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November 29, 2011

FURFARI COLUMN - WVU outcoached Pitt staff for 21-20 win

MORGANTOWN — West Virginia clearly outcoached old rival Pitt in the second half of the 104th edition of the Backyard Brawl.

That had to be the case if the 22nd-ranked Mountaineers (8-3, 4-2 Big East) were to eke out a 21-20 victory over the underdog Panthers (5-6, 3-3 last Friday night.

Trailing by 17-7 and being outplayed halfway down 1-79 at half time, WVU’s coaching staff made significant changes or adjustments and the defense started to perform a whole lot better.

The Mountaineers, after a poor start rushing, finally began moving the ball in the third quarter. They finished the game on a net 110 yards rushing and two touchdowns.

Quarterback Geno Smith, who was sacked three times in the first half, got better protection and was sacked just once more. So he wound up breaking all passing records for a single season.

Give the coaches credit, though.

Head coach Dana Holgorsen and his offensive staff decided to change the right side of the line.

Curtis Feigt was inserted at tackle and Quinton Spain took over at guard for the second half. Neither had seen much action previously.

But both second-stringers made a notable difference in the offensive line. They helped get both the passing and rushing game become more productive.

Holgorsen said sometimes you don’t know how a guy might react until you put him in the game.

While I absolutely agree with that, I can’t help but wonder why it takes 10 ½ games to find out.

This year’s West Virginia team still has not achieved any positive consistency in 2011. And the season is just about over.

Think back on those games that the Mountaineers made second-half rallies to win, just as they did before 60,932 fans Friday night at the Mountaineer Field/Milan Puskar Stadium.

Returning Corey Smith as the punter was another masterful move in what may be the last WVU-Pitt game. He averaged 57.2 yards on four punts.

Obviously, that was part of the second-half game-saving efforts, so were the efforts of receivers Stedman Bailey and Tavon Austin.

Both have more than 1,000 receiving yards each a combined school “first. Keep in mind that Holgorsen is in his first year as a head coach and that many of the assistants are newcomers to WVU.

Hopefully, they can lead them the team to victory on Thursday night at South Florida and capture at least a share of the Big East championship. WVU must take care of business then wait a couple of days to see how the race turns out.

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