WVU football: Mountaineers not affected by hype, crowd
AUSTIN, Texas - It's true about how it is here, deep in the heart.
There was the biggest crowd in Darrell K Royal-Memorial Stadium history and the biggest crowd to ever witness West Virginia University play football. There was Big Bertha the bass drum and big Bevo the burnt orange steer.
It was WVU's big Big 12 opener against the second-winningest college football program in the nation's sixth-largest stadium situated in the heart of UT's campus.
"I've never seen this place like that," West Virginia Coach Dana Holgorsen said.
This wasn't his first Texas rodeo, of course.
The 100,119-seat structure swayed and shook and the 101,851 fans were in a frenzy, but West Virginia - a touchdown underdog to Texas - beat the odds and lassoed its first road win over a top 10 team since 1982 (at Oklahoma). The Longhorns were No. 11 in the AP poll and No. 9 in the Coaches poll.
The Mountaineers, 48-45 winners, had lost 12 consecutive road games against top 10 teams, but survived to slip into the top 5 in the national polls for the first time since Rich Rodriguez coached his final game with the program, in 2007.
Saturday's win here in the Lone Star State wasn't conventional, but little about this team can be labeled as such.
West Virginia - 5-0 for the first time since 2006 and one of 15 remaining unbeatens - had a field goal blocked, a punt blocked, turned it over twice (a pair of Geno Smith fumbles) and went 5-for-5 on fourth-down conversions while opting to punt just once. Texas (4-1, 1-1 Big 12) had won 58 consecutive games when winning the turnover battle, but a plus-1 margin spoiled that stellar statistic.
WVU's run of futility against large crowds is history. Prior to Saturday, the Mountaineers had lost every game in front of the top 18 crowds that had ever watched them play. Burning the burnt orange fixed that.
Will it fix the perception of this West Virginia team, one that has thrust itself into the national title race conversation under second-year Coach Dana Holgorsen? Isn't defense supposed to win championships?
WVU has given up 108 points (54.0 average) and 1,104 yards in its first two games in the Big 12. It's also generated 1,267 yards of total offense and 118 points, and just piled on the most points on Texas (Colorado, 47 points, 1997 was the previous high) of any Big 12 visitor since the league's 17-year history.
"I don't care what people think, to be honest with you," the WVU head coach said, "I care about what our players think and what our coaches think. What the outside looking in thinks about it doesn't affect what we do.
"I feel better about our team because they came in and overcame a bunch of adversity and they won in a hostile environment on the road."
Holgorsen and offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson leaned on sophomore running back Andrew Buie, who had 35 touches and 281 all-purpose yards. Smith threw for a season-low 268 yards, but didn't hurt his Heisman push with four touchdowns and no interceptions.
It may surprise you to know that the Mountaineers are now 6-0 under Holgorsen when Smith doesn't reach 300 passing yards.
That's a testament to Holgorsen, who has won 15 of his first 18 games as a head coach. He'll adapt to win, even if it means the guru of gunslinging has to keep his sidearm holstered. His willingness to attempt fourth down conversions - on fourth-and-2, 4, 9, 6 and 1 - shouldn't be considered careless or wreckless. WVU averaged 14.4 yards on fourth downs against Texas, including a touchdown.
The fourth-down conversions came on three drives, all of which produced touchdowns rather than a punt or turnover on downs.
Buie became the third 100-yard rusher in Holgorsen's short career. Not coincidentally, Saturday was the third time WVU has attempted more running plays than passes since Holgorsen started putting his fingerprints on this offense. In the 15 other games with more passes than runs, there were no 100-yard rushers.
Holgorsen isn't the stubborn type. If he sees something to exploit, he exploits it. He has more maverick hairs than maverick moments during the flow of the game.
"You never know exactly what (the defense is) going to do," Dawson said, "but they were obviously trying to take away our big play playing two safeties high, which obviously is a hat on a hat inside. We felt like if we could block man on man we could run the ball on them.
"Defenses are going to adjust. If you run the ball well it helps out the pass game. If we see a team and they're going to have a weak box, we've got to run the football."
WVU had 42 runs and 35 passes against Texas. The ratio was 19-to-11 in the second half as adjustments were made and success begat success.
On the defensive side of the ball, however, West Virginia gave up 40-plus points for the second consecutive week, only the fifth time that's happened in program history. The other back-to-back games of at least 40 points allowed - in 1904, 1960, 1978 and 2000 - were all losses.
Holgorsen's team does it differently - perception be damned.
Contact sports editor Chuck McGill at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-7949.