The Times West Virginian

November 6, 2011

Special teams woes doom WVU, lead to home loss

By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian

MORGANTOWN — VIDEO: West Virginia vs Louisville football

Somewhere the sun is shining

Somewhere the sky is blue

Somewhere the silver lining is shining for me and you


— “Somewhere the Sun is Shining,” lyrics by Jason Harwell



It was a dark and dreary sunlit day at Milan Puskar Stadium Saturday, a day sick in disbelief and sicker still in the way West Virginia University lost another football game.

The story the scoreboard told was 38-35 in favor of Louisville over the West Virginia Mountaineers, a story that left WVU 2-2 in the Big East Conference.

But that was not the story at all.

“We lost the turnover battle, couldn’t punt and couldn’t kick. It’s pretty easy to figure out what happened,” coach Dana Holgorsen said.

That is saying a mouthful.

And it doesn’t tell half the story.

This is another of those games West Virginia coulda and shoulda won, but didn’t, and it had no one to blame but itself, not even Louisville, which now is 5-4 overall and 3-1 in the Big East. WVU fell to 6-3 and 2-2 in the Big East.

Oh, Louisville played a good game, better offensively than anyone expected. It unveiled a freshman quarterback in Teddy Bridgewater who is going to be a star for the next four years, hitting 21 of 27 passes for 246 yards and making some spectacular plays while under pressure.

But Louisville doesn’t win the game if WVU has any clue on how to kick the ball.

A week earlier, at Rutgers, punter Michael Molinari was a key element of the victory with some spectacular punting.

For all intents and purposes, WVU’s season-long punting problems seemed solved.

So what does he do as Louisville pressures him? Gets off consecutive punts of 12 and 11 yards. The 12-yard punt did not hurt WVU other than in field position. The 11-yard punt wound up in a Louisville touchdown that tied the game at 21.

“When you shank two punts and it doesn’t flip the field and puts us in a bad situation, you still have to go out and play defense,” Holgorsen said.

That, obviously, was costly, but that gets multiplied a hundred fold by the trials and tribulations of placekicker Tyler Bitancurt, who missed one field goal of 32 yards and had another blocked and returned for a touchdown from the Louisville 6.

This is the same Tyler Bitancurt who three weeks back was nominated as a semifinalist for the Lou Groza Award, presented to the best placekicker in the nation. Since then he has missed two extra points, a 32-yard field goal and had another blocked and returned for a touchdown.

Suffice it to say he need not clear out space in his trophy case for the award.

“When you move down the field and are in position to knock the ball through and you have to make it, you do the job up front,” Holgorsen said. “That’s a 10-point swing. It’s obvious to figure out what the difference in the game was.”

This killer of a play came on the first play of the fourth quarter, WVU trailing, 24-21, but sitting on the Louisville 6 with fourth and two, about to tie the score. Defensive back Adrian Bushell came roaring around from the right side, laid out in front of Bitancurt and knocked the ball sideways.

There to scoop it up was fleet defensive back Andrew Johnson at the 18-yard line, and he ran 82 yards for the touchdown, entering the end zone blowing kisses to the WVU cheerleaders, a display that got Louisville a 15-yard penalty on a play that changed the game.

The day turned dark, right there.



Somewhere the sun is shining —

Somewhere the sky is blue

Somewhere the silver lining — is shining for me

Shining for me, shining for me and you

 

The Mountaineers tried to come back. They scored touchdowns the last two times they possessed the ball, but “Teddy Ball Game” was too much for them at quarterback for Louisville.

The final drive for the Cardinals covered 66 yards in 13 plays with Bridgewater engineering it masterfully, perhaps saving the game as he avoided WVU’s heavy rush on a third-and-7 play, moving here and there before finding DeVante Parker for 11 yards and a first down.

While it was more important, it wasn’t quite as spectacular a play as he made toward the end of the first half, scrambling again, somehow finding a way while in the grasp of underhanding the ball left-handed to Victor Anderson for nine yards to the WVU 4.

Louisville scored a touchdown on the next play, Bridgewater hitting Eli Rodgers to go into the locker room tied at 21-21.

West Virginia won the statistical battle, Geno Smith completing 31 of 44 passes for 410 yards and three touchdowns. Eight of his passes were to Stedman Bailey, who surpassed 100 yards for the sixth time in the past seven games with 118 and turned a number of spectacular catches, two for touchdowns.

But it mattered not, for the day was dark and the mood sour.

“We didn’t play well enough,” Smith said. “You can say there were positive things and negative things, but what it comes down to is we didn’t play well enough to win.”

Email Bob Hertzel at bhertzel@hotmail.com. Follow on Twitter @bhertzel.