MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — There was shame in the distance, humiliation on the horizon and mortification taking hold in the mountains.

Forget the spiking frequency with which FCS teams have begun kneecapping the BCS big boys—five times this very weekend, in fact. And realize that these upsets become topical only because they’re not supposed to happen.

What nearly happened to West Virginia at the under-resourced hands of William & Mary would have made the Pinstripe Bowl feel downright encouraging. Drop this game inexplicably to a lower-level squad and eight months of personnel upgrades and pride installations would have been dynamited into the exosphere.

Fortunately for the Mountaineers, there is a slim line between ravage and reprieve, a line that Saturday arched 69 yards from the shoulder of Paul Millard to the hands of Ronald Carswell. Their deep-post hookup late in the third quarter leveled the score and re-energized the heavy favorites at a time when panic was creeping into relevance.

MORE MOUNTAINEERS: Defense pitches second-half shutout.

And while Millard-to-Carswell potentially saved WVU from the Labor Day losers’ club of Kansas State, Oregon State, UConn and South Florida, it was the previous play—a seemingly innocuous 4-yard slant to Carswell—that had offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson convinced to strike deep.

“I knew it was six points right then, the play before,” he said. “Because we had them set up.”

Set up by a running game that, according to head coach Dana Holgorsen, finally had William & Mary’s safeties engaged after more than 40 minutes of action.

“Seeing as how we were running the ball like 80-percent of the time,” Holgorsen said almost in self-mockery, “if I was them, I would have probably screwed those safeties down as well.”
In the coaches’ booth upstairs, Dawson recognized WVU “had a little bit of a bead on that certain formation” and how the Tribe would defend it more tightly than others.

Starving for an explosive play as much as his boss, Dawson only hoped his guys could execute: “I just knew if we could throw and catch, we’d have it.”

MORE MOUNTAINEERS: Video from Saturday’s win and postgame

Millard, the kid who learned only the night before that he would make his first college start, had no qualms about the throwing part of the equation. He knew the heavy package would entice the safeties toward the line, and he knew Carswell has the wheels to capitalize. Millard only hoped to be more accurate than he was on an earlier deep pass that floated too long for Ivan McCartney.

The quarterback’s self-instruction while awaiting the snap? “Make sure I don’t overthrow the guy. I knew the play was probably going to be good, because it was everything we wanted. I just wanted to give Ronnie a catchable ball.”

On the other end, Carswell needed to beat cornerback Jesse McNeal to the middle, which he did easily, and the junior college transfer appearing in his first Division I game angled across the vacated field, tracking Millard’s bomb in stride.

“I was excited to see (Carswell) in there because he’s got juice—he can run,” said Holgorsen. “KJ (Myers) and Ivan are physical and they’re going to get their hands on people and make great possession catches, but they can’t run like Ronnie can. So it was time for him to get in there and get behind (the secondary), and he did.”

The juice was loose for West Virginia, and loose, mind you, at a time when the prospect of an embarrassing upset was about to turn tight. The aftershock of a close call like Saturday’s 24-17 win is minuscule compared to what Virginia Tech endures three years after its lost afternoon against James Madison.

“We’ll probably get more out of that win than we would have if it was easy,” Dawson said. “Because we got to see people perform when we were getting beat, perform when it was tough.”

MORE MOUNTAINEERS: Why WVU was so run-heavy Saturday.
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  • Magic Mike

    It is going to be a looooooooooooong season. Oh and Rich Rod is winning at his school.

  • joe

    I am a die hard mountaineer fan. I always have been. I have to say the comments on this page makes me sick.Win or loose as a mountaineer fan I will always hold my head high. I cant believe the comments I read on this website. If you truly are a mountaineer fan you should be ashamed of your self.I would love to show the players your comments and lock you guys in the locker room with thees young men. Enough said. "The hills come alive with the sound of old gold and blue thunder"

  • MountainDude

    I wonder if there would be as many 'chicken little' types if Dana would have gone for a score instead of take a knee to end the game?
    31-17 would look a lot better on paper......

  • Jake

    I wish one of our wussy quarterbacks would run the football up the field when it is wide open.... Didn't seem like we play very tough esp on offense...blocking sucked, maybe our players aren't use to doing it ( blocking)and will get better or maybe they need better coaching....gooo eeers

    • bva24

      Paul Millard is a sitting duck back there. I fear for his safety against the non-jayvee high school teams on our schedule.

  • Jason

    The best thing I can say is be patient. It is painful sometimes being a fan and watching the rebuilding years. A lot of teams go through it when they get new coaches and it takes sometimes 3-4 seasons for them to get things in place. Give Holgerson a chance and if he fails then it will be yet another rebuilding period. It was pretty rough for a few years when Rich Rod took over.

  • eliotz

    A few of you should have lived through the late 70's when Cignetti was coach and we played Pitt, Penn St, Va Tech, Maryland, Miami every year and got beat up most of the time. We marched from the Lair across the street to Mountaineer Field every Saturday and enjoyed every game as proud Mountaineers. The best we had to hope for was a win over PITT or Penn St., which was the equivalent to playing for the National Championship since, and almost as often. Looking back, the fans were true, Blue Mountaineers who wanted a real nationally known coach, and some national respect someday. OL was one of us back then. He remembers now and thats why he's built the program as he has. You can bet if Holgs doesn't produce a nationally ranked team this year and again next year, he will be gone. OL won't let us be that WV ever again. Count on it.

  • Jeff

    Easy folks. It was the first game. Granted they looked flat, but the Mountys have many new faces out there. They will have to come together and grow as a team. Unfortunately for them, the Okeys are up next. Guess they had better grow up very fast. Anyway, this may not be a Orange Bowl year, but those young men need us (true fans) out there every weekend cheering them on. They have all heard multiple about how the State of WV considers the Mountys our "pro" team of sorts. Go EERS

    • EPR

      I hope we are at least competitive with OU next Saturday. At least make it a game a go blow for blow with them. But my gut tells me the game will be over by half time.

      As soon as they realize the the wvu pass defense is the same as last year, they'll start airing it out and let their RBs save their energy for running out the clock in the 4th quarter.

      47-17 OU with 400+ yards of offense in the passing game alone.

  • big tom

    iwould have rather been invited to the acc... with Clemson. Fsu, unc coming on, va tech, Miami once again looking to become a force, I see the geographical factor certain in play, as well as the competition will be just as good as the acc.
    don't get me wrong, thank god the big12 wanted us, they are a savior, if we were still in the big least, it would be total disaster.
    I see the acc coming on, and if texas and okla don't start picking it up, they will pass us.
    wvu will probably never be a power in the big 12,,, we certainly are at a disadvantage in recruiting, with the closest team we play over 900 miles away ,, moms and dads can't travel to see their sons play,,,,let's face it, we're in the wrong conf.. but the acc told us twice , we don't like your flavor...Louisville is a b etter fit for the b ig 12, we're a better fit for the acc.

  • big tom

    tell Louisville that

  • Mike

    Any coaching staff will tell you that the hardest job they ever have is getting a team motivated to play against a team they are supposed to beat by thirty points or more. The players never listen, don't take the prospect of actually being challenged on the field seriously, and expect to win just by showing up. That is a recipe for disaster, as a number of BCS teams learned this weekend.
    While I agree there is much to be concerned about, I also saw much to be encouraged by, as well. Defensive pursuit of the ball seems much better. Sims is the real deal, no doubt, but much of the yardage he gained was a result of his own talent and desire, with not a whole lot of blocking going on. Special teams have improved about 1000%- a cannon of a punter, a kicker for whom a 55 yard field goal attempt, even though he missed it, is a reasonable decision, great coverage on long punts, very good kickoff coverage with one exception- special teams moved us from our own 3 to midfield in one exchange of possessions. I was happy to see the entire team- not one exception- gather in front of the student section for the singing of "Country Roads". I think the heart of this team is very present. This team may struggle to win six games- may fail to do so- but I still see hope for the future. Oh, and one other thing-
    I don't give a damn what the Big 12 thinks they should have done, or not done. WV was a dominant force in the Big East for many years, while Louisville has enjoyed great success recently. The ACC, football wise, is a joke to the Big 12. As some have pointed out, WV has more BCS bowl game wins- 3- than the entire ACC. WV will do well in the Big 12, in time. If you really want to support a team that wins 7 or 8 games a year while playing absolutely nobody, and going to some unheard of bowl game, become a Marshall fan, They do that very well. That's not meant as a criticism of Marshall; it's just reality. But I'd rather be 0-12 in a genuine first tier quality BCS conference like the Big 12 than a big dog in the ACC, or what's left of the Big East.

  • Rick

    Lighten up, people. Be realistic. I'm pleased with what I saw. Solid if not spectacular performance. I never expected a blowout; we have a young team with new quarterbacks, RBs, WRs, IRs, only 3 seniors on the OL 2-deep and numerous underclassmen on the defensive 2-deep. We were organized and had few penalties. The effort was there. Few blown coverages or assignments ( both long passes setting up WM's TDs were well covered; we stumbled on one and were just beaten by a good player on the other). We fell behind, didn't panic and secured the win. Special teams have a chance to be excellent. Offense didn't show the entire playbook, but moved the ball well for the most part. Defense was solid and adapted well. My only complaints are 1) the stupid uniforms (when did we adopt black as a school color?) ( the majority of the best-rated college uniforms are traditional, classic and clean with few frills) and 2) the crowd needs to stay in the game and do its part. This year will be good to average; next year we should justifiably have higher expectations.
    Which brings me to our always-say-die, pessimistic, sky-is-falling "fans." Do you enjoy being miserable and spreading your venom? Ollie is one of our own and is doing a good job establishing long-range security for the athletic program. Sure, we have some room to complain, but stop with the doomsday scenarios. We're not the richest school, but I venture to say that we get more bang for the buck than just about any major college. You complain about Huggins? He only took us to a Final Four. Holgorsen is a young head coach that finally has his chosen staff in place, generates good "buzz" in the media (more important than you think; need to establish/maintain a good reputation), seems to be recruiting well and is a year or two away from establishing a solid winning program in a major conference. After Holgorsen has some big years and leaves you'll be b**ching that he's a traitor for going to a bigger school for more money. The only reason that the Big 12 may regret taking WVU instead of Louisville is that we will be kicking their collective butts regularly in the future.

    • joe

      Thanks rick. You are what a true mountaineer fan should be.

    • EPR

      Cool story bro

  • big tom

    eer fans, keep the faith, this is a very good coaching staff... it' gonna take time,, be patient...dana is an offensive genius, and he's got good coaches on the defense.
    I agree, we may only win 5 games,, this ain't the big least.. get used to big time football,,it will take another two yrs of very good recruiting to match up in the big 12, and that is the big question,,can we successfully recruit against these texas teams,,,,i don't know, but we're gonna see

  • Dale

    Amen! Well said.

  • richard

  • richard

    the team will be okay. but the uniforms are just gaw awful. they are horrible. they are ugly. they are hideous, they are the worst looking in all of college football, they get the drift. next year, go back to the old helmets and uniforms. or at least put some shine and kuster back in them.