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December 29, 2010

Turnovers, lack of offense dooms WVU in 23-7 loss

ORLANDO, Fla. — After West Virginia’s fumbling, bumbling performance in losing to North Carolina State, 23-7, in the Champs Sports Bowl on Tuesday night, athletic director Oliver Luck may be bringing Dana Holgorsen into Morgantown on the bullet train following his final game at Oklahoma State.

The Mountaineers gift-wrapped this bowl victory for the Wolfpack, just as they had their losses to Syracuse, Connecticut and LSU earlier this year, turning the ball over five times in the second half, four times on fumbles as they completed a third-straight 9-4 season under Bill Stewart.

Holgorsen, of course, is the inventive mind tapped by Luck to  run the offense next year as coach-in-waiting to Stewart … although it is fair to wonder just how long Luck is willing to wait for the coach-in-waiting.

And, it appears, that Holgorsen may show up and have no quarterback to run his offense for, word leaked out after the game that quarterback Geno Smith is almost certainly going to need surgery on the left foot that kept out of all contact work this past spring.

If that is the case, Holgorsen’s installation of his offense could be slowed. And to make matters worse, there is no backup quarterback as Jeremy Johnson left the team earlier this year and Barry Brunetti, another highly regarded freshman, was to leave after this game.

Smith, despite the foot problem that has plagued him all season, had a strong game, completing 22 of 39 passes for 196 yards and a touchdown while rushing for 59 yards, but he wound up taking part in the turnover game, fumbling on one of the five N.C. State sacks, and throwing an interception, although it was one of those interceptions where you tip your cap to the defender, Brandan Bishop, who made a spectacular play.

The game was hardly a highlight reel for the two top WVU seniors, Noel Devine and Jock Sanders.

Devine did break off a 28-yard run on his final carry as a Mountaineer but he fumbled at the end of it, to put an end an injury-plagued senior season in which he failed to gain 1,000 yards.

So it was that Devine came full cycle this year.

Before the season he said “The only thing that can beat us is if we turn the ball over.”

And after this loss it was him uttering the same words, “The only thing that can beat us is if we turn the ball over.”

It was the same message Stewart had following the game.

“I said life is going to be bumps and bruises along the way. When you turn the football over, bad things usually happen. I’ll let it go at that,” he said.

And then there was Sanders, who caught five passes for 58 yards and ran a kickoff back 60 yards, but who fumbled a fair catch at his own 7, setting up the touchdown that buried the Mountaineers.

While the world was crumbling on them offensively, N.C. State quarterback Russell Wilson was making just enough plays to keep the defense on its heels. Oh, he was sacked five times, Bruce Irvin getting him twice to give him 12 for the year, but Wilson complete 28 of 45 passes for 275 yards and two touchdowns.

He was not intercepted, but should have been when he threw one right into safety Sidney Glover’s belly that he could not hold onto. That came one play after Bishop had made his diving interception in front of Sanders on a perfect pass from Smith that would have been a TD.

“I feel like I made a decent throw but their guy made a great play,” Smith said.

N.C. State scored first with an 86-yard drive that culminated with a 16-yard pass from Wilson to Mustafa Greene, a TD that was matched in the second quarter on a 32-yard pass from Smith to Steadman Bailey, who made a spectacular catch.

It would be all the points the Mountaineers would score, Tyler Bitancurt continuing his placekicking slump by missing twice, making him 2 for 7 this year on field goals of 40 or more yards.

N.C. State took the lead on Josh Czajowski’s first of three field goals before halftime, then took advantage of turnover heaven in the second half to put the game away while the Mountaineers couldn’t get out of the way of themselves.

THE NOTEBOOK: WVU running back Noel Devine, who now must begin selling himself as a top NFL prospect, has accepted an invitation to play in the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala., on Jan. 29  ... Coach Bill Stewart allowed senior Pat Lazear to start at middle linebacker in his final game ... With Brandon Hogan out for the game with a knee injury, wide receiver J.D. Woods was in dual safety on punts with Jock Sanders … Devine finished his career as the Mountaineers third leading career rusher behind Avon Cobourne and Patrick White and as the leader in all-purpose yards … Jock Sanders set the school record for catches in consecutive games as he caught five passes to give him 41 games in a row … The academic casualties hurt the Mountaineers, especially center Joey Madsen being gone as there were a number of bad snaps … Offensive coordinator Jeff Mullen, coaching his final game, did not meet with the media after the game.

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

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