WVU football: No. 25 WVU rallies on the road, beats Rutgers
PISCATAWAY, N.J. - Quarterback Geno Smith's first career touchdown run capped a second-half rally and No. 25 West Virginia avoided a second straight season with two straight conference losses by beating Rutgers, 41-31, before 47,303 at High Point Solutions Stadium on a cold, snowy Saturday.
"Very proud of how we played in the second half," Coach Dana Holgorsen said. "We talked all week about adversity and how it happens in every game. We got challenged. At halftime it was a challenging situation for our coaches and our players, but I'm proud of how we went out and played harder than they did."
The Mountaineers survived a scare in the fourth quarter when the Scarlet Knights, ahead 31-28, misfired on a fake field goal and gave WVU the ball at the 11-yard line. Smith led WVU to the Rutgers goal line on 10 plays, including pass plays covering 33 yards to Stedman Bailey and 23 yards to Brad Starks.
On fourth down, Smith kept the ball on a play-action pass call that was supposed to go across the middle to Tyler Urban. Smith ran right and dove across the goal line with 6:18 left to play. The extra point missed wide right.
"That was a situation where you know what you have to do," Smith said. "Everything was covered, so I had to make a play and I think I did a pretty good job with that."
Rutgers quarterback Gary Nova dropped the football in the pocket on a pass play two snaps later and WVU's Julian Miller recovered. Down 31-21 at halftime, the Mountaineers scored two plays later. Smith threw a short pass to Tavon Austin and Austin used blocks from receivers Ivan McCartney, Devon Brown and Bailey to find the left sideline and then the end zone.
"We have great coaches and they stayed on us and never let us doubt ourselves," Smith said. "They never showed doubt and never showed any signs of being afraid we might lose because we were down."
Smith completed 20 of 31 passes for 218 yards and two touchdowns and running back Shawne Alston had a career-high 110 yards and two touchdowns on 14 carries.
Bailey caught a touchdown pass in a third straight game, but had his school-record streak of 100-yard receiving games end after five games. Austin had 96 yards rushing and 67 yards receiving.
WVU's defense, which allowed 31 points and 221 yards in the first half, didn't give up a point after halftime and gave up just 167 yards. Four Rutgers turnovers turned into 14 points.
"I thought our kids did a good job after getting punched in the head a few times," defensive cordinator Jeff Casteel said.
The Mountaineers (6-2, 3-1 Big East) won their 17th straight against the Scarlet Knights (5-3, 2-2). The two have played every year since 1980, though that will likely come to an end next season, when WVU plans to be a part of the Big 12 Conference.
WVU's defense began to contribute in the third quarter. The Mountaineers forced punts on the first two Rutgers possessions of the second half and the offense, which was 0-for-6 on third down in the first half, finally stayed on the field.
Smith rolled left for four yards on third-and-2 and the offense converted another third down before Smith threw to the back of the end zone on the left side to Bailey. Bailey tipped the ball in the air to himself and worked free of his defender before grabbing the ball for a 19-yard touchdown.
Nova was then chased to his right by safety Darwin Cook and threw a pass to the sideline. Cornerback Brodrick Jenkins sneaked in and kept his feet inbounds for an interception at the WVU 44. The offense followed the turnover with a three-and-out and actually managed just Bailey's touchdown and had two three-and-outs in the third quarter despite starting drives at its own 32, 46 and 44.
The Scarlet Knights started the fourth quarter at their own 30 and moved all the way to the WVU 11 and seemed ready to kick a 29-yard field goal for a 34-28 lead. They opted instead for a fake and had WVU fooled. Defensive back Patrick Kivlehan's pass to receiver Brandon Coleman was on the way, but Cook recovered and managed to hit Coleman just as the pass arrived.
"That was a big momentum change," left tackle Don Barclay said. "We had to respond to that. Coach said adversity was going to hit and the defense gave us a bit opportunity. We knew we had to take it down the field and score."
The Mountaineers led 21-17 early in the second quarter, but stumbled into halftime down 31-21.
Rutgers turned the ball over at its 4 and Alston scored his second touchdown of the game two plays later to give WVU the lead. Rutgers then scored touchdowns on back-to-back drives, first going 63 yards in nine plays and converting a fourth down when cornerback Pat Miller was called for his second pass interference penalty of the drive.
Instead of an incomplete pass and a WVU first down at the Rutgers 30, the Scarlet Knights kept the ball and scored three plays later on Jawan Jamison's 1-yard touchdown run.
WVU went three-and-out and the Scarlet Knights went 74 yards in 11 plays and again converted a fourth down. This time Rutgers used two timeouts before Jamison scored on an 18-yard run on fourth-and-1.
Rutgers was 2-for-4 on third down and 2-for-2 on fourth down on those drives and the Mountaineers defense had suddenly allowed 10 touchdowns and a field goal on its last 18 possessions.
The offense had a chance to get points and moved from its 36 to the Rutgers 15 with 40 seconds and two timeouts left. WVU ran the ball on the next two plays and lost four yards and ended up rushing to call a timeout with one second to go. The Mountaineers lined up to kick a 36-yard field goal, but holder Michael Molinari bobbled the snap.
Offenses that struggled in losses last week and combined for five touchdowns and 37 points came together for four touchdowns and 24 points in the first quarter alone in the snow and wind Saturday.
The Scarlet Knights opened the scoring with a 40-yard field goal with a strong wind at its back, but WVU countered with a three-play scoring drive capped by Alston's 52-yard touchdown run. Alston, a junior from Hampton, Va., had fewer yards in nine of the first 11 games of his career.
Rutgers had to punt, but Smith dropped the ball as he stood in the pocket on a pass play. The turnover gave Rutgers the ball at WVU's 11. Cook dropped an interception in the end zone and then 5-foot-10, 200-pound cornerback Keith Tandy bounced off 6-2, 215-pound receiver Mohamed Sanu, who strolled in for a 13-yard touchdown.
"I couldn't wrap him up," Tandy said. "I couldn't feel my hands."
The Mountaineers answered with a play-action fake to the left and then an end around to Austin to the right. That took advantage of the slippery field and the defense's aggressive pursuit to the left when Austin took the run to the right. He sliced through the right side and followed Alston for an 80-yard touchdown and a 14-10 lead.
On back-to-back plays, WVU had more yards and as many touchdowns rushing as it had in six of the first seven games.
Rutgers wasted no time, though, and scored four plays later when linebacker Najee Goode couldn't sack Nova on a blitz and Nova threw deep to receiver Mark Harrison, who was behind Tandy and caught the ball in the end zone for a 45-yard touchdown.
Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/wvu.