WVU messed with Texas, and won anyway
AUSTIN, Texas - Apparently, you can mess with Texas after all.
On Saturday night, West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith did.
His leading receivers, Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey, did.
Surprisingly, Mountaineer tailback Andrew Buie did.
And No. 8 WVU, a touchdown underdog, stunned the largest crowd - 101,851 - to ever watch a game at Darrell K. Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium by a 48-45 count.
That's saying something.
Too, the Mountaineers not only stunned the crowd, the oddsmakers and many analysts by the final score, but by the modus operandi.
Deep in the heart of Texas, WVU's Smith wasn't the lone star.
Oh, he almost put a death grip on the Heisman Trophy, completing 25 of 35 passes for 268 yards and four touchdowns to go with - again - zero interceptions.
Who, though, but WVU coach Dana Holgorsen and his coaching staff ever imagined Buie could be the biggest star on one of the Mountaineers' biggest stage performances ever?
He was supposed to be a liability. Shawne Alston, the big bruising back, was out. Instead, Buie shined under the Texas stars, gaining 207 yards.
What do you know . . . West Virginia belongs with the big boys. And it's known during the season.
In the past, WVU fans and college football fans across the nation didn't know until the season's end. The Mountaineers showed their mettle in past bowl games. But within Big East and independent play, there was always that doubt until the finish line.
On Saturday, with the burnt orange Longhorn logo at midfield, the Mountaineers erased all doubt. One of the newest members of the Big 12 belongs.
And, hey, I thought we, the media, were the Fourth Estate.
Turns out the Mountaineers were. Or, rather, the Fourth Down Estate. West Virginia was 5 of 5 on the evening on fourth, not third, downs.
"It was frustrating," said Texas end Alex Okafor. "But a lot were fourth-and-short [situations]. That's hard to stop."
Especially with WVU's vaunted offense.
All have to be believers now. Texas coach Mack Brown certainly is a believer.
"They have a really good football team," Brown said. "They made the critical plays."
Specifically those fourth-down plays.
And give Holgorsen credit. Forget that Tri-State deal. On Saturday, he proved to be a gambler. A rare one: a winning gambler.
Holgorsen gambled early. In the first quarter, with a fourth-and-2 situation at the Texas 48, the Mountaineer coach went to Buie. From an I-formation, the 5-9, 187-pound sophomore picked up the first down. A few plays later, Smith was sacked by UT's Malcom Brown on another fourth-down try. But, oops, Brown had called a timeout prior. Holgorsen went for it again - and Austin took a pass from Smith on a crossing pattern and dashed 40 yards for a score.
WVU wasn't finished with the fourth-down drama.
In the second quarter, on fourth-and-10, Smith rolled right and hit Austin for an 11-yard gain. It led to a 21-7 Mountaineer lead.
Texas tried. Brown went to Joe Bergeron for a first on fourth-and-1. Made it. But the Longhorns failed twice. Once it seemed the UT coach got caught up in the fourth-down fervor, going for it on fourth-and-13 on the WVU 39. The hosts failed.
Again, the Mountaineers were 5 of 5 on fourth downs. Heading into the game, they were 0 of 4.
The Mountaineers, before that large crowd, the largest the program has ever faced, made a statement. In fact, a few.
Geno Smith is, indeed, the leading Heisman Trophy contender. With Vince Young in the house, he looked every bit as good as the former Longhorn, every bit as gritty. Smith has now thrown 259 straight passes without a pick.
The Mountaineers are a serious Big 12 contender. If they can win at DKR, they can win anywhere. If they can shred the UT defense, considered one of the nation's best before the season, they can shred any defense.
And, yes, they proved to be a serious national championship contender.
Saturday night, West Virginia made the defense of Texas toast. It proved it could play in any arena.
Catch 'em if you can.
Reach Mitch Vingle at 304-348-4827, firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at twitter.com/MitchVingle.