The Bottom Line
By Bill Nestor
He is not the Big Lebowski but when it comes to bowling, West Virginia Head Coach Dana Holgorsen was the king pen late last Saturday night in Phoenix, Arizona. The Mountaineers bowled over Arizona State 43-42 to win the Cactus Bowl in a thriller that went late into the night. Only the toughest of Mountaineer nation went the distance, but those that did were privileged to a real treat.
Staying up late for two long nights out of three is not an easy task. The New Year’s celebration preceded this lock-up and the New Year brought with it a “new” outcome for Holgorsen and his squad. There were many times that the Mounties could have packed it in, but they didn’t. We’ve seen that scenario way too often in this bowl season. There have been more lopsided tilts this year than fans would like to recall. There have been 24 bowl games decided by at least double digits and starting with New Year’s Day games (excluding the Cactus Bowl); the average margin of victory was 22.6 points.
Both teams were tossing strikes at a rapid rate. They combined for 85 points which tied for the fifth most this bowl season. Mountaineer quarterback Skylar Howard and Sun Devil signal-caller Mike Bercovici left nothing to spare as the two combined for 950 yards and nine touchdowns. At the end of the evening it was Howard that stole the show and the offensive MVP Award. Howard connected with David Stills on a 15 yard pass play that proved to be the difference. Howard took several big hits but showed a toughness that seemed to motivate his team. Howard stood tall and long in the pocket, which is many times needed in order to complete the deep pass play. Not only did his sacrifices earn his team the victory, it also provided him with a record 532 passing yards that broke the previous record for 476 yards, owned by Drew Bledsoe.
Howard’s success was a direct result of Holgorsen and his play calling that kept Arizona State off balance all evening. The unpredictability was profoundly evident when Holgorsen called for a run on a third and twelve deep in WVU’s own territory with 8:43 remaining in the fourth quarter. Rushel Shell picked up the first down which helped field position. Holgorsen did what so many fans call for in games on every level, pass on first downs. Holgorsen not only threw on early downs, he allowed Howard to be aggressive throwing downfield all the while looking for the big play. It is unfortunate for the offensive unit that the season is indeed over. Holgorsen has finally established the balance that he has wanted all season. The rushing attack has continued to provide what is needed when it has been needed and Howard looks to be rounding into form. It was the best for last and it provides momentum heading into the off season. The 8-5 mark sounds so much better than 7-6 and the season ending win affords something for the WVU football program to build upon and that provides a Happy New Year for all!
That will do it for now. Until next week…take care and God Bless!