The Times West Virginian

November 13, 2011

HERTZEL COLUMN: Big win puts WVU back in BCS picture

By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian

CINCINNATI — The game that wouldn’t end almost didn’t, and when it did, it did so in the most unbelievable of fashions.

The history books will tell you that West Virginia University defeated Cincinnati, 24-21, in as crucial a game as it has played all season.

What it won’t tell you is that there was no way under God’s sun that WVU could win this game, not considering these little items:

• West Virginia rushed the ball for 32 yards. Thirty-two! They did it on 32 carries, an average of 1.0 yards a rush.

• West Virginia had a field goal blocked and missed another field goal. They now have missed four field goals and two extra points on the season.

• West Virginia committed — sit down now for this one — 14 penalties. Fourteen! That’s two shy of the school record. Every offensive lineman but Joey Madsen had one, and he said the only reason he didn’t was “because I have short arms.” Even backup Quinton Spain had a penalty.

All that and they won.

And considering that special teams has been a total disaster this year in every regard, they won it by blocking a field goal as the final buzzer went off. In typical fashion, no one had any idea who blocked it, even in the WVU locker room until safety Eain Smith laid claim to the block.

“My whole hand was red,” he said.

So were the Cincinnati uniforms and their faces, for WVU winning on a blocked field goal ... well, let’s just say it’s the first one the Mountaineers have had since 2004, or when Geno Smith was a sophomore ... in high school.

You know what, though? No one cared what West Virginia didn’t do, not in the WVU locker room.

Ask coach Dana Holgorsen, who suddenly found his team back in the race for a BCS spot, a race they had seemed to slip out of with their second conference loss.

“It’s not as much what we did or didn’t do offensively, and it’s not as much about what we did or didn’t do defensively. It’s not about that. It’s about how much energy we played with,” he said.

This, you see, was about hanging in there, about overcoming adversity, about finding a way to win a game that it had no business winning.

“We faced adversity all game but we found a way to win. I think we have now turned the corner,” quarterback Geno Smith said. “It was that we just wanted it more. We made a lot of mistakes, but the defense won it for us. They were pretty good.”

This was a character win, facing the conference leader in Cincinnati, a team that was 7-1 overall and unbeaten in the conference, that was playing at home and that actually scored the first time it had the ball.

If ever a team had a reason to begin questioning itself right there, if ever caught in a trap, it was WVU.

And you know what, 51 seconds later they were tied, Geno Smith and Stedman Bailey latching up on a 59-yard bomb that was a perfect throw after perfect protection to a man running a perfect route and making a perfect catch.

“Geno didn’t have to say anything,” Bailey said, possessing his seventh 100-plus yard receiving game of the season with 104 yards. “We knew what we had to do. For the most part, just knowing we were down was enough.”

There was little perfect after that, but that got the juices going, juices they had talked about all week.

“Last week we had long conversations as having positive energy. We didn’t talk about x’s and o’s much. We talked about our sideline and their sideline last week (against Louisville), and theirs was more energetic,” Holgorsen said.

And when that first touchdown was scored the sideline erupted, and while the game dragged on endless through 19 penalties and six reviews, the excitement remained, right up until three seconds left and the Mountaineers blocked that 31-yard field goal attempt to tie.

Smith came racing down in front of the red sea of UC fans and taunted them in glee, players leaping upon players.

The only thing that mattered at the moment was the victory, and that is the way it is with winning teams.

Email Bob Hertzel at Follow on Twitter @bhertzel.