Changes spark huge WVU win
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - It was bow season on Saturday in the Mountain State.
It was David Bowie season on Saturday on Mountaineer Field.
There were changes on the depth chart. There were changes in regard to West Virginia's team chemistry. And there was a big change on the scoreboard.
In what set up as WVU's most important game of the season, against the team most highly ranked, coach Dana Holgorsen's Mountaineers hung in, rose up and stunned No. 11 Oklahoma State before an enthusiastic crowd of 57,280 on a sunny September afternoon.
"I've never been so proud to call these guys my teammates," said WVU linebacker Jared Barber.
For good reason. The thought of a winning season before Saturday seemed laughable. The thought of scoring 30 points against an OSU team featuring All-Big 12 preseason selections Calvin Barnett and Shaun Lewis seemed preposterous. To expect WVU to turn itself around from a 37-0 loss to Maryland seemed ridiculous.
But there was a spark. There was enthusiasm along the Mountaineer sideline and on the field. There was a victory.
Some of it had to do with changes - especially at quarterback. There was Clint Trickett finally taking over there. He was that spark. And, although at times he looked shaky, he completed 24 of 50 passes for 309 yards. He took a licking and kept on ticking.
Trickett was the most obvious changeup. But there were so many to the previous depth chart that one couldn't help but think of WVU hoops coach Bob Huggins, who basically blew up his roster after last season to start over.
Holgorsen started Daikiel Shorts over Mario Alford at inside receiver. Ivan McCartney started over preseason sensation Kevin White at wideout. The most highly regarded offensive lineman, Quinton Spain, was moved to left guard and Nick Kindler was promoted to the first team at left tackle. Previously injured Adam Pankey made an appearance at right tackle.
Defensively, Doug Rigg was promoted to a starter at the strong-side linebacker spot and Barber moved over to the weak side. (The unit's leader, Nick Kwiatkoski, was out with an injured hamstring.) Some moves announced just before the game were even changed.
However the pieces were put in place, though, the finished picture looked good to Holgorsen and Mountaineer fans.
"Yep," said the head coach, "considering we actually scored and made first downs."
He said he wasn't sure about many of the younger or newer team members until early in the year. He spoke of mixing and matching, and he said that might not be over.
"Offensively we're going to keep playing and getting better," he said. "If that means changing, we'll keep on changing."
There were many impressive aspects to the WVU game. Early on, WVU's offensive line was getting whipped. Yet it seemed to wear on the Cowboys' defensive front a bit.
West Virginia's defensive front was perhaps the team's most impressive aspect. WVU assistant coach Erik Slaughter rotated Will Clarke, Shaq Rowell and Kyle Rose with Eric Kinsey, Dontrill Hyman and Noble Nwachukwu. There was only one sack of OSU quarterback J.W. Walsh, but there was pressure all day. WVU had nine tackles for loss. There were three official hurries.
That translated into 10 pass breakups. Ten, for a unit that last year was flunked Pass Defense 101 like no other. There were two interceptions, including the Darwin Cook clincher.
The only bruise on WVU's effort was in the area of special teams. ("On special teams we have issues," Holgorsen said.) The name of special teams coach Joe DeForest, also in the spotlight because of Sports Illustrated charges, was batted around like a cat toy, especially after punt returner Jordan Thompson caught a punt on the WVU 3. Yes, the WVU 3.
Here's the thing though: Thompson came back after that with an impressive catch of a ball zipped from Trickett. It went for 17 yards on a third-and-7 to the OSU 14.
The way Thompson persevered symbolized WVU's win. Did WVU's offense resemble the days when Geno Smith, Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey were in Puskar Stadium clicking? No. Were the Mountaineer special teams special? No.
But on Saturday, WVU could hang its proverbial hat on a defense that allowed 322 passing yards, but on just 20-of-47 Walsh passing. It held the Cowboys to 111 rushing yards on 40 attempts, a 2.8 average.
"Obviously, they are playing much better [defense]," said OSU coach Mike Gundy. "They are more gap responsible. They are running to the football. They are better tacklers than last year."
It's a change. It's a change after a change of defensive coordinators. It's a change among many for WVU.
Look out you rock-and-rollers.
Reach Mitch Vingle at 304-348-4827, firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at twitter.com/MitchVingle.