West Virginia running back Andrew Buie tries to slip a tackle by Texas defender Chris Whaley.
AUSTIN, Texas -- With the eyes of both Texas and a nation on it, West Virginia's football team Saturday night proved that it was human.And it still didn't matter.Yes, Geno Smith was sacked and harassed. Yes, the Mountaineers turned the ball over for the first time all season. And no, neither Smith nor the team put up the type of eye-popping offensive numbers of the first four games.And yet they still came away not only with another win, but a signature victory in their first Big 12 road game. This, the Mountaineers are proving, is a pretty good all-around football team.
Smith threw for just 268 yards but tossed four touchdowns, Andrew Buie and the West Virginia running game was simply overpowering and the Mountaineers went for five fourth downs and made them all, leading No. 8 West Virginia to a 48-45 win over No. 11 Texas Saturday night.In front of a national television audience and the largest crowd (101,851) to ever see a game at Darrell K. Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium, Buie ran for 207 yards on 31 carries, caught three passes for 66 yards and stunned Texas with his ability to gain big chunks of yardage.The Longhorns knew that could happen with Smith, but not Buie."I was hoping that would be the case,'' West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen said about the way his team ran the football against the Longhorns. "We were committed to the run and there weren't any tricks, either. We felt like that would be the difference and alleviate some of the pressure from Geno.''Well, it did take some of the pressure off of Smith, but it took a while. In the first half he was sacked three times, fumbled the ball away on the goal line for a touchdown and was generally more pressured than at any time this season.Yet he finished his night 25-of-35 for 268 yards and still hasn't thrown an interception (his TD-to-pick ratio is now 24-0). That's far from his 45-for-51, 465-yard performance a week earlier against Baylor, and he was also sacked four times.Again, though, it didn't matter. He threw three touchdowns to Stedman Bailey and a fourth to Tavon Austin and that was plenty. He threw darts on each of his scoring throws, as well as on a key pass in the game-clinching scoring drive in the fourth quarter.Austin caught 10 passes for 102 yards and Bailey eight for 75.Smith insisted the pressure wasn't as bad as it looked at times."Maryland followed the same formula,'' said Smith, insisting that the Texas rush was nothing he hadn't seen before. "Now, the two times I dropped the ball, those were very costly turnovers. If it hadn't been for those, the game probably would have been very different.''Indeed, it might have been a blowout, given that West Virginia led 21-7 at one point before the pocket problems started and other than the two fumbles the Mountaineers were seldom stopped. Consider that not including the final 14 seconds of the game, WVU had the ball 12 times and scored six touchdowns and two field goals. Besides the fumbles, the only other possessions ended in one punt and one missed field goal.
But the bottom line is that here's the stat no one could have foreseen: West Virginia outgained Texas on the ground, 193-135, while Texas had a yard more through the air, 269-268.And on the final drive that mattered, the one when West Virginia clinched the game by going 76 yards ti take a 48-38 lead with 78 seconds to play, Buie was magnificent, gaining huge chunks of yardage. He scored on a 5-yard run with 1:18 to play to make the score 48-38."I knew we had to run the ball and I knew I'd be running it,'' Buie said. "But I didn't know it would be  times.''Texas drove quickly for a touchdown with 15 seconds to play to make the score 48-45, but WVU freshman Nana Kyeremeh recovered the onside kick and the game was over.While the win came in West Virginia's first road game in the Big 12 and in front of the largest crowd ever to see it play, Smith insisted it was nothing out of the ordinary."It's just another win for us,'' said Smith, whose team figures to rise as many as three spots in each of the major polls this week after losses by higher-ranked Florida State, LSU and Georgia. "We can't get caught up in the emotion and we can't get caught up in the hype. It's a long season.''
The game actually came down to a bizarre series of plays midway through the fourth quarter that nearly turned the momentum and the game both ways.First, leading 41-38, WVU's defense made a huge stop, getting a sack from Josh Francis and then a pass breakup on fourth down by Pat Miller to give the Mountaineers the ball and a chance for a two-score lead. But two plays later, Smith was hit and fumbled for the second time in the game, this one recovered by Texas at the WVU 12.But the Longhorns couldn't take advantage. Facing third-and-6 at the WVU 8, quarterback David Ash didn't see a center snap coming, the ball went past him and Texas lost 16 yards. Then Anthony Fera, the Penn State transfer who was supposed to save the UT kicking game but missed four games with a groin pull, failed to tie the game. He missed a 41-yard field goal badly, leaving West Virginia with a three-point lead and the ball with 5:25 to play.That's when Buie led the decisive drive, although one of the biggest plays was a 13-yard rocket of a pass from Smith to Bailey for 13 yards. It was the only pass of the drive, which ate 4:07 of the remaining 5:25 and gave WVU the cushion it needed."We had to get first downs,'' Holgorsen said of throwing a pass that essentially covered 40 yards across the field while trying to run the clock. "That's basically our four-minute drill. When we have to we throw it and complete it.''That hectic final 10 minutes actually followed a rather sublime third quarter and part of the fourth. The teams simply traded possession and scores, although West Virginia's defense managed to hold Texas to a field goal once, which was huge. So when the Mountaineers drives went 69 and 76 yards and ended with touchdown passes from Smith to Bailey, the tradeoff gave the Mountaineers a 41-38 lead with just under 11 minutes to play.That's when The WVU defense made a stop on Pat Miller's fourth-down pass breakup, but then Smith fumbled and it was hectic from there out.And that followed a first half in which West Virginia actually seemed ready to put the game away a few times before a series of completely uncharacteristic mistakes -- many forced by the Texas defense -- undid the Mountaineers.With just three minutes gone in the second quarter, West Virginia not only had a 21-7 lead, but all the momentum. Karl Joseph jarred the ball loose from Texas wideout Marquise Goodwin, Isaiah Bruce recovered and the Mountaineers had the ball at their 38 with a chance to drive for a 28-7 lead.Instead, WVU self-destructed. A busted play lost four yards, a flea-flicker imploded and Smith was sacked for a 13-yard loss and soon West Virginia was punting from deep in its end.Given all the punt problems in the first four games, West Virginia tried a new kicker. Bitancurt -- who earlier in the half had a field goal blocked when he didn't get it over the line -- attempted his first punt ever. It, too, was partially blocked and went just 26 yards.In short, that just killed every bit of momentum. Texas scored three plays later after Johnathan Gray went 49 yards to set up the score to make it 21-14, then the WVU offense imploded again. On the next third down play, Smith was swarmed by the pass rush and fumbled at the goal line when he as stripped by Alex Okafor. Jackson Jeffcoat fell on it at the goal line and suddenly the score was tied at 21.Bitancurt gave West Virginia the lead back at 24-21 with a 37-yard field goal, but Texas took its first lead with a 67-yard drive and a Bergeron TD to make it 28-24. The Mountaineers closed to within 28-27 on Bitancurt's end-of-half, 41-yard field goal after losing a chance to take the lead three plays earlier when Buie fell down after catching a pass from Smith with no one in front of him.The first 18 minutes was pretty much all West Virginia. Smith threw touchdowns of 8 yards to Bailey and 40 to Bailey, the second on a fourth-and-4 play from the Texas 40 after the Longhorns had stopped a try by sacking Smith, but the play was wiped out because Texas had called time out from the sideline before the snap.WVU's third touchdown came on a 4-yard run by Buie, who had 102 yards rushing by halftime.Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1.