The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

November 27, 2012

Mountaineer seniors set for big day

West Virginia to host Kansas Saturday in regular season finale

By Cam Huffman
Sports Editor

— It was supposed to happen back in Miami — the site of this year’s BCS National Championship game — on the same field where WVU ended the 2011 campaign with an Orange Bowl victory over ACC champion Clemson. If not there, it was at least supposed to take place at the Fiesta Bowl in another BCS bowl appearance for the Mountaineers.

That’s not going to happen, but after seeing goals of BCS and Big 12 championships quickly slip away with a five-game losing streak that followed a 5-0 start and dropped the Mountaineers from No. 5 in the country out of all the major polls, WVU head coach Dana Holgorsen is hoping to make the sendoff for 22 seniors the best it can possibly be, considering the circumstances.

This year’s senior class has two games remaining — thanks to a 31-24 win last Friday at Iowa State that clinched a .500 regular season and a bowl berth — beginning Saturday at 2:30 p.m., when Kansas (1-10, 0-8 Big 12) visits Mountaineer Field for WVU’s regular season finale that will air on FSN.

WVU (6-5, 3-5 Big 12) is likely playing for a possible spot in the Holiday Bowl and to work its way out of the New Era Pinstripe Bowl. Holiday Bowl officials have indicated the Mountaineers would be high on their list with a win on Saturday, and playing in sunny San Diego, Calif., seems to be the players’ preference over the Pinstripe Bowl, in what could be a cold Yankee Stadium.

Holgorsen said his team will be happy to have one more game to play, no matter where it takes place. His motivation is more about sending those seniors out with a win in their final home game.

“There’s about 22 seniors that it means a lot to,” said the second-year coach. “I would assume our entire fan base would want to come watch Geno Smith and Tavon Austin. Obviously, there’s more than those two, but those two are two dynamic football players that I don’t really even have to coach that much because they make all kinds of plays without us putting them in the proper position.”

Smith and Austin are surely two of the most dynamic players to ever play for the Mountaineers.

Smith, a product of Miramar High School in Miami, is WVU’s all-time leader in pass completions (946), passing yards (11,054) and passing touchdowns (93).

The overwhelming favorite to win the Heisman Trophy early in the year, Smith has fallen off that list in recent weeks, but he’s still had a tremendous senior season, statistically. Smith has thrown 37 touchdowns, compared to just five interceptions, and he’s completed 327 of 466 passes for 3,597 yards.

“The wins and losses don’t solely fall on the quarterback,” said Holgorsen. “You look at Geno’s stats, he’s as good as anybody in college football. He’s done a great job of protecting the ball and running the offense.

“Has it not been enough in specific games? Yes. But that’s the case for a whole lot of people across the country, as well. Once we got the run game going a little bit, that obviously helps him. We’re not going to ask him to sit back there and throw it 70 times a game and be extremely accurate. That’s just hard to do.”

Austin, a Maryland native, is the Mountaineers’ career leader in pass receptions (280) and receiving yards (3,273). He’s also second in receiving touchdowns with 29, and he’s the all-time leader in kickoff return yards with 2,332.

This year, Austin is second in all of FBS in all-purpose yards, averaging 233.9 yards per game.

Josh Francis, Pat Miller, Shawne Alston, Cecil Level, Terence Garvin, Ryan Clarke, Tyler Bitancurt, Corey Smith, Jeff Braun, John Bassler, Joe Madsen, Josh Jenkins, Ryan Nehlen, J.D. Woods and Jorge Wright are other major contributors on this year’s list of seniors, and Saturday could also be the final home game for WVU’s career leader in receiving touchdowns, Stedman Bailey, should he choose to leave early and enter his name into the NFL Draft.

Sending the seniors out with a win in their final game at Mountaineer Field may not come as easily as the records would indicate. Kansas has lost 10 straight games, but it came within six points of BCS No. 23 Oklahoma State (20-14), four points of No. 18 Texas (21-17) and lost to Texas Tech in overtime (41-34).

“They haven’t (quit),” said Holgorsen. “They’ve played real good or they’ve kind of relaxed every other game, it seems like. They’re going to coach them up.

“We’re going to be at a major schematic disadvantage going against their coaches. They’ve got coaches with tremendous pedigree that have coached everybody in the world and coached for decades and decades. We’re going to have to regroup really quick, get together a good game plan. Our coaches are going to be challenged this week to match what we’re going to go up against. So we’re going to have to regroup and be ready to try to get our seventh win.”

— E-mail: chuffman@register-herald.com and follow on Twitter @CamHuffmanRH.