MORGANTOWN, W.Va.–Miami outmanned 14th-ranked West Virginia University in the Russell Athletic Bowl on Wednesday, cruising to a 31-14 victory.
Despite the disappointing loss, the Mountaineers had one of their best seasons in head coach Dana Holgorsen’s tenure. The program took strides in the right direction.
“We got beat by a good football team,” Holgorsen said. “I’m not going to allow it to be negative. I mean, look our guys — Tyler said it just a minute ago. There’s 21 seniors in there that their legacy is, is this was the best football team that West Virginia has had in the five years they have been in the big twelve. Lot to be proud of. Ten wins. Doesn’t happen very often. It’s rare. We’re disappointed that we didn’t get to 11. Our fan base is disappointed. Our coaches are disappointed. Our players are disappointed, but we’re going to hang our heads high and understand that we had a fantastic football season.”
At the beginning of the season, WVU was projected to finish seventh in the Big 12. Instead, the Mountaineers finished third.
Heading into fall camp, WVU’s defense was an area of concern. The Mountaineers had lost KJ Dillon, Karl Joseph, Jared Barber, Nick Kwiatkoski, among others that made the defense click last year.
The secondary was an area of concern and then WVU lost its best defensive player, Dravon Askew-Henry.
At that moment, many Mountaineer fans felt like here we go again.
But in the face of adversity players stepped up all season. The Dawgs were the backbone of the team many times.
“I am very proud of them especially coming into this season, the expectations on defense weren’t real high for us and the fact those kids kept fighting every week, every game,” defensive coordinator Tony Gibson said. “I couldn’t be more proud of them for it.”
This WVU team played hard all season and the student-athletes have nothing to hang their heads about.
No one is happy with how the season ended but the future is bright.
“I think the future is definitely in good hands,” senior wide receiver Daikiel Shorts said. “We got a good quarterback coming back. We got some receivers coming back. We got a lot of backs and people up front. So I am definitely excited to see these guys go out there next year and what kind of season they have.”
Florida transfer Will Grier will take over the reigns at quarterback. He will have an athletic bunch of receivers to make magic happen with.
Ka’Raun White should be recovered from a fractured leg. Jovan Durante, Gary Jennings and Shelton Gibson, if he doesn’t go pro, will all return.
The 6-foot-4 David Sills returns to the Mountaineers next season. Sills along with Dominique Maiden, a 6-foot-5 wide out from Riverside City College, will add some much needed size to the receiving corps.
Game in and game out, WVU fans saw how special the youthful running back trio of Justin Crawford, Martell Pettaway and Kennedy McKoy were.
All three return and will provide a backfield that is a force to reckon with.
Despite battling injuries, Crawford rushed for four touchdowns on 1,184 yards. The junior’s best game of the season came in team’s loss to Oklahoma, where he rushed for 331 yards.
Pettaway’s redshirt was burned 11 games into the season against Iowa State. That was the 5-foot-10 freshman’s coming out party.
He rushed for one touchdown and 181 yards on 30 attempts. Pettaway finished the season with 260 yards.
McKoy was another freshman phenom when healthy. Like Crawford, he was plagued with injuries but managed to rush for 472 yards.
McKoy’s best game came against Kansas when he rushed for 127 yards.
The Mountaineers will lose 21 seniors, 14 of whom are starters from this season but like the motto much of the season was, it is time for the next man up.
There is no denying the frustration with WVU’s bowl loss but considering how bleak the program looked five years ago, it’s a gigantic step forward.
“I think of the teams that won the BCS Bowls, we’re right up there with them,” senior offensive lineman Tyler Orlosky said. “We got 10 wins. That’s something that’s impressive. That started happening 125 years ago. That’s something to hang our hat on and will. Obviously we are disappointed about this game but it’s not a disappointing season, especially if you contend in the Big 12. We have a defense we’re proud of. I think it’s a season a lot of people will remember.”
The 2016 Mountaineers are the ninth team to win 10 games. That by any means is a good season.
“To win 10 games isn’t easy,” Howard said. “To win eight games is not easy, so to sing Country Roads 10 times once a year. If you would of told me a few months before the season started that we were going to do this I probably would of smiled and I think anybody that is a part of Mountaineer nation would of smiled too. I’ve enjoyed it. I’ve loved it.”
For the players and the fans, it was special. It was far from the 4-8 season in 2013. It was special for the seniors who gave their all for the last four or five years.
“It was a special season,” Shorts said. “It meant a lot to all of us. We just tried to have the best year since we been here, which we had success on. We didn’t finish the way we wanted to but it’s still a nice season.”
But WVU is not satisfied with a 10-3 record.
“I am happy for the way we progressed through the year and some things went the way we want them,” Gibson said. “But I am not satisfied at all. I won’t be satisfied until we win the national championship.”
That is the goal the Mountaineers are shooting for in the coming years.
Cover Photo Credit: Kelsie LeRose, BGS