weren't any tricks, either," Holgorsen said. "We just lined up and ran it right at them."

Smith more than welcomed the help, after shouldering much of the offensive load in the first four games of the season.

"It's how we play," said Smith, who completed 25 of 35 passes for 268 yards with four touchdowns. "We play as a team. We fight as a team. No matter what it takes to win, that's what we're going to do."

West Virginia actually ran the ball (42 carries) more than it passed (35 attempts) against Texas. In last week's 70-63 victory over Baylor, the Mountaineers threw 51 passes and had 100-yard (J.D. Woods), 200-yard (Tavon Austin) and 300-yard (Stedman Bailey) receivers.

"Everyone knows who Stedman and Tavon are by now," West Virginia offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson said. "When teams take them away, it's going to be a bit of a grind. Defenses are going to adapt. If you run the ball, it's going to help out the pass. We can't sit there and let people play two-high coverage and keep throwing into it."

Holgorsen said he committed to running the ball early in the week because he was so concerned about Texas' pass rush. The Longhorns sacked Smith four times, and end Alex Okafor forced him to fumble both times. Smith, who has 24 touchdown passes, still hasn't thrown an interception this season.

"If we had just dropped back and passed and dropped back and passed, they would have had 20 sacks because they're really good at it," Holgorsen said.

West Virginia's victory was almost a validation of sorts. While everyone wondered how the Mountaineers would adapt to playing in the Big 12 for the first time this season, opponents are adjusting to their fast-paced tempo. The Longhorns ran 68 plays -- only nine fewer than the Mountaineers -- and had 404 yards of offense. In the end, though, Texas didn't have enough firepower to keep up with them.

After opening the season with victories over Marshall, FCS foe James Madison, Maryland and Baylor, the Mountaineers finally notched a victory over an opponent that should catch people's attention.

"We were 4-0 and we got labeled as untested," Dawson said. "We were 4-0, but hadn't beaten anybody, at least that's what everybody said. I don't think it bothers any of us. We took a lot of heat last week for winning 70-63. In our circle, we won the game and that's all that mattered. It doesn't matter if it's 7-0, 70-0 or 70-63. We won the game. Perception makes no difference to us. Any given week and any given Saturday, we feel like we can win the ball game. That's what we believe."

The Mountaineers remain in the driver's seat in the Big 12 standings, along with No. 7 Kansas State, the only other undefeated team in the league.

West Virginia might have cleared its biggest hurdle on Saturday night. The Mountaineers have to travel to Texas Tech on Saturday (and at Oklahoma State and Iowa State later this season), but their two most difficult remaining games -- against Kansas State on Oct. 20 and Oklahoma on Nov. 17 -- will be played at home.

"I don't really care what people think, to be honest with you," Holgorsen said. "I care what my players think and what my coaches think. I feel better about our team because they came in and overcame a lot of adversity in a pretty hostile environment. That's got me pretty excited."

Mark Schlabach | email

College Football and Basketball

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