WVU Football: Defense pillaged; offense struggles
West Virginia's Gino Gradkowski, left, and P.J. Shirdan watch the clock wind down yesterday at East Carolina, where the No. 8 Mountaineers were upset.
East Carolina's Jonathan Williams tries to stretch into the end zone over West Virginia's John Holmes in the first half of their game yesterday in Greenville, N.C.
Skip Holtz celebrates with the East Carolina crowd.
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GREENVILLE, N.C. -- Maybe everyone should have expected this. After all, it is Pitt County.
Agony and despair were two hazards that the eighth-ranked Mountaineers talked about avoiding after yet another Pitt fall of sorts, a feeble offensive performance against an upstart foe who played keep away and rumbled over favored West Virginia in front of a rather shocked ESPN audience.
Last night it was the Pirates of East Carolina (2-0), entering a sold-out Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium through purple smoke, Jimi Hendrix's "Purple Haze" and an entrance shaped into a wooden bow. West Virginia ended up on the wrong side of a 24-3 decision.
Forget about two losses in the past three games against Division I-A opposition or the lowest-scoring game since a Miami throttling of 2001. Disregard the first loss to East Carolina since 1999 in a series where West Virginia dominated with 17 victories in 20 previous meetings by an average score of 33-15. In fact, the Mountaineers (1-1) are going to try to erase most memory of this familiar-feeling defeat, with a dozen days until they play next -- on an ESPN Thursday night Sept. 18 at Colorado (2-0).
Rather, the Mountaineers plan to pick up the pieces and learn lessons from the loss that followed the rain and wind here from Tropical Storm Hanna.
"I think it was needed," Mountaineers receiver Tito Gonzales said after West Virginia was dominated in almost every facet, every statistic. "It was all about life. Sometimes you get knocked down. You can stay down, or you can get up and dust yourself off. It'll be very difficult to get back up. But it's a very long journey. Nobody said the journey is going to be easy."
"I'm not going to rip anybody," West Virginia coach Bill Stewart said after his inaugural loss, one that won't soon be forgotten by a fan base with long memories. "I'm not going to yell and scream at them. I'm not going to call them dirty, filthy, vulgar names. I'm not doing that. If it's what people want, they need to get me somewhere else. 'Cause that ain't happening. We have an open week this week, and I'm not too awful worried about where we go from here. ... Nothing that can't be fixed."
If nothing else, it may be 12 busy days in Morgantown, W.Va. The way the Mountaineers missed tackles, like the last time (1999) East Carolina toppled them, defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel mused, "I don't know if we can tackle enough to get ready for the next one."
Casteel's defense graciously allowed the Pirates to convert half of their 16 third downs and one of two fourth-down attempts. It allowed Patrick Pinkney to complete 22 of 28 passes for 238 yards and a touchdown before halftime to a backup receiver. It allowed Jon Williams and Brandon Simmons to sidestep one-on-one tackle attempts too many times behind the line of scrimmage on their way to 119 yards on 33 carries. It allowed East Carolina 71 snaps, 35 minutes, 41 seconds of possession time.
East Carolina drove into West Virginia territory seven of its first nine possessions, opened leads of 10-0 and 17-3 without letting quarterback Pat White touch the ball much and controlled the tempo.
"They took it to us a little bit," Casteel said. "We got a lot of work to do, whether it's pass defense, or to be able to consistently win on first down. ... We're behind the count."
Down for it?
"We're going to be all right," said Ryan Stanchek, left tackle on a offensive line that permitted three sacks and little time for White, whose 72 yards passing (11 for 18) marked his fewest in the past 22 games. "Our goal every year is to win the Big East championship, and I firmly believe we'll do that. One of our goals is gone."
Although a lesson learned last year is that a September loss doesn't always dash national-championship game hopes.
"They just wanted it badly; they beat us up," White said of the Pirates, who rejoiced over their third victory in a row against a Top-25 team. "Still got a long road ahead of us."
NOTES -- Senior middle linebacker Reed Williams wasn't in uniform and could well be headed for a medical redshirt, though that decision doesn't have to come until after the Colorado and Marshall games. ... Converted slotback Brandon Hogan got beat on a 35-yard pass on the opening drive and seemed to lose his nickel-back role. ... Stewart said White's first-half fumble straining for a first down was reviewed by officials, so he didn't call timeout for further review. ... Jock Sanders' fumble with little more than a minute left in the first half, after which the Pirates drove for a touchdown and 17-3 intermission lead, was a critical juncture, Stewart said: "I thought we'd go down at least 10-6, maybe 10-10."
First Published September 7, 2008 12:00 am