WVU football: Confidence continues to rise for Mountaineers
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- The West Virginia football team ended Saturday night pretty much the same way it started it at Texas Memorial Stadium.
"We had to drag guys off the field in warm-ups," WVU Coach Dana Holgorsen said. "They wanted to get out there and play."
In between the pre-game preparation and the post-game celebration, the Mountaineers didn't act much differently. Inside a stadium that never had a crowd as big as the 101,851 that watched WVU's 48-45 win, the Mountaineers soared above the decibel level on a spirit that landed them in the top five for the first time since 2007.
"I've said this before, but what's cool about this team is our guys don't care. They just like to go out and play," Holgorsen said. "They're not going to be intimidated by 100,000-some people or a storied program. All due respect to Texas - it's a phenomenal program, Mack Brown is a phenomenal coach, their guys are really good and they play really hard - but our guys don't care."
WVU (5-0, 2-0) takes a steadying certainty and a commanding confidence into Saturday's 3:30 p.m. game (WCHS) at Texas Tech (4-1, 1-1).
The Red Raiders aren't as steeped in tradition, and though Jones AT&T Stadium set an attendance record last week, it was for more than 40,000 fewer fans than what WVU just saw.
It doesn't matter to the Mountaineers. Winners of nine straight games, they seek their first 6-0 start since 2006 and first 3-0 conference start since 2008 to further cement their status as a national contender.
"We've got the right type of leadership on this team," senior quarterback Geno Smith said. "Guys are not going to be complacent. They're not going to settle for this one win. We're not just happy coming away with a three-point victory. We're on a roll and we want to continue to get better."
The opponent and the environment at Texas provided sizeable hurdles in WVU's first season in the Big 12, to say nothing of first road trip in the new conference, but those were cleared and many concerns were removed.
The remaining games against conference contenders Kansas State and Oklahoma are at Mountaineer Field.
"This is a confidence boost and we needed it," cornerback Pat Miller said. "Texas is a great team. You can't take anything away from them. They gave us their best. They gave us everything they had.
"We know we can play with anybody. We go against the best every day in practice and we came out and got the best from Texas. That was Texas. We'd never played a game with 101,000 people before, but we stepped up and there's nowhere to go but up for us."
The Mountaineers were also slow to credit Texas for all the things it did well. Smith lost two fumbles, one for a touchdown in the second quarter and one to set up a potential field goal to tie the game or touchdown to give the Longhorns the lead in the fourth quarter.
WVU avoided a disaster on the second when Texas missed a field goal, but Holgorsen said Texas was lucky, too, when Smith was sacked and fumbled.
"If he would gotten that pass off a half-a-second quicker, a tenth of a second quicker, it would have been about an 80-yard touchdown pass to Stedman Bailey," he said. "We had what we wanted. He had man coverage and he was going to score, but they got there."
In truth, the Mountaineers were confident before all of this, which would explain their trust in themselves and one another and the things they were coached to do. WVU traveled without running back Shawne Alston, who in the two games he'd played managed to outrush all of his replacements in the two games he hadn't played.
WVU gave the ball to Andrew Buie 31 times and he ran for 207 yards and two touchdowns.
The pass was reliable, as well, and a lot of that had to do with Buie's running and how his consistent gains kept Texas from consistently blitzing Smith. He completed 25 of 35 passes for 269 yards and four touchdowns, but also ran a few times, threw away some passes and played perfectly on fourth down with three completions and a quarterback sneak.
"I'm not going to force balls and I'm not going to force the issue," he said. "I'm going to take what you give us. I'm a smart quarterback. I understand defense and I understand how to exploit it."
Never before had a Big 12 opponent put as many points on the Texas scoreboard.
"I feel like our guys are pretty good," Holgorsen said. "I trust them to do what they do."
WVU was not bothered by the crowd. There were no delay of game penalties and the one false start penalty. Players said they had no problems communicating everything they needed to communicate and seemed startled by suggestions they could be bothered by noise.
"I would think if we had plays where Geno had to scream out to the receivers and give us plays or routes, we wouldn't have been able to hear it," Bailey said.
Players enjoyed the scene. Many gabbed with fans throughout the game and the rest seemed at ease, too. When the stadium sound system played House of Pain's "Jump Around" in the second quarter, the Longhorns danced and their fans surged in the stands.
The reaction was different after the second and third times the song was played. WVU's sidelined jumped, too.
"We did a good job playing with a sense of urgency and creating our own energy on the sideline," Holgorsen said. "Those are two things you must have when you play on the road. This week we need to play with the same sense of energy and the same energy on the sideline because it's a road game and not just because of who we're playing."
Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/wvu.