The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

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September 29, 2013

WVU must avoid Texas-sized letdown

Mountaineers will try to build on momentum when they travel to No. 17 Baylor Saturday

The party on the field in Austin, Texas, when West Virginia knocked off No. 11 Texas last October was one to remember. The Mountaineers — who had improved to 5-0 with the victory and were about to move into the top 5 nationally — danced, screamed, high-fived and hugged. For that night, WVU football was on top of the world.

Following that magical night with the eyes of Texas upon the Mountaineers, WVU went in the tank. It went on a five-game losing streak to go from national darling to the punch line of every joke, limping to a 7-5 finish to the regular season before an embarrassing loss to Syracuse in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl.

On Saturday night, as the underdog Mountaineers (3-2) celebrated another win over the country’s No. 11 team, this time Oklahoma State in Morgantown, senior safety Darwin Cook couldn’t forget that experience.

“It’s just another win,” said the usually colorful Cook, famous for tackling Obie the Orange after a fumble return for a touchdown in the Orange Bowl win over Clemson in 2012 and for his “Cookie Monster dance” he does after a big play. “I’ve been here five years and played a lot of people.

“I was trying to calm everybody down. Last year, we were hoot hooting when we beat Texas. I just try to have everybody in the mindset we’re supposed to be in.”

That mentality, defensive coordinator Keith Patterson explained, may have been exactly why the Mountaineers, nearly three-touchdown underdogs against the Cowboys, were able to bounce back from a 37-0 loss to Maryland that he called “the weirdest game I’ve ever been a part of,” and pull off an upset that nobody saw coming the very next week.

While many fans and analysts were already calling the season a bust, Patterson said the team showed up to practice with a positive attitude, ready to fix its mistakes and turn the season around.

“You’re dealing with 19- or 20-year-old kids,” explained the architect of WVU’s revamped defense. “I always talk to them about never letting your low get too low or your high get too high. You’ve just got to keep playing the next play, and that’s what we did.

“They showed that Mountaineer mentality and represented this university and state the way it should be represented. Now we just have to do it week after week.”

This week’s task will be every bit as challenging. Against OSU, the Mountaineers had a crowd of 57,000-plus behind them, providing energy and excitement as they took on the Big 12’s second-best statistical offense. On Saturday, WVU will have a stadium against it on the road in Waco, Texas, where they’ll meet up with No. 17 Baylor and the country’s top offense.

“I told the team to enjoy the win but get ready, because it’s going to happen again next week,” said head coach Dana Holgorsen. “We’ve got to get back to work to play another undefeated (top 20) team.”

For the first time this season, perhaps, the Mountaineers will at least have a reason to be confident as they hit the road.

“It’s going to give us a little more pep in our step and a little more swagger,” said junior defensive back Ishmael Banks. “(Beating OSU) showed us that if we play hard, we can play with anybody.”

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

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