By Bob Hertzel
For the Times West Virginian
First an apology.
As halftime came to Bayou in Baton Rouge Saturday night under a full moon, your loyal correspondent was scanning the Internet in an effort to see if I could get hold of Stephen King, for he seemed to be the only man really capable of writing the horror story that was unfolding before our eyes.
West Virginia University could not have played worse than it had in that first half against LSU if Noel Devine had been trying to play on one leg, which, it turns out, he was doing, having injured the big toe on his right foot. On one leg he was more heroic than effective, gaining just 39 rushing yards.
If the Mountaineers had anything to cheer about, it was that ESPN2 stayed with the Oklahoma victory over Cincinnati to the bitter end, sparing the nation having to view the early ugliness.
The scoreboard read 17-7, and if the Mountaineer defense had not been so spectacular it could have been much worse.
But in the midst of the search for Stephen King, WVU coach Bill Stewart was stopped by ESPN2 sideline interviewer Jeannine Edwards to offer his view of what was in store for the second half.
It was typical Bill Stewart at his best.
“They’re Mountaineers,” he said. “They’ll step up.”
If the man had been the captain of the Titanic, he’d have told his passengers that things weren’t so bad.
“It’s a nice night for a swim,” he surely would have said.
Certainly things could not get much worse, after having turned the ball over twice deep in their own territory, given up a 60-yard punt return to Patrick Peterson, who went by WVU defenders so fast they didn’t even get a glimpse of his number, let alone anyone managing to lay a hand on him.
Oddly, though, this seeming disaster turned into a turning point for the Mountaineers as the exuberant Peterson did his best Desmond Howard imitation by doing the Heisman pose, drawing a 15-yard penalty on the ensuing kickoff.
Given field position from that, WVU used it drive for a touchdown before the half on a pass from Geno Smith to Stedman Bailey, his third TD catch in two games.
Suddenly, WVU was regrouping on a positive note in the locker room in which they had been addressed passionately by Devine before the game.
The word was that he had told the team that this was their chance to make history, to have something to tell their grandchildren about.
They began their quest for that tale for the next generation by coming out and scoring quickly after safety Eain Smith had given them the ball with an interception that would have been a touchdown had he not tripped over Robert Sands’ feet.
Two passes, one to Tavon Austin, who squirmed and cut for 18 yards, and then a pass to Jock Sanders, who weaved through traffic and into the end zone put WVU within 3 points.
Considering the way the evening had started, considering that the Mountaineers were limping and hurting, they could not ask for much more, even when LSU added a field goal on the first play of the fourth quarter to make it 20-14.
Now all West Virginia had to do was stop an LSU offense that really was showing so little that it had fewer passing yards (89) than penalty yards (105) and find a way to score a touchdown.
That sounds like it isn’t too great a chore, but it gets harder when you have your quarterback lining up behind the right guard instead of the center.
Honest, Geno Smith did just that, and it came on maybe the game’s biggest play.
The Mountaineers had the ball third-and-2 on their own 15 with 7:24 left and took a time out to make sure they got everything right. However, the crowd of 92,000 was roaring, the LSU defense moving and Smith changed the play, moved out of the shotgun and set himself up, his hands under the butt of … his right guard.
Devine actually had to step forward as he barked signals and move Smith behind the center, or who knows what would have happened.
With such confusion, it did not come as a surprise that the option play they came up with out of all that lost two yards, making one wonder why on such a big play the quarterback was running the football.
Pat White is not here any more!
West Virginia got the ball one more time, but it hardly mattered, considering it was on their own 9 with LSU teeing off on the pass rush.
And so it ended, 20-14, in LSU’s favor, the Tigers’ 31st straight home non-conference regular season victory. In the end, maybe it would have been better if we’d found Stephen King to chronicle the goings-on.
E-mail Bob Hertzel at email@example.com.