Monday, May 22, 2017

Turnovers crucial as WVU defeats Texas Longhorns 38-20

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – A video of head coach Dana Holgorsen ‘crowd-surfing’ in the locker room has already gone viral.

Celebration took place all over Milan Puskar Stadium today as the West Virginia Mountaineers got a meaningful and much-needed 38-20 victory over the Texas Longhorns

KJ Dillon (9) and Daryl Worley (7) celebrate during the Texas game (Photo Credit: Dale Sparks/wvusports.com)

KJ Dillon (9) and Daryl Worley (7) celebrate during the Texas game (Photo Credit: Dale Sparks/wvusports.com)

“A great team win,” said Dana Holgorsen. “It’s hard to win in the Big 12 so anytime you can, you need to enjoy it.”

And that’s exactly what Holgorsen and his once-doubted players did. This one was special for the Mountaineers, who sported their crowd-pleasing throwback helmets featuring the West Virginia state outline.

“The team in the locker room is enjoying it,” said Holgorsen. “They’re happy and I’m happy for them, especially those 20 seniors… We got together a couple weeks ago and we set a goal and we’re on track to accomplish that goal.”

Speaking of seniors, a handful of the veteran players led West Virginia to a solid win today. Jared Barber, who spent last season on the sideline with an injury he had sustained against the Longhorns during the 2013-14 season, was one of them.

Jared Barber looks ahead for the endzone after picking up a Texas fumble (Photo Credit: Dale Sparks/wvusports.com)

Jared Barber looks ahead for the endzone after picking up a Texas fumble (Photo Credit: Dale Sparks/wvusports.com)

“I saw the ball right there and picked it up, you know, scoop and score,” said Barber, describing his fumble recovery that he returned for a touchdown (his first touchdown since his freshman year of high school).

“I thought once we won, or once we played them, it would be more about me and getting redemption, but once the game was winding down it was more about the win,” said Barber. “And they beat us the past two years, so it was more about that than anything that happened to me.”

Senior Nick Kwiatkoski also had himself an unforgettable game, leading the team in tackles with nine (seven solo). He also forced a fumble, intercepted a pass and had one tackle-for-loss.

“We struggled stopping the run, but we got a lot of turnovers and that was the key of the game,” said defensive coordinator Tony Gibson.

Daryl Worley also had an interception, which was a tad disappointing after he was called down at the two-yard line giving the Mountaineers dreaded field position.

“What everyone else saw was that I should have batted it down,” said Worley. “But it was fourth down and I just wanted to make a play for my team.”

Both Holgorsen and Gibson attributed WVU’s win to turnovers, especially since Texas had only turned the ball over seven times prior to facing the today’s game.

“They had seven (turnovers) in nine games,” said Holgorsen. “I mean that’s outstanding. That’s as good as anybody in the country. I think us knocking the heck out of them had something to do with it… We got a little pressure on the quarterback and that forces those guys to make some bad decisions and we hit them. We forced turnovers.”

Thanks to a trying defense, West Virginia’s struggling offense was finally able to put plenty of points on the board with a load of extra possessions (five to be exact).

Wendell Smallwood continued his trend of 100+ yard games as he rushed for 165 yards on 24 carries. He also eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark for the season. Holgorsen said he’s satisfied with everything Smallwood can do, except for the fact that he can’t seem to find the endzone with only six touchdowns so far this season.

Wendell Smallwood runs the ball against a Texas defender (Photo Credit: Dale Sparks/wvusports.com)

Wendell Smallwood runs the ball against a Texas defender (Photo Credit: Dale Sparks/wvusports.com)

“Oh it felt real good beating them, especially after what happened last year and two years ago when they beat us in double-overtime,” said Smallwood. “I think we approached this week ready to go hard and get after them drives and I think we did.”

Quarterback Skyler Howard threw a total of 12 passes, completing 10 of them. Dana Holgorsen made it clear last week that he wants his team to be run-first from now on given the talent of his running backs.

“You can’t give it to No. 4 (Smallwood) every snap,” said Holgorsen. “I mean, he carried it what, 24 times or something? That’s a lot. It’s a long season. If you sit there and say, well he’s our guy and we’re gonna give it to him 30 times a game, he ain’t gonna last.”

Though he only got to throw the ball 12 times, Howard is perfectly contempt with his stat-line as long as West Virginia got the W.

Skyler Howard runs the ball on a quarterback keeper (Photo Credit: Dale Sparks/wvusports.com)

Skyler Howard runs the ball on a quarterback keeper (Photo Credit: Dale Sparks/wvusports.com)

“When you can run the ball like that, we’re gonna be a team that’s hard to beat,” said Howard. “If we win like that, I’ll take it any day. I’ll take it if we don’t throw the ball at all and I have zero rushing yards. I’ll take the W over anything.”

Howard finished the game with a rushing touchdown. West Virginia native Elijah Wellman also found the endzone for his second touchdown of the season.

Freshman Jovon Durante made his best catch in weeks, hauling in a 53-yard dinger from Howard for six points. Holgorsen says Durante approached him at the end of the game saying, “Coach, I’m back.”

Daikiel Shorts and Ka’Raun White also had successful days. Shorts had quite possibly his best game of the season, making an impossible catch in the corner of the endzone for a touchdown. He had three other catches for a total of 33 yards.

After being given the starting nod earlier this week, White added three receptions for 25 yards (despite a bruised shoulder).

“He (Kevin White) probably already texted me but I didn’t check my phone,” said White. “I wasn’t nervous or nothing. It was a long time coming.”

Now 5-4 (2-4 in Big 12), the Mountaineers head to Kivisto Stadium next Saturday to face the 0-10 Kansas Jayhawks. Now that Holgorsen has won the non-existent award for crowd-surf of the year, his only concern is continuing the positive energy.

“The guys are happy,” he said. “It was a good win.”

Cover image credit: RICARDO B. BRAZZIELL / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Highlights courtesy WVUSports.com

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