Texas quarterback Case McCoy loses the ball as he's hit by West Virginia's Will Clarke.
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - If nothing else, West Virginia's football games have become oddly predictable.
Here's the way they go: The Mountaineers play well for a half or so, get a lead, then choke on it big time. The only variable is whether or not they recover from that second-half lapse.
Well, it happened again Saturday night against Texas in front of a crowd of 58,570 at Mountaineer Field. West Virginia collapsed under the weight of a second-half lead for the fourth straight game. This time it was multiple leads, like 26-16 in the third quarter and then 33-30 and 40-37 in the fourth. That 40-37 edge was still holding up as the clock wound to under a minute.
And while for the second week in a row the Mountaineers managed to do enough to get into overtime -- both TCU and Texas scored in the final seconds to tie the game -- this time the end result wasn't nearly as good. This time Texas scored first in the extra period and then held the Mountaineers on four downs from the 5-yard line and won 47-40.
"It would have been a good win for us,'' WVU coach Dana Holgorsen said. "But we just weren't able to make the plays when it counts, which is tough to take.''
It was tough to take on many levels, not the least of which is that the Mountaineers (4-6, 2-5 Big 12) had a chance to get some breathing room in their race to bowl eligibility and now find themselves backed against a wall again. Although the opposition is suspect, at best, West Virginia still must beat 2-7 Kansas on the road next week and 1-8 Iowa State at home two weeks later in order to extend its streak of bowl games to a dozen years.
It was tough, too, because it could have been a victory of some consequence in the Big 12 race. West Virginia isn't a part of that, of course, but Texas certainly still is, improving to 7-2 overall and 6-0 in the league. The Longhorns won in overtime for only the second time ever.
But the real disappointment was that for the fourth consecutive game all the Mountaineers had to do was hang on and make a few defensive stops in order to win the game. And for the fourth straight game they did not. Texas Tech, Kansas State, TCU and Texas now have all rallied in the second half to either tie or take the lead against WVU. Only against TCU in overtime did West Virginia survive one of those collapses.
"It was the difference in the game,'' defensive coordinator Keith Patterson said. "In the first half we got them in third downs and got them off the field (Texas was 1-for-9 on third downs in the first half). In the second half we got them in third downs and didn't get off the field. And when we got them in a fourth down and the game was on the line we let them catch the ball right at the sticks.''
Indeed, in a second half full of defensive lapses, that was probably the worst. West Virginia led 40-37 and the Longhorns faced fourth-and-7 near midfield with only 59 seconds to play. But quarterback Case McCoy hit Jaxon Shipley for a 9-yard gain to keep the drive alive. Five plays later Anthony Fera's 24-yard field goal extended the game.
The fact is, Texas entered the game as a run-dominated offense and West Virginia defended that well. But passes like that fourth-down throw were brutal.
"We emphasized [the run] so much I think we forgot Texas can pass the ball, too,'' nose guard Shaq Rowell said.
And when it came time to win the game in overtime, Texas threw it again. Marcus Johnson caught a 14-yard pass to convert third-and-4 and fullback Alex De La Torre caught the touchdown pass on third-and-2. Neither had caught a pass during regulation and De La Torre had touched the ball only once all season.
Then West Virginia, which had Paul Millard at quarterback from late in the first quarter when starter Clint Trickett was knocked out of the game, gained nothing on four plays from the 5-yard line. Mario Alford, who had a huge game, gained 20 yards on an end-around to start WVU's overtime possession, but then the Mountaineers went nowhere. Millard's fourth-down pass into the end zone had no chance and was intercepted.
It was enough to lead Holgorsen to refer to at least parts of West Virginia's passing game as "disgusting.''
That might not have been the worst part of WVU's offense, though. Trickett fumbled the ball even before he was hit on the play that knocked him out of the game -- Holgorsen later said Trickett "had his bell rung'' -- and then Millard turned it over twice on fumbles and twice on interceptions
Of those five turnovers, all but the interception in overtime came deep in WVU territory and all led to easy Texas scores, although three were just field goals. Texas's first four scoring "drives" covered 7, 27, minus-1 and minus-4 yards after turnovers. But then in the second half the Longhorns went 75, 67, 66 and 57 yards for their scores in regulation.
Texas outgained WVU 435-399 and overcame two turnovers and a blocked punt. McCoy passed for 283 yards but completed only 27 of 49 attempts. Millard was 16-of-32 for 259 yards. Charles Sims ran 24 times for 93 yards and caught five passes for 42. Alford had four catches for 97 yards, had the 20-yard run and 88 yards in kick returns, including a 43-yarder to set up a score.
Despite the second-half defensive issues, West Virginia still nearly won the game in regulation, having scored to go ahead 40-37 midway through the fourth quarter on a 72-yard pass from Millard to Alford, then holding Texas on downs. The Mountaineers got the ball back with 6:34 to play and a three-point lead, but couldn't run enough clock. Texas got the ball back with 2:35 to play after a poor 30-yard punt by Nick O'Toole. That's when the Longhorns started the drive on which they converted the fourth down and eventually tied the game.
Prior to that, West Virginia had scored on a safety when Jewone Snow blocked a punt through the end zone, on three Sims TD runs of 3, 6 and 1 yards, on an 8-yard run by Dreamius Smith and a 30-yard Josh Lambert field goal. Texas had scored on McCoy TD passes to Davis and Shipley, short runs by Malcolm Brown and Joe Bergeron and three earlier Fera field goals.
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or email@example.com or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1