The Times West Virginian

Bob Herzel

December 2, 2012

Smashing sendoff

WVU routs Kansas in seniors’ final home game

MORGANTOWN — It ended happily and with a celebration, not exactly the celebration you might have expected on opening day of the 2012 football season, not one celebrating a Big 12 title and an expectation of a BCS bowl spot or maybe, just maybe, a place in the national championship game.

No, this was a celebration of survival, of a team that had, in its coaches’ words “star power,” the kind that would always be attractive to those big-time games, but it was a team who nearly let the entire season slip away from it.

Indeed, if Saturday’s 59-10 victory over a one-win Kansas team was a reminder of what this team was expected to do, the 7-5 final record it produced was a product of what it actually did, of a five-game losing streak in midseason that kicked the entire state in the stomach.

It left them spending Saturday night not wondering which of the 15 million or so bowl games they would attend, but instead whether they could sneak in the back door of the Holiday Bowl or head off to play Pitt — if it won Saturday night’s game — in something called the Pinstripe Bowl in that citadel of college football the Bronx, N.Y.

That they didn’t fold up and just quit, though, had a something to do with the way Dana Holgorsen and his coaching staff handled them and even more to do with the way quarterback Geno Smith asserted his leadership after Holgorsen got him to stop heaping all the blame upon himself.

“We had a couple of tough losses and these kids did not quit. They wanted to finish the year strong. They had a very tough victory last week at Iowa State and then came here and played really well on all sides of the ball,” Holgorsen said.

“The only way these seniors are going to go out on top and have good memories is if they win the last game and I’ll use that in the bowl game. This isn’t the real senior day. The bowl game is the real senior day.”

That they got to a bowl game after that five game losing streak, that they held together, much of that can be attributed to Smith, whose final game in Mountaineer Field, as it was called when he showed up on the scene, was among his best.

No, it wasn’t the Baylor game revisited, a game in which he threw eight touchdowns and 656 yards, but then you only have those games come along about once a century.

But he did play the entire game without throwing an incompletion — he did have one interception, but not one of his passes hit the ground. He completed 21 of those passes in a row, setting the school record and his 95.8 completion percentage tied the NCAA record set by Tee Martin of Tennessee against South Carolina on Oct. 31, 1998.

The thing that was most important, though, was that he refused to crackup during the losing streak and didn’t allow the team to do so, either.

And rest assured, he was under pressure.

“He took a lot of the fault in his eyes and across the country. In the media the finger got pointed at him a lot when we weren’t doing specific things well,” Holgorsen said.

Early on in streak he took much of it upon himself, much more responsibility than he deserved and Holgorsen actually had to call him out to get him on track again.

Smith looked back upon it after this home finale.

“Losing five in a row is not easy. I know that everyone in this locker room was giving it their all. After that first loss, that second loss and after the third it was just do or die. It was tough. No one hung their heads, the locker room never split, we never turned on the coaches and pointed fingers at anyone. We all stuck together and took the blame for it.

“That’s the sign of a good program and a good team.”

And Smith was proud of his reaction to it.

He recalled an earlier time in his career when things went bad.

“I can look back 3 or 4 years ago and had I been in that situation I couldn’t have handled it,” he said. “I remember losing to UConn my first year starting. I had to go home and talk to my Mom because I was like down in the dumps. She picked me up. Now she calls and asks if I’m all right and I tell her I’m fine and that’s different for her.”

Smith’s mental and emotional growth is what is setting him apart as a quarterback, putting him in position to be a first-round draft pick, maybe the No. 1 pick, and a Heisman finalist, but in this game there was much company for him.

Tavon Austin rushed 12 times for 77 yards and a touchdown along with catching four passes for 110 yards. He finished the regular season with 61 rushes for 598 yards and 3 TDs; 110 receptions for 1,259 yards and 12 TD; 1 punt returns for 165 yards and a touchdown and 28 kickoff returns for 2,760 all-purpose yards, 230 per game.

And then there was Stedman Bailey, probably in his final game as Mountaineer, although he has yet to decide, who caught 11 passes for 159 yards and two more touchdowns, giving him 23 touchdowns for the season to go with 106 catches for 1,501 yards.

Kansas never had a chance.

“I was just happy the 21 seniors were able to experience that,” Holgorsen said. “I’ll say this about our seniors. These guys mean a lot to me, but they mean a lot to the West Virginia family, to the state of West Virginia, the university. These guys have been through coaching changes. They’ve been through conference changes and they’ve never once said this is too hard or this isn’t fair or this isn’t why I came here.

“They’re here because they love it here and they are a very tight group. They were the glue that kept everything together when we were challenged. The more we’re in the Big 12, the more we’ll understand it. “

Email Bob Hertzel at bhertzel@hotmail.com. Follow on Twitter @bhertzel.

1
Text Only
Bob Herzel
  • HERTZEL COLUMN: Big 12 provides plenty of optimism

    This past week the Big 12 held its annual media gathering in Dallas and served up a heaping portion of optimism for the 2014 season that is now upon us, West Virginia University opening its preseason practices on Thursday.
    This is a time of year when no one has lost a game, not even Charlie Weis at Kansas, and it’s a time of year when opinions are more plentiful than tattoos in an NFL locker room.

    July 27, 2014

  • HERTZEL COLUMN: WVU needs White to follow in former receivers’ footsteps

    A year ago Clint Trickett took a lot of grief as the once potent West Virginia offense came unraveled, but there is more that than meets the eye.
    The criticism was not unfounded, of course, although behind each incomplete pass there was the pain Trickett was suffering through to throw it, his rotator cuff in need of surgery.

    July 26, 2014

  • HERTZEL COLUMN: O’Toole joins long list of eccentric WVU kickers, punters

    The star of the Big 12’s annual football media day wasn’t a star at all.
    He intrigued the media far more than Bob Stoops, the coach of preseason favorite Oklahoma, and more than Baylor quarterback Bryce Petty, the preseason player of the year.

    July 25, 2014

  • WVU, N.C. State to meet in football

    Following a trend of creating non-conference games against regional opponents, West Virginia University has reached agreement with North Carolina State to play a home-and-home football series in 2018 and 2019.
    The Mountaineers are scheduled to play N.C. State in Raleigh on Sept. 15, 2018, and then play host to the Wolfpack on Sept. 14, 2019.

    July 24, 2014

  • HERTZEL COLUMN: ‘Cheating pays’ remark should draw attention

    When Bob Bowlsby, the outspoken commissioner of the Big 12, presented his opening-day picture of the future of college sports in Dallas for the annual media day gathering, his bleak comments were not unexpected.

    July 24, 2014

  • Holgorsen’s program hits turning point

    You can almost sense, as you watch West Virginia University football coach Dana Holgorsen sit before the gathered Big 12 media contingent answering questions in the Omni Hotel in Arlington, Texas, that he senses his program has reached a turning point.

    July 23, 2014

  • Big 12 Media Days Foo_time(1).jpg Trickett’s play key factor for Mountaineers’ success

     In the end, it comes down to the quarterback.
    Always has with Dana Holgorsen, always will.
    Quarterback is the offense with the West Virginia University coach. When he does well, the team wins – almost always.
    When he does poorly, the team doesn’t stand much of a chance.

    July 23, 2014 1 Photo

  • Saban, family happy at Alabama

    Alabama football coach Nick Saban, whose team opens the season against West Virginia in Atlanta on Aug. 30, denied receiving or turning down this offseason an offer of $100 million to coach Texas, indicating he planned to finish his career as coach of the Crimson Tide.

    July 18, 2014

  • HERTZEL COLUMN: ‘Quarterback child prodigy’ comes to WVU amidst very high expectations

    Has West Virginia football coach Dana Holgorsen finally put the arrow he needs in his quiver with the commitment received Wednesday from high school quarterback David Sills, who is a rather extraordinary story and may also just be a rather extraordinary quarterback?

    July 18, 2014

  • WVU kicker Molinari ‘All-American boy’

    West Virginia kicker Mike Molinari may not be an All-American but he is an All-American boy.
    He was honored for that on Wednesday when the Allstate Insurance Company and the American Football Coaches Association announced the West Virginia redshirt senior kicker/punter Michael Molinari is a nominee for the Allstate AFCA Good Works Team.

    July 16, 2014

House Ads
Featured Ads