The Bottom Line
By Bill Nestor
The West Virginia University Mountaineers upended Baylor last Saturday 41-27. The Bears flew into Bridgeport on Friday as the #4 team in the country but they departed Saturday evening with their first loss of the season! It was a shocker to most of the country but not to those that have followed the trends of these two teams. The Mountaineers rallied to earn a hard-fought road win over Texas Tech the week prior. Baylor also provided a comeback effort of their own against TCU.
On paper the wins were much in the same but the eye test revealed discrepancies in play. WVU has been throwing haymakers at the country’s “top five” all year, looking to land a big win while the Bears appeared to be in hibernation mode just trying to survive the pressure of their lofty ranking.
The Mountaineers suffered a pair of heartbreaking losses to Alabama and Oklahoma earlier in the season when both squads were ranked in the “top five”. The third time was the charm for a team that has shown a great deal of resiliency this season. Most teams would have buckled under the pressure of such agonizing losses but not WVU, at least not this year. A great deal of credit must go to Head Coach Dana Holgorsen for this team’s success. Holgorsen’s attitude has been as positive as possible this year and his players have responded in a way like never before under his watch.
Baylor stumbled into a packed house at Milan Puskar Stadium. A crowd of 60, 758 rowdy fans not only energized Holgorsen’s Heroes it dazed and confused the visitors into setting a Big 12 Conference record for penalties. The Bears were hit with 18 penalties for 215 yards. Ironically there were others that were declined because the outcome of the play netted more yardage than the penalty would have provided.
Mountaineer receiver Kevin White had to feel violated, as Baylor defenders couldn’t keep their paws off of him. White drew five pass interference calls alone. Despite their hands on approach, the Bears could not stop White from hauling in 8 receptions for 132 yards and a pair of touchdown passes with the ladder giving WVU the lead for good. He also extended his record for the most consecutive games (7) with at least 100 yards receiving. The man playing catch with White has his own school record rolling, quarterback Clint Trickett has thrown for 300 yards or more in 8 consecutive games dating back to last season. Trickett threw for 322 yards and 3 touchdowns in this most recent win.
As impressive as Holgorsen’s offense was, it was the defense that stole the show, stopping one of the country’s most prolific offenses 11 times on the afternoon. They also closed the door on third downs allowing conversions on just 3 of 16 attempts. Bridgeport native Wes Tonkery led the Mounties with 8 tackles including one for a loss. Tonkery has been a consistent contributor as he ranks third in tackles (36) and first (4) in pass breakups.
The third phase of the game, special teams, turned in yet another solid effort. Kicker, Josh Lambert hit on a 54-yard attempt to provide momentum leading into halftime then he extended the WVU lead to 7 with a 24-yarder to start the scoring in the third quarter. Lambert’s long distance efforts cannot be questioned, as he remained perfect on the season from 50 yards or further.
While Lambert was busy kicking the pigskin, his teammates were kicking Bear Tail. It wasn’t just a narrow win over #4 in the land it was a decisive victory. The two-touchdown win could have been even more lopsided if WVU hadn’t turned the ball over 3 times in the affair or committed 14 penalties of their own.
“Just win baby!” A quote from former Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis is best suited for this year’s edition. Saturday’s performance was not even close to perfect nor was last weeks squeeker over the Red Raiders or the last second win over Maryland in week three. They all share one common – they go in the left hand column, which now totals five and with one more the Mounties will become bowl eligible. But who is to say that is the ceiling for this group that is currently riding a three game win streak. Next week’s opponent, Oklahoma State, took one on the chin from TCU and they learned a lesson from Holgorsen last year. After that, the Horned Frogs make their way to Touchdown City for a pivotal clash that could heavily impact the Big 12 standings. Is it too early to talk about a ‘Conference Championship’? Not if the Mounties run their win streak to five.
That will do it for now. Until next week…take care and God Bless!