Shaq Petteway (36) made 10 tackles to spearhead WVU’s best defensive effort in seven weeks. But it wasn’t enough as TCU won 39-38 in double-overtime. (Joe Sadlek/All-Pro Photography)
Examining the ups and downs, the dividends and downticks, from West Virginia’s 39-38 double-overtime loss to TCU:
With TCU frequently dropping seven and sometimes eight defenders into coverage, Geno Smith was contained most of the afternoon. He lost patience a couple times, resulting in one dreadful interception thrown deep into double coverage (which led to a Frogs TD and some sideline lividity from coach Dana Holgorsen). Another would-be interception became a 22-yard TD catch thanks to J.D. Woods climbing around TCU safety Elisha Olabode.
Hurt by five drops, Smith finished 32-of-54 for 260 yards. His longest completion was a 43-yard jet-sweep handoff to Tavon Austin, who made a dazzling cut across the field.
Smith was particularly ineffective in the second half, when his 10 completions netted only 55 yards. With the score tied at 24-all and six minutes left in the fourth quarter, he swung an errant flair pass toward Andrew Buie that should have gone for a huge pickup.
Smith’s impatience (or Holgorsen’s, depending on whether it was play-call dictated) resurfaced with WVU attempting to move into kicking range at the end of regulation. Despite having Travares Copeland open on a crossing route underneath, Smith tried for the homerun pass to Woods, who was closely covered. The inability to pick up a few comfort yards preceded Tyler Bitancurt coming up short on a 55-yard attempt.
Smith’s third and final touchdown pass was a 25-yarder to Stedman Bailey on the first play of double-overtime.
After a third consecutive loss, Smith vowed not to be rattled by “the media or reporters or whoever is going to say we suck now or ‘Geno Smth is a terrible quarterback,’ or ‘West Virginia’s an overrated team.’ All of that stuff is going to come out, if it hasn’t already. I’m not going to let that get into my mind or into my head. I’m not going to let any of that get to me because at the end of the day it’s about winning and losing a game.”
Running backs (DOWN)
Shawne Alston didn’t appear to fully healed after missing six games with a deep thigh bruise, but his return drew a big cheer in the first quarter. He closed the game with 16 yards and a fourth-and-short TD run on seven carries.
Buie had an adequate day, rushing for 40 yards on 10 carries and adding six catches for 24 yards. (He also contributed a knockdown block on Austin’s long TD catch-and-run.) His bullish, pile-moving 13-yard run in the final minute of regulation was WVU’s
Dustin Garrison netted only 16 yards on six carries, and was stuffed on a third-and-1 near midfield when he made a poor decision to bounce outside.
Austin, WVU’s only slump-proof performer, made 11 receptions for 101 yards. And the shiftiness he showed on his aforementioned jet sweep was something to behold.
Woods was productive after a couple disappointing games, catching five passes for 56 yards and a score.
Copeland, a true freshman making his second start, caught six passes for 40 yards, but he had back-to-back drops that stalled a second-quarter drive near midfield. (On the first pass, he pulled up on an inside curl route with TCU linebacker David Stoltzman bearing down. On the ensuing play, Copeland found a gap in TCU’s Cover 2 only to miss Smith’s on-target sideline pas.)
Stedman Bailey had one catch for 5 yards at the end of regulation, by which time he also had two drops. He displayed alligator arms on a inside route with 15 seconds left in the half, with WVU tried to move into field-goal distance. Bitancurt ultimately missed from 50 yards.
Offensive line (DOWN)
Not since the Week 3 Maryland game had WVU’s run blocking struggled this much. But you’ll recall the Terps disrupted things with run blitzes, whereas TCU held its own without devoting extra defenders to the box.
Smith suggested the lack of a running game is really hurting the offense’s rhythm: “Teams are disrespecting our running game. They are totally disregarding it and putting one linebacker in the box against our sets.”
The Mountaineers averaged a meager 2.2 yards per rush. That statistic was bolstered by Smith’s effective scrambling, as TCU’s lone sack belies the frequent pressure generated by the Frogs’ front four.
“(TCU) whipped us up front,” Holgorsen said. “They tackled a lot better than we blocked. The O-line played bad.”
No sequence better exemplified Holgorsen’s frustration than WVU’s second series of the third quarter. After a 9-yard run by Garrison out to the 39-yard line, the Mountaineers twice failed to pick up the yard needed for a first down. As Holgorsen ripped into his linemen, WVU’s punt team surrendered a special-teams score on a mishandled snap.
The search for consistency at right tackle continues, as offensive line coach Bill Bedenbaugh tried his third starter in as many games. This week it was Curtis Feigt’s turn, and the junior had his hands full in pass protection, particularly against TCU defensive end Stansly Maponga, who returned from a foot injury. Maponga out-quicked Feigt to force a Geno Smith fumble and had two other QB hurries. Feigt also allowed a sack to Jon Koontz that was negated by a holding flag in the TCU secondary.
It will be intriguing to see whether Feigt retains the starting job for a second week, or if Bedenbaugh goes back to Nick Kindler or Pat Eger.
Right guard Josh Jenkins was beaten inside by defensive tackle David Johnon for a sack, and also drew an unnecessary roughness flag following Smith’s interception.
Though left tackle Quinton Spain mostly stalemated Big 12 sack leader Devonte Fields in pass protection, Spain was flagged for one holding penalty.
Defensive Line (UP)
The unit’s finest effort of the season didn’t happen by coincidence. Nose tackle Shaq Rowell said Holgorsen was more interactive with the defense in the two weeks since the Kansas State loss, and the front helped generate waves of pressure on TCU’s Trevone Boykin.
“Coach was telling us that we read all these article about how the DBs are getting burnt, and that it wasn’t because of them, it was the because the defensive line wasn’t putting any pressure on (the quarterbacks),” Rowell said. “So we took it upon ourselves today to put pressure on those dudes. And that’s what we did.
“That quarterback got hit about 40 times, and I’m not exaggerating when I say that. … I didn’t think he was going to finish the game.”
Rowell and Jorge Wright were active in the middle, while Will Clarke played well at defensive end after being limited the last two games by a knee injury
Redshirt freshman Kyle Rose spelled Wright throughout the day and enjoyed his best game with two big pops on Boykin and four tackles. (His backside takedown of TCU running back Matthew Tucker on second-and-goal from the 4 in the third quarter forced TCU to throw on third down, resulting in an interception.)
Reserve defensive end Dozie Ezemma was a force on passing downs, pressuring Boykin five times. He’ll likely become a fixture on WVU’s long-yardage packages, helping bring pressure opposite Buck linebacker Josh Francis.
Despite the unit’s improved productivity, Rowell wasn’t satisfied with the end result. “We gave all we had on defense today and it wasn’t enough. Being 5-3 sucks right now,” he said. “I’m not used to losing, and these guys on this team are not used to losing. This is a disgrace for West Virginia right now.”
“We gave all we had on defense today and it wasn’t enough. Being 5-3 sucks right now. I’m not used to losing, and these guys on this team are not used to losing. This is a disgrace for West Virginia right now.”
— Shaq Rowell
Francis returned to his disruptive ways, registering 1.5 sacks and 3.5 tackles for loss. One of those was big thud on running back B.J. Catalon as TCU settled for the game-tying kick early in the fourth quarter. (Later on, during the second overtime, TCU took advantage of Francis’ aggression on Brandon Carter’s wide-receiver reverse pass.).
Sophomore Shaq Petteway was the surprise standout, making a team-high 10 tackles, 1.5 sacks and breaking up a pass.
Isaiah Bruce gave his typical solid effort, despite whiffing on a couple open-field tackles against Boykin, who has running back moves. Bruce made nine tackles and caught his first career interception when Boykin mistakenly hit him between the numbers at the goal line in the third quarter.
Terence Garvin made four stops and was effective in pass coverage, while Jared Barber also had four tackles and pounced on a TCU fumble in the third quarter.
The coaches weren’t just giving lip-service to the prospect of bye-week personnel changes. Converted safety Ishmael Banks made his first start at cornerback and converted cornerback Cecil Level made his first start at boundary safety (replacing Darwin Cook, who did not see action according to the participation chart).
For most of the game, Banks (four tackles) and Level (five tackles and a forced fumble) were notable improvements. For most of the game …
But on a gaffe that will live in infamy, the two combined to allow a 94-yard touchdown game-tying touchdown pass to Josh Boyce with 1:28 left in regulation. As the play unfolded, Banks bumped Boyce to the sideline and then let the receiver run past. Level never arrived with the deep help, and both DBs were sucked up toward the line when Boykin scrambled out of his end zone. The rest of the play was the kind of nightmare we’ve grown to expect from this defense: Boykin finding the wide-open Boyce at the 40 and the receiver outrunning Level and free safety Karl Joseph to the end zone.
“We just weren’t communicating with each other — that’s about it,” Level said. “I was just shocked that (Boyce) was open.”
Brodrick Jenkins, a six-game starter at cornerback who returned from knee surgery to back up Banks, was beaten badly by Boyce on a 31-yard touchdown in the second quarter. (Jenkins appeared to be peeking at multiple play-action fakes in the TCU backfield.) At the other cornerback spot, Pat Miller struggled at time with his usual bugaboo — giving big cushions to receivers. That was the case on TCU’s game-deciding two-point try in double-overtime, a play on which Boyce motioned toward Miller’s side and caught the winning pass 2 yards deep in the end zone.
Joseph made nine tackles to continue his promising freshman season — though he has yet to deliver the type of cover-up plays in pass coverage that more veteran safeties do.
Special teams (DOWN)
Sure, Austin returned a punt 76 yards for a fourth-quarter score, but a litany of foul-ups proved costly.
While Tyler Bitancurt punted eight times for a 39.5-yard average (and a 38.6 net), it was the punt he didn’t make that was glaring. He bobbled an ankle-high snap from John DePalma and, amid the ensuing panic, had the ball knocked free, leading to an easy 15-yard touchdown return for TCU’s Dominic Merka.
Bitancurt’s 1-of-5 day on field-goals was misleading, considering he made a career-best 52-yarder and missed low-percentage tries from 50 and 55. It’s harder to excuse the 43-yarder he pushed wide right in the third quarter, but Bitancurt had no shot on his 36-yarder that was blocked in the first overtime period. TCU’s Jason Verrett came off the right edge untouched to knock down what could have been the game-winning kick.
West Virginia’s coverage units played soundly, highlighted by Joseph making two perfectly timed hits — one leading to a fumble — on Frogs punt returner Skye Dawson. Nick Kwiatkoski made two jarring tackles in kick coverage.
“Special teams, I thought, played well other than the people that were snapping and kicking,” Holgorsen said. “Other than that, I thought we played well on special teams … but our snappers and kickers kind of let us down tonight.”
The defense played well for long stretches, forcing nine punts and seven three-and-outs. But remember, the Mountaineers still yielded 32 points and 405 yards at home against the Big 12′s youngest offense,which was led by a redshirt freshman quarterback.
For a third consecutive game, Holgorsen described the offensive output as “unacceptable,” and WVU’s 6-of-22 conversion rate on third downs reinforces that. The regression of Smith and the offensive line is particularly puzzling, and it leaves Holgorsen facing the first crisis of his head-coaching career.
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