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November 14, 2011

Down to two

WVU’s fate to be decided in coming weeks

MORGANTOWN — And then there were two.

Two more games for West Virginia, tough games, winnable games and losable games. The first is the Backyard Brawl with Pitt on Friday, Nov. 25, at home, game time expected to come out today, then comes a trip to South Florida, a dangerous opponent, especially if a BCS bowl bid is at stake.

It’s been a long, hard year for the Mountaineers as a new coach, Dana Holgorsen, has done a bit of on-the-job training with a team that was rebuilding on defense and learning the ABC’s of modern-football on offense.

That these two games are important is the result of that and, maybe more so, the fact the special teams haven’t learned a whole lot of anything short of how many points you give up when you allow a kick to be returned for a touchdown.

Now, though, things seem to be moving in the right direction, not necessarily on the field where a victory over Cincinnati was a victory for mind over matter.

“We faced adversity all game but we found a way to win,” quarterback Geno Smith said. “I think we have now turned the corner.”

Until this game, maybe since the disappointing loss to LSU at home, the Mountaineers had been a team lacking zest. They were on cruise control when it should have been overdrive.

“Coach talked about having a party on the field, every man being accountable, every man bringing something, and that was what I saw against Cincinnati,” Smith said. “Every guy was rooting for one another. When someone made a play there was high-fiving. That brings a lot of energy to the team. When you make that play it’s almost like pandemonium.”

They were learning not only how to play the system but to do it as a team, from the heroic stars to the scout team.

There was emotion and it was bubbling over, something that really had been lacking a few times over the past month.

It came up whenever there was a dispute with the officials, which seemed to be about every time a beer was sold in Paul Brown Stadium. Geno Smith was extremely vocal in his disagreement with almost everything the officials did, and considering they called 14 penalties on WVU there was a lot for him not to like.

“All year we’ve been getting bad calls and today was one of the worst I can remember. It’s getting out of hand at this point,” Smith said after the game.

It was almost as if the officials were trying to make WVU pay for leaving the conference.

“I can’t speak to that,” he said. “When there’s obvious things that happen, it’s hard to overcome it as a team,” Smith said.

Holgorsen wasn’t exactly thrilled with the officials either, but refused to use what’s gone on as any kind of excuse.

“This is game 10,” he said. “You can call a holding play on every down. We continue to teach the proper technique. It seemed like a lot, but you have to be able to overcome that. Whether we thought it was right or not, we had to overcome that.”

And they did, in part because they were learning how to lean and depend upon each other, both offensively and defensively.

The defense, for example, rose up and banged Cincinnati in part because they weren’t trying to do too much.

Linebacker Najee Goode, for example, had to make a sacrifice to help defensive end Bruce Irvin get into it.

“Bruce was having his way with the tackles, so they told me to let him do his thing and stay off him,” Goode explained.

On the key play of the game, when Cincinnati quarterback Zach Collaros was sacked, fumbled and injured his leg, driving him out of the game, Julian Miller recovered for a touchdown.

 “Bruce went under, I ran right up to him and Bruce jumped right on top of him. He fumbled the ball and Julian Miller got it. I should have got it but Julian did,” Goode said.

The scoreboard read 7 points for West Virginia, not Julian Miller.

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

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