By Mickey Furfari
For The Register-Herald
West Virginia’s 2011 football team isn’t as talented as some of its predecessors.
But it will be remembered herein as certainly one of the luckiest. I think that is the biggest reason the 23rd-ranked Mountaineers are 9-3 overall, 5-2 in the Big East, and with a share of the conference championship, and are BCS bowl-bound against Clemson in the Orange Bowl Jan. 4 in Miami.
You’ve got to give first-year head coach Dana Holgoren and his fine staff a heap of credit. They kept alive hope by making adjustments and/or changes to win some games WVU could have lost.
Make no mistake, this team was not without some outstanding players. Junior quarterback Geno Smith rewrote the passing record books. So did 1,000-yard-plus wide receivers Stedman Bailey and Tavon Austin.
Defensive standouts include linebackers Najee Goode and Jewone Snow; defensive lineman Bruce Irvin and Julian Miller; and defensive backs Terence Garvin, Pat Miller, Eain Smith and Keith Tandy.
And you can’t forget national No. 2-ranked all-purpose runner Tavon Austin, high-scoring placekicker Tyler Bitancurt, among others.
But the Mountaineers never could muster any positive consistency as a team this year.
Hopefully, that can be developed for a second season under this mostly new lineup of coaches.
The spread offense installed by Holgorsen last spring lacked an impressive, productive rushing attack to go with the Big East’s best aerial attack. But that didn’t keep Austin from his vast running contributions in various ways.
WVU also could benefit from stronger starts to games. It required strenuous second-half rallies to win some games.
Just about the only strong start West Virginia had was Sept.17 at Maryland. The Mountaineers built a 27-10 halftime lead, but then needed an interception to win 37-31.
The need for a bounce-back was never more evident than in the regular-season finale, a 30-27 win at South Florida. Goode forced a fumble to give WVU possession for a closing drive, which Bitancurt capped with his 28 -yard field goal as time ticked out.
He was mobbed in celebration because it was the game-winner! Indeed, it was a life-saver for the Mountaineers.
A reporter had asked Bitancurt a week earlier whether he’d like to beat old rival Pitt with a game-ending field goal?
“No,” he replied. “I want to beat Pitt by more than three points.”
As luck would have it, however, that was the situation following Thursday night in Tampa, Fla.
No West Virginia coach, player or fan was complaining.
Not even the young man who booted the ball. Did he feel the pressure?
“I’m under pressure on every kick,” Bitancurt said. The junior from Springfield, Va., constantly has handled the pressure very well.