MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Dana Holgorsen called it a game “we should have won” and some of his players mistakenly felt they already had.
After transforming an early 13-point deficit into an 11-point third-quarter lead, West Virginia celebrated too soon. And No. 16 Texas Tech responded with closing surge of its own, reeling off the final 21 points in a 37-27 win.
“We thought we had this game,” said receiver Kevin White. “But we didn’t keep the gas on them. We just let off a little bit, and you can’t do that in the Big 12. Those (Texas Tech) guys were good, but I thought we were better.”
Our unit-by-unit evaluation of Saturday’s loss, which dropped the Mountaineers to 3-4 overall and 1-3 in league play:
The most apparent sign Clint Trickett has a better grasp of “putting the ball in play” was his willingness to make more underneath throws. A 41-percent passer coming in, he connected on 27-of-43 for 254 yards and made a sharp read to find Charles Sims on a short TD.
Three times, however, Trickett missed open receivers, including a third-and-4 pass he threw low and left of Ronald Carswell at the marker. That misfire came amid WVU’s string of five fruitless possessions that closed the game.
“When times mattered most, we didn’t play situations as good as we should have—me included,” Trickett said.
Dreamius Smith compiled a career-high 89 yards on 16 carries, showing exceptional vision and cutback ability on scoring runs of 38 and 12 yards.
The junior college transfer’s 5.6 yards per carry was a tick better than the 5.1 of Charles Sims, whose 77-yard day was tempered by his second lost fumble of the season. Sims popped a 16-yard run from his own 1 that was a shoestring tackle away from being a 99-yarder. (Cody Clay’s seal block on the edge sprang it.)
Continuing to be utilized in the passing game, Sims made seven receptions for 32 yards, including a 4-yard touchdown on a sideline catch after going in motion.
Third-string freshman Wendell Smallwood did not have a carry but turned his only catch into a 13-yard gain. Clay also had a 9-yard grab, his seventh of the season.
White’s five-catch 77-yard game warrants an asterisk, considering he drew three 15-yard pass interference flags against Tech’s Olaoluwa Falemi and a holding call against Bruce Jones. His 40-yard leaping reception over 5-foot-10 safety Tanner Jacobson was a key play on WVU’s 99-yard second-quarter scoring drive.
The highest-degree-of-difficulty catch went to Daikiel Shorts, who wrestled down a 22-yard jump ball over Terrance Bullitt. Though Shorts made nine grabs for 78 yards, he also inappropriately broke off a corner route on the infamous fourth-and-14 incompletion (see coaching).
Targeted only three times, Carswell had a single catch for 18 yards. In the fourth quarter, he missed a crucial block on a quick-screen to Shorts that went for no gain.
Mario Alford, after moving from slot to outside receiver, caught one pass on a 15-yard slant and was targeted once more on a deep sideline incompletion into the end zone. He also ran an end around for minus-2 yards as WVU futilely tried to get off the deck in the fourth quarter.
Jordan Thompson (two catches for 12 yards) had a drop in the closing seconds.
After Texas Tech allowed 3.1 yards per rush through six games, WVU averaged 4.7. But the line’s most productive performance of the season took a nosedive after left guard Quinton Spain left with an apparent right leg injury at 1:31 of the third quarter.
“We scared them early, and we were doing things downfield early, so they kept the safeties back a lot in the second half,” Holgorsen said. “We were unable to block man-on-man in the last quarter and a half, which is discouraging, disheartening.”
Asked if Spain’s absence explained the late-game struggles (9 yards on the final six carries), Holgorsen replied: “Probably, but suck it up.”
WVU allowed two sacks, including one in the fourth quarter when left tackle Nick Kindler was beaten off edge by sophomore linebacker Pete Robertson, result in in a Trickett fumble and a 7-yard loss.
WVU wasted a scoring threat early, facing second-and-5 at the Texas Tech 15, when Pat Eger committed a personal foul coming to the aid of Thompson (who was being stood up and popped by defenders). Two plays later, Mark Glowinski hooked a defender on a trap block and drew a holding penalty. That all set up the fourth-and-14 scenario from the 26 (really, see coaching).
Texas Tech’s 3.6 yards per carry was nominal, and right on pace with its season average. But during the final 4:43, when trying to construct a game-clinching drive, Tech ran four straight times for 31 yards and two crucial first downs.
But the real shortcoming Saturday was WVU’s lack of a pass rush—a responsibility the defensive front shares with the linebackers. On 52 drop-backs, Red Raiders freshman Davis Webb was never sacked and was hurried only six times (liberal application of the term “hurry”). Four of those hurries still resulted in positive yardage: twice Webb tucked it for short gains, twice he completed throws.
Davis, making his second start in place of the injured Baker Mayfield, threw for 462 yards on 36-of 50 passing. The kid looked less like a second-team rookie and more like Seth Doege reincarnated.
“I just can’t believe the efficiency in which that kid throws the ball,” said WVU defensive coordinator Keith Patterson. “It’s like the guy has been starting since Aug. 1.
“Every time we tried to zone pressure it seemed like they had the perfect call. He understands what he wants to do with the ball. There’s no hesitation. When his reads aren’t there, he pulls it down and runs.”
Dontrill Hyman and Shaq Rowell (three tackles each) weren’t disruptive enough, and Will Clarke was invisible, held without a tackle until the final three minutes. Kyle Rose made two stops in a backup role.
Nick Kwiatkoski, the unit’s most dynamic playmaker this season, returned from a two-game absence (hamstring) to make eight tackles. He was just inches shy from making two stops on Texas Tech touchdowns.
His diving-over-the-pile hit stopped Kenny Williams cold in the third quarter (though refs ruled the tip of the ball crossed the goal line). The converted high school safety then was unable to cover tight end Jace Amaro on a 10-yard TD pass with 61 seconds left.
“Nick was in good position, had inside leverage on the coverage, and (Webb) just kind of tubed it inside,” said Patterson. “The ball’s right there on the money.”
Amaro caught a much easier touchdown in the first period when Buck linebacker Brandon Golson left him uncovered on third-and-3 from the 10. The linebackers and safeties were unable to inhibit Amaro, who compiled a nine-catch, 136-yard day.
Jared Barber made a team-high nine tackles, 1.5 TFLs and deflected a third-down pass, while Doug Rigg added five stops and Golson four. Isaiah Bruce made only two tackles, but his third-down pressure forced an incompletion that held the Raiders to a first-quarter field goal. Bruce later made the WVU defensive play of the day—granted, there weren’t many candidates—by forcing and recovering a Webb goal-line fumble that prevented the game from becoming a runaway with Tech leading 13-3 in the second period.
Not nearly so balanced as Baylor, Texas Tech asked its quarterback to win the game and Webb delivered in his first collegiate road start. Having surrendered 858 passing yards in its past two games, WVU ranks next to last in the conference in passing defense (257 yards per game) and last in yards per attempt (8.1).
Freshman Daryl Worley, elevated to starter over Travis Bell at field cornerback, had his hands full matched up against Bradley Marquez (eight catches for 112 yards). For the most part, Worley was fundamentally sound, except for a 30-yard first-quarter completion on which he rolled up toward the line and let Marquez get free deep.
Worley, WVU’s most physically imposing corner, also was blocked into infinity by Tech freshman receiver Reginald Davis on a 27-yard catch-and-run by DeAndre Washington.
Bell played frequently as a backup and had his own struggles against Marquez and Eric Ward.
Karl Joseph (five tackles) was the victim of a well designed third-and-1 playcall on which Williams faked a left-side dive and caught a short pass that went for 41 yards.
Darwin Cook (seven tackles) warranted and received a 15-yard flag for a late hit against Amaro on an overthrown pass.
After K.J. Dillon let Amaro run free for a 24-yarder, the nickel back played solid coverage to no avail on a 32-yard completion.
Seldom-used corner Avery Williams was victimized by slot receiver Jordan Davis on a 27-yard catch that led to Tech’s game-sealing score.