WVU football: Defense 'stepped up' for Mountaineers
LANDOVER, Md. -- For the second consecutive week, West Virginia Coach Dana Holgorsen criticized himself for an emotional reaction that led to a questionable decision.
The No. 8 Mountaineers defeated FCS program James Madison on Saturday, 42-12, but gave the Dukes a short field on the first drive of the third quarter.
James Madison trailed 28-3, but found itself at WVU's goal line with a chance to get back in the game.
"Last (game) we should have kicked the field goal," Holgorsen said Saturday. "This time we should have punted it."
In the season-opener against Marshall, the Mountaineers started with two touchdowns before Holgorsen tried to score a touchdown instead of a field goal on fourth-and-goal at the Marshall 3-yard line.
It didn't work and Holgorsen's admittedly "stubborn" call set up Marshall's 98-yard touchdown drive that made the score 13-7.
After scoring touchdowns on the first four drives on Saturday, the Mountaineers followed with a three-and-out and a drive that reached the JMU 40 before the end of the half.
The first drive of the second half met a third-and-1 at the JMU 48, but running back Shawne Alston lost a yard and Holgorsen decided to go for the first down again.
"If you look at what the stats say, once you cross midfield, you're supposed to go for it more often than you'd not go for it," he said. "You've got to be able to get a yard. Our short yardage game, it was third-and-1 and we lost a yard and I got mad again and decided to run another play and see how we'd respond."
Alston ran again and gained a yard, but came up short of the first down as Holgorsen slouched on the sideline. Not everyone was bummed out, though.
"I was excited," safety Darwin Cook said. "I wanted to see what we could do with our backs against the wall. You don't want to see the offense go off the field or anything like that, but I knew it was a great chance for us to grow up and learn."
WVU let Marshall convert three third downs on its 14-play touchdown drive that followed the failed fourth-and-goal. JMU converted a third-and-5 with a 20-yard run as quarterback Justin Thorpe scrambled and escaped. That brought the ball to WVU's 3.
"I felt like it was going to be fun," Cook said. "I wanted to see what this defense could do with some adversity and our backs against the wall. It was good for us because what we were going through, we didn't want anything easy. We had to see who had something in them to step up and make a play."
Safety Karl Joseph combined with nose guard Shaq Rowell to stop running back Jordan Anderson after a two-yard gain. Linebacker Isaiah Bruce, who followed his 16-tackle performance against Marshall with nine against JMU, dropped Anderson for a 2-yard loss. Cook and linebacker Terence Garvin stopped Anderson a yard short of the end zone on third down.
The Dukes called a timeout and ran the same play they used for a 10-yard gain on fourth-and-1 in the second quarter. Thorpe faked a handoff to the fullback and pitched it outside to Anderson. Cook raced to the right sideline, caught Anderson and brought him down as linebacker Doug Rigg arrived to finish the play.
"That was great for us," Rigg said. "You can try to simulate that in practice all you want, but it's different in a game with the fans going crazy and the adrenaline you're feeling."
On the next play, Alston was tackled in the end zone for a safety - his fourth negative-yardage rush of the day after only one against Marshall.
WVU's defense forced a three-and-out with sacks by Garvin and Dozie Ezemma on second and third down. The Mountaineers had one sack against Marshall and one in the first half against JMU, but finished the day with four.
Quarterback Geno Smith then went 6-for-6 for 61 yards and ended the ensuing drive with a 30-yard touchdown pass to Stedman Bailey.
"It was a positive thing for us," Smith said. "We didn't get down and we picked one another up to get to the next play. That's a good sign for us as a team. We had a situation where we weren't moving the ball, but I'm proud of the defense. They stepped up and held them on two goal-line chances. That's a really positive thing for this team."
JMU moved again on its next possession and a 33-yard pass to tight end Brian Barlow and a 15-yard run by Thorpe helped get to the WVU 9 in four plays. Rigg and Cook made tackles on first and second down and a false start penalty moved the ball back to WVU's 6. Thorpe's third-down pass to Arlandis Harvey was deflected into the air as Harvey battled with cornerback Pat Miller. Linebacker Tyler Anderson caught the interception in the end zone for a touchback.
The Mountaineers needed five plays to go 80 yards for their final touchdown.
"That was a great opportunity for our kids to be put in that situation and I'm glad they were put in it so early in the season, so we could teach our kids off of it," defensive coordinator Joe DeForest said. "Our kids got excited to play and it showed."
Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at email@example.com or 304-319-1142 His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/wvu.