MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Jared Barber scooped and scored instead of feeling scarred. Skyler Howard beat the program he once idolized. Dana Holgorsen team-surfed around the locker room.
Could Saturday have been any thicker with redemption?
West Virginia wrung more satisfaction than you would’ve thought possible from beating a 4-6 team. But considering the sort of ill memories associated with Texas, the gratification didn’t seem out of place.
Before each practice last week, Holgorsen forced players to binge-watch the aftermath of WVU’s 2014 loss in Austin—blissful, laughing Longhorns lifting and tossing their coach Charlie Strong. Though the looping video grew monotonous, Holgorsen kept on with the playbacks, his burnt-orange version of Clockwork Orange.
“Seeing Coach Strong and all the Texas guys, it just irritated everybody,” said punter Nick O’Toole.
“It was getting to a lot of guys,” said running back Wendell Smallwood.
“I had enough of him showing us that damn video,” said center Tyler Orlosky. “Five damn times we had to watch it before practice everyday. I was getting sick of that.”
Much like Barber was sick of mentally replaying his exit from the 2013 loss to Texas, when a shredded knee ligament forced the middle linebacker off the field that night and kept him off for the ensuing season too.
So how appropriate then was it for No. 42 to glance down—at the 42-yard line, no less—and spy D’Onta Foreman’s fumble squirting out of a pile?
“Let’s get this thing and score,” Barber thought, standing by his lonesome in the Texas backfield as he grabbed the loose ball and hustled away. “I saw this shadow from my left and it kept getting bigger and bigger. All I could think was ‘Ah shoot, I’m going to get caught.’”
Thanks to Barber’s headstart, not even speedy receiver Daje Johnson could catch up, though that didn’t prevent Barber from asking defensive coordinator Tony Gibson, “Coach, how slow did I look?”
While the linebacker had Texas-on-the-brain for two years, Howard’s infatuation cycled all the way back to childhood, to a bedroom he said was “painted burnt orange with two Longhorns on the wall.” His boyhood dreams crushed when Texas expressed zero interest in recruiting him, Howard finally admitted Saturday’s win was elevated.
“I talked about it being just another game, but now that it’s over with? Oh yeah, oh yeah,” Howard said. “It’s definitely one that sticks out.”
So, too, will the Mountaineers’ locker room jubilance. Holgorsen became this year’s recipient of the bumpy, beautiful ride atop a sea of sweaty players.
“Is that out?” Holgorsen asked, sounding surprised that his team-surfing video scorched social media before he even met with the postgame media. “There’s a story behind that. Guys are happy.”
Assistant coach JaJuan Seider, who raced into the postgame locker room “to see the surf,” expounded further:
“(Strong) did it at Louisville and he did it last year, so it’s good for Dana to get a surf. Good for him. I’m happy for him. You could tell this meant a lot to him. He coached his butt off this week to get us this win.”
In a league where West Virginia essentially must make its own rivals, Holgorsen drumming up some coach-on-coach feistiness didn’t hurt. Especially after a game rich with so many redeeming qualities.