The Times West Virginian

January 2, 2013

HERTZEL COLUMN: Last word on WVU’s 7-6 season

By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian

MORGANTOWN — Even though the sport of college football has yet to crown a champion, for the good people here in West Virginia the season has come to an end and, in truth, words cannot capture the disappointment that came out of this season.

Yet it is a season that must be told with words, for the only thing more plentiful than them were opponents’ points during a 7-6 year that many thought would find the Mountaineers battling for a Big 12 championship at the minimum.

• It began last January, in the warmth of Miami, with a team putting on its greatest performance of the century, overpowering Clemson, 70-33, in a game that turned them into college football idols across America.

The onslaught began when defender Darwin Cook scooped up a loose football at his own 1 and carried it 99 yards into the other end zone, where he scored the game-changing touchdown and, in the process, bowled over Obie, the Orange Bowl mascot.

As he went to help the mascot up, still rollicking after scoring the most important touchdown of his career, he realized he had knocked over not an orange … but a woman.

“I didn’t know you were a girl,” he told her. “I apologize.”

• And so it began, this season where nothing was as it seemed.

Don’t believe it, think back to the difficult, double-overtime loss to TCU, 39-38, when TCU had a trick up its sleeve for West Virginia.

Joe DeForest then was the defensive coordinator.

His reaction?

“Trick plays are trick plays,” he said. “What can you say? They tricked us. We were in a coverage where we were fine and what happened happened. It’s a trick play. It’s like magic.”

Plunk your magic twanger, Froggy.

• The magic never let up. Take the magic Syracuse performed on the Mountaineers in the Pinstripe Bowl disaster of just a few days ago.

Remember the one thing this football team could do all year long was play offense.

When you have Geno Smith at quarterback, Stedman Bailey at wide receiver and Tavon Austin everywhere else, offense is not a problem.

Then along came Syracuse.

Offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson’s reaction to what transpired summed it up as honestly as it could be summed up.

“If you go 0-for on third down and get 280-some yards of offense, you’re probably going to get your (butt) whipped.”

And that was just what WVU did, failing to convert a third- or fourth-down try.

• That’s just not Big 12 football. WVU found out about Big 12 football in its opener against Baylor, a little bit of 70-63 shootout in which two receivers had more than 300 yards receiving and in which records were as plentiful as peanuts at a circus.

“It did feel like one of those classic Texas shootouts,’’ said Geno Smith, who threw for 656 yards. ‘’That’s kind of what the Big 12 is about.’’

Among all he did was throw five touchdowns to Stedman Bailey.

Someone wondered if things could get better as the year went along.

“Can you please tell me how you can improve on that?’’ West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen said.

West Virginia had amassed a school-record 807 yards and the teams combined for 1,507 yards of offense and 67 first downs. Six receivers had at least 100 yards receiving.

• As the year went on it became apparent that Austin was something beyond special.

”He’s the best player in the country. I’ve never been around anyone like him. He plays a lot different than everybody else does,” Dawson said of him.

But it was Iowa State’s Paul Rhoads, who had to defend him the week after the Oklahoma game, and this was what he had to say after viewing the film.

“When we got back we put the tape on, saw where he was lining up, saw how he gained all those yards ...” Rhoads said.

And then ...

“Soon after that I vomited,” Rhoads said.

• A couple of weeks later Kansas Coach Charlie Weis offered his opinion of Austin.

 “Whether they line him up in the backfield or motion him across the formation, he’s a pain in the butt that you always have to account for,” Weis said.

• Everyone, foe and friend, was stunned by Austin’s skills.

“I don’t think you can put that in perspective,” his quarterback, Geno Smith, said after the Oklahoma game. “No one guy has ever shredded a defense single handedly. The offensive line got him to the second level, and that was all she wrote.

“He does a great job of bursting in and out of cuts. He makes guys on the second level that are really talented look silly. I don’t know how he does it. I know when he gets to the next level, guys are going to be impressed, because they have never seen anything like that.”

• What does he do different than other backs?

“That is an unfair question really,” Holgorsen answered during a press conference. “He is the most explosive player in college football, and I say this quite candidly, with the ball in his hands. He has a lot of things that he can do better without the ball in his hands that people don’t see, and that is coaching and we have been trying to get him to do a lot of that for a long time.

“He makes a whole bunch of people miss, and he runs real fast with the ball in his hands. Those other guys don’t have the ability to make people miss like that, and they don’t have the ability to run real fast. Is that because of lack of effort? Absolutely not. Those guys are trying real hard — some people can and some people can’t. Tavon is a guy that can, and those other guys are guys that can’t.”

• And now you have the last word on what you saw this season.

Email Bob Hertzel at bhertzel@hotmail.com or follow him on Twitter @bhertzel.