Mountaineer Gameday: Cook starting to make difference for No. 24 WVU
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- Darwin Cook spent a bit of time in the end zone last Saturday, which would have been a good thing for No. 24 West Virginia if he were a running back or receiver or the "R" in Rutgers.
Cook is but a safety for the Mountaineers, and his presence in a place the opposition has visited far, far too frequently lately is as big a problem as it sounds.
Yet Cook being in the end zone ended up being the difference in the 41-31 win against the Scarlet Knights.
It was the sophomore from Cleveland who broke up the pass on the failed fake field goal attempt in the fourth quarter. If Cook isn't in the end zone, if he's a step too slow or one stride too far left or too far right, Rutgers completes the pass and goes up 38-28.
Cook was in the end zone and in line to make the play, though. He gave WVU the ball to start a drive that ended 11 plays and 89 yards later with quarterback Geno Smiths' 1-yard touchdown run on a fourth down that again went the right way for the Mountaineers.
It was the play he made that had everyone talking afterward.
"It was a good call," Cook said. "It almost worked."
It did not and that's why the Mountaineers (6-2, 2-1 Big East) are in a far better mood as they play host to Louisville (4-4, 2-1) at noon Saturday (Big East Network telecast).
Rutgers Coach Greg Schiano has pulled some special team tricks in his career and what he tried to do to the Mountaineers seemed right up his alley. Yet it was flawed play, beginning with the backup holder, reserve defensive back, throwing the pass for the Scarlet Knights.
His target was a receiver that the Daily Record, the newspaper in Parsippany, N.J., described as one who "has four catches and at least that many drops this season." Brandon Coleman is also 6 feet 6 and should have given Patrick Kivlehan something easy to aim at.
The voice screamed in Schiano's headset, "We got it!" From the coach's box above the field, it looked like an easy score, but the pass developed slowly, the throw was low and Cook made the play.
"I didn't see the ball," Cook said. "I looped around the end and when I looped around I saw the holder pick up the ball and I saw someone slip into the flat."
Cook knew something was going on, so he stopped briefly.
"I know they're not going to throw it in the flat," he thought.
Cook spun around and "saw a dude wide open."
Cook then did what Cook tends to do. He ran around and made something happen. He locked his eyes on Coleman's and waited for Coleman to raise his arms to let Cook know the ball was coming. Then Cook could pounce and avoid a pass interference penalty.
If things got desperate, Cook would just tackle Coleman.
"Rather have a flag than a touchdown," he said.
Cook chased Coleman and never saw the arms go up. He saw Coleman reach out to his side for the ball and Cook tackled Coleman and did what he could do make sure the ball never got to Coleman's grasp.
He knew he timed it right. He knew he kept Rutgers from a clinching score that would have rerouted WVU's season. He also knew the officials would throw a flag for pass interference. That play was too important, he thought.
"As soon as I got up I looked around," he said. "I didn't see anything, but I was still thinking about that dropped pick."
Cook had been in the same end zone in the first quarter. The Mountaineers were in a coverage that left him without anyone to cover or anything to do except help a teammate. He slipped inside a receiver and had a pass bounce off his facemask.
Moments later, Rutgers threw a touchdown pass. When the defense got together to watch the film, take a guess which play got more attention.
"The pick," he said. "They slowed it down, before it even got to me. They showed it like five times."
Cook was mad only at himself. He said he should have caught the ball before it slipped through his hands.
"It wasn't that hard," he said. "It was terrible. I was helping on another player and when I turned around, the ball was right on me. It was terrible."
Those seven points scored were looking like the difference until Cook kept seven points off the board. Then again, that's kind of like Cook. Sooner or later the 5-11, 205-pound former high school defensive end is going to do something.
"I've been noticing that since the spring," senior cornerback Keith Tandy said. "He was young and still making mistakes here and there, but I kept telling him, 'Keep your head up and keep flying around and you'll eventually make a play.' "
Cook leads the team with 54 tackles. He made 11 against Rutgers in the snow.
"Felt horrible," he said. "Horrible. I've been getting beat up all year. Concussion. Leg. Arm. There can't be anything else left."
A moment later, Cook was jumping out of his seat. He had a device on his right arm that sends a low current to stimulate and heal his elbow. It goofed up and sent a shock to his left pocket, where he was keeping the control.
Now there's nothing else left.