MORGANTOWN — It’s OK, Neal.
Bobby had days like this, too.
Why, I wouldn’t be surprised if the ol’ ball coach himself, Bobby Bowden, told West Virginia University first-year head coach Neal Brown exactly that — or, at least, words to that effect — here Saturday.
After all, Bowden was in Milan Puskar Stadium Saturday afternoon to celebrate the 50th anniversary of his 1969 WVU team that won the Peach Bowl.
So a few words of solace certainly would have been appropriate.
Especially since Brown had to watch his Mountaineers struggle to a 42-31 loss to the University of Texas in front of 62,069 fans in Mountaineer Field.
WVU’s coach also had to swallow hard while watching quarterback Austin Kendall throw not one, not two, not three, but four interceptions.
That’s about the time Bowden could have sidled up to Brown in that homey way of his and drawled, “Dad-gum, it could be worse. I remember back in ’74 when we had a four-game losing streak to Pitt, Miami (Fla.), Penn State and Boston College. We went 4-7 that year and WVU’s fans wanted to run me out of town on a rail.”
Bowden, of course, went on to become a coaching icon.
Brown? He’s also going to be just fine.
The frustrating part is everything went so swimmingly well for Brown and his Mountaineers during the first 17 minutes of the game.
It all started when WVU lost the opening coin toss for the first time in Brown’s five games. Yes, the first time. The Mountaineers had won four consecutive flips and deferred each and every time.
But this time Texas won the toss and played the deferred card. That meant WVU had to receive the opening kickoff for the first time in the Neal Brown era.
It had bad omen written all over it.
That’s not the way it turned out, however. Instead, it was a stroke of good fortune as Kendall tossed a 44-yard pass into the end zone that wideout Sam James made a fabulous catch on for a touchdown.
WVU led, 7-0.
Even when Texas tied the score at 7-7 later in the first quarter, WVU still was more than holding its own. Then, just a couple minutes into the second quarter, Kendall pulled off a real coup.
After a couple of plunges by WVU running backs didn’t work, Kendall faked a handoff on play-action and, then, performed an untouched skip-to-my-lou into the end zone.
The Mountaineers led the 11th-ranked Longhorns 14-7 with 12:59 remaining in the second quarter. That had to send some shock waves through the Big 12 Conference.
And that’s when it happened. The bottom dropped out.
With 7:56 left in the first half, Texas star quarterback Sam Ehlinger threw a 13-yard touchdown pass to John Burt to tie the score, 14-14. WVU tried to answer, but Evan Staley’s 36-yard field goal attempt was wide right.
Then, Ehlinger struck again. This time it was a hard-nosed, 13-yard run for a touchdown and a 21-14 lead. But, wait, WVU still had one more chance. With four seconds remaining in the half, Staley lined up for a 47-yard field goal attempt.
Yep, wide right again.
Those 13 fateful minutes in the second quarter changed the entire complexion of the game. WVU managed only 33 yards of total offense in the third quarter and never threatened again.
What would Bowden say about that?