The Times West Virginian

December 11, 2011

HERTZEL COLUMN - WVU proves worth down the stretch

By Bob Hertzel
For the Times West Virginian

FAIRMONT — There are those who would argue against West Virginia’s participation in a BCS bowl, a game with the prestige that the Orange Bowl carries.

Their point is that within a few years the entire system is going to be made over, and now one doubts that to be true, in part because teams like WVU qualify automatically by winning a weak conference like the Big East while teams like Arkansas, Kansas State and Boise State are not included.

In some ways they have a point but perhaps a bit more credit ought to go West Virginia’s way for its unique ability to persevere. In fact, the very reasons that some use to argue against their inclusion can be used to argue for their inclusion.

True, they lost to Louisville and were anything but a dominant team, yet the fact that were able to bounce back from seeming elimination to win their final three games and to do so in heroic fashion is the kind of stuff that should turn them into America’s darlings.

Think of it this way, when they were upset by Louisville in a game they admittedly never should have lost they put themselves in a position where they had to win out over the final three games and, at that, get some help along the way.

“The last three weeks weren’t pretty. They were ugly. But the one thing you can say about those kids, they found a way to win,” West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen said. “You can say a lot about them, but they fought, they battled through adversity, they battled through a lot of things.

“I think we were down in every game but Maryland and won nine games and had a chance to win them all.”

That is a sign of resiliency, of heart, of guts. It is the quality that wins football games, yes, but it is also the quality that wins in life.

It isn’t where you stand that matters until the finish line and it doesn’t matter how you got where you were, only that you didn’t give in the circumstances.

“A lot of that is we put ourselves in a hole,” quarterback Geno Smith explained. “I don’t know if we like to make things harder on ourselves or what. My hat goes off to every opponent we play. It’s their Super Bowl. They play us tough. We had opportunities to put teams away in numerous games which we haven’t done but we fought. We will get up and find a way to win.”

It is a trait that was instilled at the top, by a coach that didn’t panic, that would look neither back at the disasters of the season nor ahead at the future. He preached keeping an even keel and he practiced it.

In some ways it was terribly boring for the media and for the public, both of who demand instant reaction and gratification in their jobs and lives.

Certainly it is in stark opposition to the emotional responses you get from the coach of West Virginia’s other major sport, Bob Huggins, who takes each defeat as a personal affront, who openly admits he “despises” losing.

Holgorsen certainly doesn’t like it, either, but he approaches it more analytically, less emotionally, and urges his team to simply move on, to make sure the next game is better.

Lose to Louisville in a key game … and Holgorsen first goes analytical. When told his team had gained 533 yards and had 28 first downs, he replied:

“I really don't care about yards,” Holgorsen said. “We had the yard. We had good yards per game. Our third downs were right about 60 percent (8-for-14). We moved the ball and got in the red zone and had ourselves in position to be 6-for-6, but we couldn't convert on the two field goals, which is the difference in the game.”

And then he talked with his team. Linebacker Najee Goode remembers the conversation.

“Coming off that loss Holgorsen told us we have to stop playing up and down and being content when we win,” Goode recalled.

The team did not panic, it simply moved forward and won three straight.

“After those three wins at the end of the season it established us being a team that can pull out a win in tough situations,” Goode said.

And isn’t that really the kind of stamp you’d like to have on your team?

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