MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Well, they almost had it.
As always, anything can happen when the sun goes down and the lights come on at Milan Puskar Stadium. Unfortunately for Dana Holgorsen and his West Virginia Mountaineers, this night ends in a painful overtime defeat.
“Second straight week we didn’t start very good, got ourselves in a big hole,” said Holgorsen. “We challenged them obviously, and we came out in the second half and we played a lot better. We got it to the point where we could win and at the end of the day, just not good enough.”
A struggling offense ultimately paved the way to the Mountaineers downfall. Skyler Howard, looking to redeem himself following a brutal performance in Norman, Okla., had his second consecutive sub-par game. The junior signal caller threw 18-of-35 for 188 yards, one touchdown and one interception.
A somber Howard described the locker room scene after the game as brutally silent in his post-game interview.
“You know, you don’t wanna end like that,” he said. “Adversity is gonna happen and we fought back all the way to the end till the last play, but it just wasn’t good enough and we know that and we know we’re getting back to work. Silent.”
Howard also rushed 19 times for 47 yards and a crucial touchdown that ultimately pushed the game to overtime.
“Well, you don’t wanna lose. You never wanna lose,” said Howard. “Adversity is part of life. You gotta come back and fight back. Either you could quit and just let life win and let things go downhill, or you fight back. I’ve always been the type of person to fight back and I always will be.”
There was some controversy as to why Wendell Smallwood didn’t play as much as usual at the start of the game, and especially why he didn’t see one snap in the overtime period.
According to Dana Holgorsen’s post-game press conference, the Mountaineer run game suffered a blow earlier this week when Smallwood, West Virginia’s leading-rusher, went down with a sprained ankle. Smallwood’s injury was also the reason why William Crest made appearances in the backfield, where he saw three carries for 15 yards.
“We don’t have any running backs. Wendell didn’t practice all week,” he said. “I thought he (Smallwood) played his tail off, but he didn’t practice all week. So we’re pretty thin. We’ve done that before with William… William had a good week of practice so we felt like we could do some things with him back there.”
On a bum ankle, Smallwood still rushed 19 times for 147 yards and a touchdown.
“I came out today and I thought I could go,” said Smallwood. “Just not thinking about it (the injury) and hitting the holes, making all the reads and just playing football.”
The Mountaineers second rusher, Rushel Shell, struggled through the night with the same amount of carries as Smallwood with a much lesser result. On those 19 carries, Shell only gained 48 yards.
West Virginia tried their best to move the ball through the air. Between seven receivers, 188 yards was tallied on the receiving end. Tough field position in the first half made it especially difficult for Howard and the Mountaineers to progress downfield.
Shelton Gibson and Daikiel Shorts each caught five passes. Gibson had 84 yards and a touchdown while Shorts worked for 41 yards. Freshman Jovon Durante also got in on the action, catching two passes for 21 yards.
Even when the Mountaineers finally started to go in a positive direction offensively, turnovers and poor ball security killed their chances of progressing towards scores. Five fumbles later (three of which they lost), Holgorsen was left wondering how that happened.
“When we did get things going in the first half, all those drives ended in fumbles,” said Holgorsen. “So, I don’t know. It wasn’t just one person. If I could put one person on the bench because of it I would but it was three different people. We work it every day, twice a day. Preach it, preach it, talk about it. We just gotta do a better job.”
From a defensive standpoint, Tony Gibson’s squad played rather well, holding one of the best quarterbacks in the Big 12, Mason Rudolph, to just 218 yards while completing just 50 percent of his passes.
Rudolph threw three interceptions and zero touchdown passes tonight. Senior Kyle Rose also sacked Rudolph in the endzone for a safety.
“I’ve handled a lot of losses, and I’ve done pretty well with handling those. I’d say this one, probably one of the tougher ones,” said Rose. “Our team, we fought so hard, shew. Things happened in that game that you can’t control, so, we can only control our effort and the way we play and we try to play Mountaineer football every play and I’m really proud of my guys… It wasn’t in the cards for us to win tonight so we have to move on.”
Tony Gibson especially credited Jarrod Harper, who started in the bandit safety position in place of the injured Karl Joseph, for playing top-notch football in his first career start.
“Very proud of Jarrod Harper, thought he played his heart out,” said Gibson. “There’s a lot of guys hurting but that’s the game of football. Gotta pick up and move on and get ready for Baylor.”
Gibson said the biggest stand of the game for the West Virginia defense was with 2:25 left on the clock. The Mountaineers forced an Oklahoma St. punt which eventually led to a score and overtime push.
“I hate for it to end like that because of the way our kids played, but we have to finish,” said Gibson.
Shaq Pettiway led the defense with eight tackles followed by Askew-Henry, Terrell Chestnut and Jared Barber with seven each. Chestnut, Nick Kwiatkoski and Daryl Worley each tallied an interception.
West Virginia won the coin toss to begin overtime and chose to play defense first. On their first OT possession, the Cowboys elected to go for it on fourth and one from the WVU one-yard line rather than kicking a field goal. J.W. Walsh ran the ball in for a touchdown.
The Mountaineers had one last chance to win the game, but faltered on a six play, 25-yard drive that ended with Rushel Shell rushing the ball on third down, losing seven yards. The last play of the game was a do-or-die pass from Skyler Howard, which fell incomplete to Daikiel Shorts.
Overall, WVU finished with 443 total yards (255 rushing, 188 passing). The Mountaineers also tallied 11 penalties for a loss of 107 yards, and converted on just 6-of-20 third down attempts.
“You gotta play four quarters if you wanna win in the Big 12 and right now, we’re not capable of doing that,” said Holgorsen. “Nothing I could’ve said to them to make them feel any better. Those guys are pretty hurt down there but the only way to make the feeling go away is to get back to work. It’s a long season, got seven more Big 12 football games that we’ve gotta get ready for.”
Cover Image credit: Dale Sparks/All-Pro Photography/wvusports.com