West Virginia's Tyler Rader, J.D. Wood and Ryan Clarke celebrate after beating Rutgers, 35-14, Saturday in Morgantown, W.Va.
By Colin Dunlap Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- There was only so much West Virginia could do Saturday.
And the Mountaineers did it. They just didn't get the help they needed.
In the afternoon, West Virginia secured a 35-14 victory against Rutgers (4-8, 1-6) at Mountaineer Field in the final regular-season weekend of Big East Conference play.
Then came the nail-biting, and, ultimately, the letdown.
To earn a bid into a Bowl Championship Series bowl game -- the Fiesta or Orange Bowl in this case -- the Mountaineers needed Connecticut to lose to South Florida some 950 miles and eight hours after coach Bill Stewart's team had won.
It didn't happen, as the Huskies (8-4, 5-2) earned a 19-16 victory at South Florida (7-5, 3-4) Saturday night. With the victory, Connecticut will represent the Big East in a BCS bowl game, advancing to those heights for the first time in school history.
Meanwhile, West Virginia is headed to either the Champs Sports Bowl in Orlando, Fla., or the Meineke Car Care Bowl in Charlotte, N.C.
The Mountaineers have been to Charlotte for a bowl twice in recent history; in 2002 for the Continental Tire Bowl and in '08 for the Meineke Car Care Bowl.
As for the game played at Mountaineer Field on the final day of the regular season as temperatures drifted near the freezing mark, West Virginia shot to a 14-7 advantage at halftime, and a 28-7 lead after three quarters, in a game in which the Mountaineers had a bit of trouble getting out of their own way.
There was sophomore quarterback Geno Smith connecting on 23 of 28 passes for 352 yards; but there was also a West Virginia field-goal unit that watched a fourth attempt this season get blocked.
The Mountaineers offense gained 523 yards and averaged more than 7 yards a play, but they still haven't fully cured the fumbling problems that incapacitated them in their two-game losing streak.
Three times inside Rutgers' 15-yard line, West Virginia gave the ball away on fumbles, but was able to offset that by going 9 of 14 on third down.
"We had some spotty play," Stewart said. "But I thought we gave great effort. ... I am not pleased with the fumbles. It kills your football team."
Because West Virginia had a noticeable speed advantage, however, the fumbles didn't prove fatal.
West Virginia built its lead on a touchdown catch by Tavon Austin and short touchdown run by Ryan Clarke in the first quarter before Rutgers sliced it in half, 14-7, just before halftime on a Jordan Thomas 18-yard catch.
In the second half, West Virginia put Rutgers away by scoring three consecutive touchdowns -- two more short Clarke runs to cap off drives and another score by Austin, on a 46-yard run.
Austin has been magnificent the past two weeks, scoring two touchdowns against Pitt in the Backyard Brawl and two more Saturday; he has four two-touchdown games this season.
"Our defense didn't struggle with missed tackles," Rutgers coach Greg Schiano said. "It was missed assignments. We missed big plays because of missed assignments. I put that on coaching. We have to get our players to do what they are capable of doing, and I think the things we got beat on during plays, we were more than capable of doing."
The Scarlet Knights scored with just more than two minutes remaining to narrow the final result on a 44-yard catch by Mark Harrison.
By that time, however, it was over.
For all the ebb and flow provided by the West Virginia offense Saturday, it was another effort by one of the finest defenses to ever break a huddle in Morgantown that got things done.
The Mountaineers were the lone team in the country that did not allow any opponent to score more than 21 points in any game.
"It is a challenge," said senior linebacker J.T. Thomas, one of 20 seniors who played their final home game for West Virginia. "When we put our hats on, it is time to go on the field and do our job. It excites us. That's great for us to not give up over 21 [points] all season. ... That comes from us going out there and doing what we are supposed to do every game."