For the first time all season, West Virginia found the rhythm and production on offense to bring back memories of the high-scoring attack that thrilled fans over the last two seasons. When it mattered most, though, the problems of the past came back.
The Mountaineers (3-4, 1-3 Big 12) put up 437 yards of offense —183 on the ground and 254 through the air — Saturday but ended the game with four punts and a turnover on downs, allowing No. 16 Texas Tech (7-0, 4-0 Big 12) to climb out of a 11-point third-quarter hole and stay perfect win a 37-27 victory on a soggy homecoming at Mountaineer Field.
“I saw ESPN College GameDay and the ones who picked against us,” said Texas Tech head coach Kliff Kingsbury, who became the first coach in Big 12 history to start his career with seven straight wins. “I hope they give us that locker room material. We want to show everyone that we’re not that bad.”
Trailing 27-16 with 4:36 left in the third quarter — after WVU’s Dreamius Smith ran for his second touchdown of the game — the Red Raiders scored 21 unanswered points to spoil the party.
“We didn’t have the fight and the will and the want to win,” said a visibly frustrated WVU head coach Dana Holgorsen. “They played harder than we did up front in the last quarter-and-a-half. It’s disheartening. It’s a game we should have won.”
After falling behind 10-0 when the Red Raiders found points on two of their first three drives — a 10-yard strike from Davis Webb to tight end Jace Amaro and a 21-yard Ryan Bustin field goal — the WVU offense finally showed some life.
The Mountaineers drove 72 yards in 11 plays to reach the TTU 17-yard line, before a crucial personal foul penalty sent the offense in the wrong direction. A 16-yard run on third-and-30 gave WVU a fourth-and-14 from the Red Raider 26, but instead of trying to get on the board with a Josh Lambert field goal, Holgorsen rolled the dice and kept his offense on the field. A throw to the end zone fell incomplete, and WVU came away without points.
“I regret that,” admitted Holgorsen after the game. “We were moving the ball, but penalties kept backing us up. So I felt good about it. But I should have kicked it.
“I just saw (Texas Tech) take it down and score two times in a row. I thought touchdowns were going to be important, but I should have kicked the field goal.”
The Red Raiders responded by tacking on three more points to go ahead 13-0, and memories of the 73-42 blowout loss the last time out against Baylor began to creep into the stadium.
WVU finally found some momentum on the next drive when Lambert connected from 33-yards away in the second quarter, and the Mountaineers caught their first big break when Isaiah Bruce forced a Davis Webb fumble on the 1-yard line, and recovered the loose ball. WVU proceeded to march 99 yards in nine plays, and Smith’s 38-yard touchdown run cut the Red Raider lead to 13-10.
On the ensuing kickoff, TTU’s Austin Stewart was hit by Terrell Chestnut, and the ball popped free. Brandon Napoleon recovered at the Red Raider 17-yard line, bringing the crowd to a roar, and a 30-yard Lambert field goal tied the game just before halftime.
WVU’s first lead of the day came on the opening drive of the second half, when a 13 play, 74-yard march was capped off by a 4-yard Clint Trickett touchdown pass to Charles Sims.
The Red Raiders responded with a 26-yard Bustin field goal, but when Smith found the end zone from 12 yards out on the next drive, WVU was ahead 27-16 and feeling good about its position.
That’s when the offense vanished into the fain-filled skies.
“We started feeling pretty good about ourselves,” said Holgorsen. “Then we refused to make a play on offense, defense and special teams, and we refused to coach well enough to win the game.”
Texas Tech kept the game alive with an eight play, 80-yard touchdown drive that lasted only a little more than two minutes and ended with a Kenny Williams touchdown run from a yard away.
The Red Raiders regained the lead on their second drive of the final quarter when Williams again found the end zone from a yard out to put his team ahead 30-27.
WVU had the ball twice down by three points — chasing the three that were left on the field when the first-quarter field goal was not attempted — but both possessions ended with three-and-outs, and TTU added a late touchdown pass from Webb to Amaro for the final 10-point margin.
Webb ended the day with some impressive numbers, going 36-for-50 for 462 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
“He’s always had the ability,” said Kingsury of his freshman signal caller, who was making just his second career start. “The thing I’m most impressed about is his determination and work ethic. It puts him in a position to be this type of player.”
Amaro caught nine passes for 136 yards, including both passing scores.
“He’s a matchup nightmare,” said WVU defensive coordinator Keith Patterson of the big, athletic pass catcher, who serves as a wide receiver as much as a tight end. “Every catch he had, we had somebody all over him. They just put the ball up there high, and he goes up and catches it over and around you.”
The Red Raiders were limited on the ground, gaining just 111 yards on 21 carries. Williams led the way with 58 yards on 16 totes.
The Mountaineer offense was paced by Smith, who gained 89 yards on 16 carries. Charles Sims had 77 yards on 15 runs and caught seven passes for 32 yards.
Daikiel Shorts grabbed a career-best nine Trickett passes for 78 yards, and Kevin White caught five for 77. Trickett completed a season-best 27 passes on 43 attempts for 254 yards and a score.
“Once he settled down, I thought he handled it well,” said Holgorsen of the junior transfer from Florida State. “The communication was great. He was operating OK. He’ll continue to get better.”
But WVU’s day was ultimately defined by the inability to make a play when it needed one the most.
“We called the same plays in the last quarter as we did in the first two-and-a-half quarters,” said Holgorsen. “In the third quarter, it resembled offensive football. We got better in spurts, but when you end the game with five three-and-outs, I think everybody would agree that’s about as bad as you can get offensively at the most crucial point of the game.”
WVU will be on the road next Saturday to face Kansas State. The Wildcats are 2-4 overall and 0-3 in the Big 12 and will be coming off a bye week.
Texas Tech will look to stay undefeated when it travels to Oklahoma next Saturday.
— E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org and follow on Twitter @CamHuffmanRH.