MORGANTOWN — VIDEO: WVU vs LSU Football
In a way it was an ending that no one wanted to see anyway, so when a fog came rolling into Milan Puskar Stadium midway through the fourth quarter of what would turn out to be a 47-21 West Virginia University loss to No. 2 LSU Saturday night it was really something of a blessing.
True, the Mountaineers had managed to inject a touch of suspense into a game they gave away early and often with a third-quarter rally that had to at least create a moment of doubt in the minds of the large contingent of Bayou Tiger faithful who had made the journey from the mouth of the mighty Mississippi to the Monongahela River.
But the fact of the matter is that for everything they did right, they did two things badly.
“The team that makes the most mistakes is going to lose,” said Mountaineer middle linebacker Najee Goode.
And the one category in this game that would prove to be something of a fun-house mirror that distorted the facts in which WVU held a commanding lead was turnovers. They had four of them, two costly interceptions and two lost fumbles.
LSU had none.
So it was that on a night that coach Dana Holgorsen should have been putting away in the happy memory bank, a night when his passing game shattered most of West Virginia’s records before a national television audience and full house of 62,056, the most since the north end zone seats were put in for the 2004 season, he instead was tasting his first defeat as a head coach.
“You can talk about 500 yards tomorrow if you want to, but the only thing I’m going to talk about is four turnovers,” Holgorsen said.
You might say it was beautifully ugly offensive football by WVU, quarterback Geno Smith and wide receiver Tavon Austin.
Smith finished with 38 for 65 passing for 463 yards and two touchdowns.
The 65 passes thrown broke a 60-year-old record, set against Maryland in a 1951 game.
WVU lost that 54-7.
The 38 completions broke Marc Bulger’s and Oliver Luck’s record of 34. Bulger’s also came in a loss to Missouri in 1998 while Luck’s came against Syracuse in 1981.
And the yardage of 463 broke Bulger’s mark of 429 in that loss to Missouri.
Maybe there’s a message in all those passing records set in defeat for the pass-happy Holgorsen.
The stat that matter most, however, is the four turnovers, the most crushing of which came in the closing moments of a forgettable first half in which WVU was looking at being blown out, down 20-7.
The Mountaineers found themselves in the final minute of the half back on their own 25 with a third-and-19 after LSU accepted a holding penalty on Tyler Rader rather than forcing them to punt on fourth down.
The reason they accepted the penalty was obvious. They suspected Holgorsen, a rookie coach, might try to throw the ball and they’d have a shot at intercepting.
He obliged, throwing a pass. Actually, Geno Smith would say he had the option to run or pass the ball and opted to throw.
Wrong. Tyrann Mathieu stepped in and intercepted and ran the ball to the 1, allowing LSU to get another touchdown.
The Mountaineers caught a break when Rueben Randall dropped a sure TD pass to open the third quarter that would have turned the game into a route, allowing the Mountaineers to get a taste of life and bounce back, putting together two TDs on a pass from Smith to Tyler Urban for 12 yards and a 1-yard run by Dustin Garrison.
Now the house was rocking and rolling, the score was 27-21 … and that old bugaboo came back and bit the Mountaineers again.
Morris Claiborne gathered in the kickoff on the 1 and when last seen was crossing the goal line at the WVU side of the field for a touchdown, making it 34-21.
“We didn’t tackle,” said Holgorsen, perhaps oversimplifying the situation.
From then on it was simply a matter of LSU being the better team, or as Holgorsen put it, “they were a smarter football team than we were.”
Or, if you want to put it another way, LSU rushed for 186 yards, WVU for 70, and football is and always will be the game where the roughest, toughest, hardest-hitting, most dominating team wins the most often.
Email Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @bhertzel.