The Times West Virginian

October 30, 2011

HERTZEL COLUMN: ’Eers come through in face of adversity

By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian

MORGANTOWN — Much was made last week about West Virginia University’s season-long flirtation with adversity and the way the team sometimes had found a way to get over it but far too often could not find an escape route.

See, there really is no other way to overcome adversity than to meet it head on and battle it.

Sometimes, though, it’s tough. It is tough when you are coming off a ridiculously bad game, as WVU was against Syracuse, especially the defensive unit.

Then you put in the irritation of a record snowstorm and freezing cold, and you can understand how easy it might be to give up when things go wrong. How many of you have faced hard times, trying times, and think how it was made worse by a crying baby or a fight with the husband or wife, or a car that needed repair?

Certainly, West Virginia’s defense was looking at adversity. As they headed into the warmth of the locker room on a day not fit for man or beast, they had allowed 31 points to Rutgers. In the six quarters leading up to the 31-21 halftime deficit that they faced, they had surrendered 664 yards and 73 points, and offenses had converted 16 of 26 third downs against them.

Oh, have we mentioned that another irritating factor might have been that as they went to halftime the Mountaineer offense was 0-for-7 on third downs in the game?

Not long before kickoff, head coach Dana Holgorsen had admitted he expected to see adversity, just as he had in every game this season.

“Adversity is going to hit in every game. When it does, I’m anxious to see how we react to it,” he said.

“When adversity hits, when you don’t make a play, what are you going to do? Shut it down or play even harder?”

He felt that at Syracuse it had been the former, so when halftime came and the defense had its back against the wall, he made sure that he offered what he termed as “choice words” to set the situation straight.

Some of the words, Holgorsen would admit, were not meant for consumption outside a locker room.

And he wasn’t alone. There were some players, some team leaders, offering their own choice words.

Finally, there was defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel who had so much to say at halftime and during the game, none of it in a whisper, that his voice was hoarse and raspy after the contest.

His attitude was somewhat better, however, considering that the defense had gone from giving up 31 first-half points to a large zero in the second half, shutting the door on the Rutgers’ offense so completely that it could gain only 138 yards.

What’s more, it took the ball away four times and what that did was send the adversity into the opposing locker room after the game, Rutgers left to wonder if anyone had gotten the license number of the snow plow that had just hit it.

This is not to say in any respect that Casteel is content with what he’s seen from his defense.

Au contraire.

“You are not making any progress when you have to fight out of a 31-point half,” Casteel said. “This is the eighth game of the year. That’s frustrating. We should be getting better.”

The kids, as Casteel calls his players, have been frustrated by their play.

You might say they are facing constant adversity, which makes what they did in the second half that much more meaningful.

“Hats off to the kids to hang in there and not throw in the towel,” Casteel said. “That’s hard to do. They were disappointed at the half. They did what they needed to do to win the game.”

The entire team understood how important it was to look that 10-point halftime deficit in the eye and overcome it, and that includes the game’s star, running back Shawne Alston, who rushed on the bad footing for 109 yards and scored twice.

“We faced adversity. When you face it and overcome it, it brings everyone together. When you face it again, you will be able to overcome it again,” Alston said.

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