The Times West Virginian

WVU Sports

September 5, 2010

Laying the hammer

Hogan’s key interception, late scores spark WVU victory

MORGANTOWN — The smoke had barely cleared from the West Virginia University Mountaineers’ entrance through the inflated helmet onto the Puskar Stadium sidelines for their 2010 opener Saturday, players jumping upon each other and letting loose the emotion that had been held in since a Gator Bowl loss to Florida State.

In the midst of it all was Brandon Hogan, toting, of all things, a sledgehammer. It is, of course, against NCAA rules, to say nothing of the rules of football, to bring it into play with you, although there were times some of the Coastal Carolina players felt like they’d been hit by someone swinging one in a 31-0 Mountaineer victory.

The sledgehammer, you see, is a gimmick that the defensive coaches began this summer, something they would award on a weekly basis to the position group that had put forth the most effort in workouts.

“The cornerbacks won it the most,” Hogan revealed, “and so they gave it to us to bring out.”

As the senior in the group, Hogan was given the honor of bringing the sledgehammer out to the field and in a way it was amazingly symbolic, for if there was a turning point in this game, it was delivered by Hogan.

West Virginia had been struggling offensively late in the first half, clinging to a 10-0 advantage, and had just managed somehow to turn the football over twice in a row. The first time came when Tavon Austin took a pass from quarterback Geno Smith, who had a solid debut as the Mountaineer starter, and made a nice run to the 2, only to have the ball stripped from his grasp and through the end zone.

“The first time I’ve fumbled in a long time,” Austin admitted later.

Instead of first-and-goal at the Chanticleer 2, it was a touchback and Coastal took over at its 20.

When the defense, which was spinning its first shutout since beating Cincinnati, 48-0, in 2005 and its first home shutout since — sit down for this one — beating Rutgers, 35-0, in 1997, held and forced a punt, Smith made one of his few mistakes.

The sophomore quarterback threw a pass that was intercepted by Dominique Davenport and returned all the way to the WVU 21.

The Chanticleers looked as though they had a chance to pull within a field goal, if they could score, and tried to strike quickly, throwing deep into the end zone on the next play.

The receiver streaked down the sideline but could not shake Hogan, the two diving for the ball at the back of the end zone.

Intercepting the pass was difficult enough, but managing to somehow drag his left foot enough to survive a review made it a spectacular play, perhaps as spectacular as will be made by a defensive back this year.

“I just played my man,” Hogan said, admitting he wasn’t sure if he had gotten a foot down. “It was a close call.”

Hogan would have liked to have admired it after the fact as it was replayed on the video board, but couldn’t.

“My teammates were all celebrating,” he said.

“That interception turned the game,” said coach Bill Stewart. “When I went out and talked with David (Bennett, the Coastal Carolina coach), he said, ‘That just broke us.’ Hogan came to play.”

Hogan is expected to be an all-Big East performer this year, which would cap off a roller-coaster career for him that has been filled with high moments and extremely painful ones, including missing a bowl game as a sophomore due to some personal problems.

“I recruited him and I’ve been tough on him,” Stewart said, including in that this spring when he had Hogan climbing the stadium stairs for most of spring practice.

“I appreciate what Coach Stew has done for me. He’s been tough on me, but he made me better because of it,” Hogan said.

The defense certainly made the difference in this one.

“I’d give us an A,” said Hogan. “We really wanted that doughnut (shutout). We hadn’t had one since I’ve been here.”

“I was pleased with the way the defense adjusted and took control of the football game,” Stewart said. “We played with reckless abandon. There were collisions out there, not just contact.”

Stewart noted that WVU’s defensive speed took over the game, especially when they were in their 40 defense, which is four down linemen rushing the passer, and their “swat” defense, which is six defensive backs coming from everywhere.

The offense was less spectacular. Even though Noel Devine rushed for 111 yards and a touchdown, he went into the fourth quarter averaging just 2.8 yards a carry with 56 net yards and a long of 14. In truth, were it not for one three-play sequence, when Devine went for 12, 39 and 4 yards and a touchdown, it would have been a disappointing day.

On the other side of the ledger, Jock Sanders was everywhere, running and receiving. Sanders caught 8 passes for 71 yards and a 17-yard touchdown strike from Smith, and ran the ball once on a reverse for 31 yards.

Austin, despite the fumble, had 90 yards on five receptions, while Smith completed 20 of 27 passes for 216 yards and two touchdowns before turning the game over to freshman Barry Brunetti for his first action, completing three of five passes for 0 yards.

E-mail Bob Hertzel at bhertzel@hotmail.com.

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