WEST VIRGINIA: Attitude check figures in dramatic win
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West Virginia's win against Cincinnati Saturday wasn't pretty.
Many things went wrong, from the 14 penalties to the anemic running game, from Cincinnati's domination at the line of scrimmage to more shanked punts.
But that, said quarterback Geno Smith, is exactly why the win mattered so much.
The 24-21 win came on the heels of a week where players looked one another in the eye and the coaching staff stressed energy and effort.
"We learned we can overcome adversity no matter what happens," Smith said after the dramatic block of a Cincinnati field-goal attempt preserved the win as time expired. "Everyone on our sideline was pulling for one another. We made the plays we needed. We faced some adversity all throughout the game but I think we turned the corner today, found a way to win."
The win pulled West Virginia (7-3, 3-2 Big East) into a four-way tie for second place in the Big East Conference, keeping its title hopes alive as it heads into an off week before the Backyard Brawl with Pitt Nov. 25.
The Mountaineers sideline was noticeably more energetic even as the game dragged on to nearly four hours with missed opportunities, multiple official reviews and wild momentum swings.
"I was really proud of how the team came together," coach Dana Holgorsen said. "Played for four quarters and got excited when things happened in our favor and didn't get down when things didn't go our way. That's just the way football is."
Taking a look back to the early part of this season the Mountaineers, Smith said, may have had an inflated sense of self.
The team routinely put up prolific passing yards as it steadily rose in the national standings -- reaching as high as No. 11.
It masked -- or compensated for -- other deficiencies.
Then came the blows at Syracuse -- where the Mountaineers were routed -- and the loss to Louisville Nov. 5 that nearly derailed the season. The team hadn't yet learned to win in a game with a thin margin for error.
"We kind of got a little lackadaisical, feeling ourselves, we kind of bought into the hype," said Smith. "We had a humbling experience with those two losses. That really made us refocus and get back on our jobs. We did a good job coming out and practiced with energy and carried that over to the game."
The defense came up when it had to with a goal-line stand, two batted down passes in the red zone to kill a drive and a defensive touchdown.
The offense went 74 yards in the first possession of the fourth quarter to take the 24-21 lead after West Virginia had fallen behind. Shawne Alston scored from the 1 with 8:52 to play in a drive that included gains of 24, 13 and 23 yards.
Still, things continued to go wrong in the fourth quarter -- including a missed opportunity by the offense to strike for a touchdown or at least get into better field-goal distance with a final possession that started with 3:40 to play.
Two running plays netted 2 yards, and a pass completion on third-and-12 covered just 6 yards, leaving the kicker to line up for a 47-yard field-goal attempt.
Tyler Bitancurt's kick went wide left, giving the Bearcats a chance to have another comeback win to add to its collection of them.
In the moment that the game could be won or sent to overtime and potentially lost came defensive back Eain Smith's blocked field goal. The play from the much-maligned special teams saved the game.
His wide smile in the bowels of Paul Brown Stadium may have best showed the mood of this team.
"I'm ecstatic right now," Eain Smith said. "I just got my hand up. Got in the way. ... It was the best feeling to block that kick. ... We did come out with more energy. I see it on the sidelines.
They all came on the field, high-fived us. That's what we need more of."
Said Geno Smith: "I think it's just good karma. The fact we've been working so hard. All the negativity surrounding us after the loss [to Louisville] and we just fought back. We had our backs against the wall and we fought back."
NOTES -- Holgorsen's weekly news conference will be held today, bumped up a day because of the off week. ... West Virginia remained unranked in the AP Top-25 poll this week, but rejoined the USA Today/Coaches poll at No. 23. ... The second quarter sack by West Virginia that drove Cincinnati quarterback Zach Collaros from the game Saturday will keep him out for the season with a broken ankle, The Associated Press reported Sunday.
First Published November 14, 2011 12:00 am