PISCATAWAY, N.J. - There's no guarantee that it won't happen back in Morgantown - in fact, it's a given that eventually it will - but Saturday just might be the worst weather conditions West Virginia plays in on the road in quite a while.There aren't, after all, a lot of snowstorms like this one in Texas and Oklahoma or even Kansas and Iowa.Oh, sure, it happens every once in a while, but for the most part the Mountaineers' road trips in the Big 12 aren't going to be like this."This was as bad a conditions as I've ever played in or coached in my whole career,'' said West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen, who spent the last decade in the same Southwest region where the Big 12 is based. "The first half especially [was bad] because the field was covered in snow and ice. We had a hard time holding onto the ball. It's not great conditions to throw the ball.''
The snow began falling in the area here in the morning and never stopped. By game time the temperature was 33 degrees and dropping, and for two hours prior to the game plows went up and down the field removing snow. That continued during timeouts in the first half - which were extended for just that reason - but it was pretty much limited to clearing the sidelines and the hash marks. The rest of the field was covered in thick, heavy snow and slush."For [defensive backs] who have to back-pedal, it was tough getting your footing,'' said free safety Eain Smith. "The second half they did a better job of clearing the field, but I still changed cleats at halftime.''As did many other Mountaineers, shifting to a longer cleat for more traction. The field was cleared at halftime and, while the snow never let up, it didn't seem to stick as much. At least the yard lines were visible.The wind was also a factor. It died down some in the second half, but the first half was brutal. West Virginia was against the wind in the first quarter, got stuck in its own territory and gave Rutgers the ball twice inside the WVU 30 because of it on a short punt and a fumble."We had a hard time getting out of that field position,'' Holgorsen said. "But we did the same thing to them to start the second half and it really helped our defense.''Najee Goode, who is from Cleveland, couldn't help but laugh at some of his own teammates, especially freshman running back Dustin Garrison, who grew up in New Orleans and Houston."Garrison kept saying the Bowling Green game was the coldest game he'd ever played in,'' Goode said. "Well, welcome to real cold.''BrieflyJulian Miller hadn't recovered a fumble in almost three years. On Saturday he recovered two, both by Rutgers quarterback Gary Nova. But he also had to fight for both under a pile of players.
"I can honestly say I've got some aches and pains now,'' Miller said. "They aren't from the whole game, but from the bottom of those piles.''Doug Rigg played for the first time since breaking a bone in his wrist against LSU, but his replacement stayed in, too. Jewone Snow stayed at middle linebacker while Goode and Rigg played the outside spots. That left Casey Vance as the odd man out.
The 80-yard run Tavon Austin made for a touchdown on a reverse wasn't a play called because of the weather but was actually one of the things Holgorsen thought would work against Rutgers no matter the conditions.
"On our script it was actually the first play of the game,'' Holgorsen said of a play where the play action goes to the side where Austin is in the slot and he comes back against the grain to take a handoff. "We couldn't run it the first play, though, because we were on the wrong hash.''Geno Smith's go-ahead 1-yard run was the first rushing touchdown of his career. It came on a designed pass play that wasn't open.
"It's never been an option,'' Smith said. "But sometimes you just have to make a play.''Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org