WVU let a golden opportunity slip away
MORGANTOWN - Saturday's TCU game was like the season for West Virginia's football team.
It was set up for success.
In came a very young Horned Frog team, hobbled with injuries. The passing defense was primed to be exploited by this season's early Heisman Trophy candidate, Geno Smith. The TCU offense appeared ready to help the Mountaineer defense cure some ills. Quarterback Trevone Boykin, a redshirt freshman, was banged up and shaky as a passer.
Surely, WVU senior Smith and company would take advantage, right?
The answer was no.
TCU shocked West Virginia and its vocal crowd of 52,322 by a 39-38 count in overtime at Milan Puskar Stadium.
Horned Frogs coach Gary Patterson proved both creative and gutsy in leading his team to the upset. His team proved resilient and determined.
The Mountaineers, meanwhile, again allowed an opportunity to slip away.
As mentioned, it's a reflection of the WVU season. The Mountaineers entered with mojo. They were coming off the Orange Bowl rout of Clemson. They had Smith and Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey to provide fireworks.
And, after winning at Texas, the sky was lit up with those fireworks. Voters deemed the Mountaineers a top-5 team because of their accomplishments.
Also, the schedule was laid out perfectly for West Virginia. The Kansas State game was in Morgantown. Ditto a showdown with Oklahoma.
All was set up for the Mountaineers. But Saturday, and in the last three games, WVU failed to knock down what was set up. Instead, West Virginia itself fell down.
On Saturday, over and over and over.
At one point late, it seemed like WVU was showing grit. The defense was playing better, although against a lower-caliber offensive opponent. Mountaineer linebacker Terence Garvin was calling plays on the right side of the secondary. Shaq Petteway and Josh Francis were sacking Boykin. Then Austin, the team's most consistent star this season, took a punt up the middle of the field, turned on the jets and put the hosts ahead 31-24 with just 3:19 remaining.
It seemed a springboard moment for the Mountaineers. A feel-good moment.
The icing was being applied on the game. Boykin was sacked for a loss of 9, sending the Horned Frogs back to their own 6.
Then Boykin and Josh Boyce exploited the WVU secondary that had been fine for most of the game. Boyce went 94 yards. A Mountaineer fan in the stands was paralyzed.
"Are you kidding me?" he said.
"I don't have much to say on that," said defensive back Cecil Level, a redshirt senior. "It's just communication. We have to work on our communication. It was miscommunication between me and the corner."
WVU had another chance, though, in overtime. Stunningly, TCU kicker Jaden Oberkrom missed from 37 yards out.
But the Mountaineers fell down again, this time allowing a field goal attempt by Tyler Bitancurt to be blocked. (Bitancurt must have the school record for total blocks, career.)
The misery wouldn't end for the Mountaineer faithful withstanding the chilly weather. Smith and Bailey got them off their hands with a sweet touchdown in the left side of the end zone. Smith bent over and scooped Bailey in the air on his shoulder.
Yet the Mountaineers fell down not once, but twice more. On a gadget play, TCU scored on its second possession of the overtime. Corey Fuller burned WVU's Pat Miller before cutting loose of a "woohoo" in celebration.
Yet Patterson gave both his team and WVU one last opportunity. Winner take all. He went for a 2-point conversion instead of kicking for the tie and a third OT.
"I'm one of those people who believes when you play someone on the road, you have to go take ballgames," said the TCU coach.
WVU had the opportunity to deny that. One stop and the game belonged to the Mountaineers.
But it was TCU that seized the moment. Boyce secured a low pass and, after watching the video board, trying to convince themselves the pass skipped off the ground, the WVU faithful filed out disappointed.
Afterward, WVU players and coaches spoke.
"It's quiet [in the Mountaineer locker room]," said linebacker Isaiah Bruce. "There's a lot of disappointment. We really came into this game expecting to win. It hurts."
It's one that should. The game, and perhaps the season, was there for the taking.
Now, the Mountaineers are 5-3. The early-season mojo has gone the way of Halloween. With a trip to Oklahoma State, a visit from Oklahoma and a trip to Iowa State dead ahead, one now has to wonder if the Mountaineers will be playing for their bowl eligibility on Dec. 1 against lowly Kansas.
If so, maybe cornerbacks coach Daron Roberts has the reason.
"From top down, from Coach [Dana] Holgorsen and [defensive coordinator] Joe DeForest on," Roberts said, "we've stressed you have to be mentally tough. This is a prime example why."
In regard to Saturday's game. In regard to the season.
Reach Mitch Vingle at 304-348-4827, firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at twitter.com/MitchVingle.