Two touchdowns in fourth quarter spark rally against Scarlet Knights
October 30, 2011 4:00 AM
EMOTIONAL KNIGHT Former Rutgers player Eric LeGrand (52), paralyzed in a game against Army last season, led the Scarlet Knights onto the field at Rutgers before a game Saturday against West Virginia.
Rutgers' Quran Pratt, left, can't hold onto a pass in the snow after being hit by West Virginia's Pat Miller.
West Virginia's Tyler Urban tries to split two Rutgers defenders Saturday in the snow of Piscataway, N.J.
By Jenn Menendez Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
PISCATAWAY, N.J. -- The snow still was falling.
The game was closing in on his team.
But Geno Smith made the decision Saturday that No. 25 West Virginia needed. From fourth-and-goal at the 1, he checked his options, then bolted toward the goal line, diving headfirst to score with 6:18 to play.
The touchdown gave the Mountaineers a three-point lead, and they hung on to pull out a 41-31 victory against Rutgers in a game that nearly ended badly for them.
"It was just me and the safety, and I just had to beat him to the goal line," Smith said. "I wanted to be the guy to make that touchdown because my teammates did a great job getting me out of bad situations for the most part through the game."
Tyler Bitancurt missed the extra point, and the Mountaineers clung to their three-point lead before Julian Miller recovered a fumble by Rutgers quarterback Gary Nova to end the Scarlet Knights' next drive.
Smith then connected with Tavon Austin on a 20-yardtouchdown pass, the kick was good, and the Mountaineers had their much-needed win.
Smith said his touchdown play was supposed to be a play-action pass to the end zone, but Rutgers had the receivers covered.
Coach Dana Holgorsen -- who could have called for a field-goal attempt to tie the game, 31-13 -- said it just felt right to go for the touchdown.
"I just felt like we had it," Holgorsen said. "I thought we had the right play called. Geno blinked a little bit and didn't trigger it, but he made a play.
"We've been telling guys its hard for us to call perfect plays on offense, that doesn't mean the play can't work."
Right before Smith's winning touchdown, defensive back Darwin Cook came up with a key tackle on a fake field-goal attempt by Rutgers. That was a momentum-changer for a defense that did not have a good first half, surrendering 31 points, 12 first downs and a fourth down conversion for a touchdown.
"There were a lot of dumb things the first half," said defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel. "To the kids' credit, they rallied in the second half and did what they needed to do. They're going to probably end up killing all us coaches as the year wears on."
The Mountaineers are 6-2, 2-1 in the Big East Conference, while Rutgers fell to 5-3, 2-2.
West Virginia's offense nearly was perfectly balanced. The Mountaineers gained 210 yards rushing and 218 passing.
"I was proud of how we played in the second half," Holgorsen said. "We've been talking about adversity all week. We got challenged. I was proud of how we went out and, on all three [phases], we played harder than they did."
West Virginia trailed, 31-21, at halftime.
Rutgers scored two touchdowns on runs by Jawan Jamison while building its lead, and the Mountaineers offense was anemic on third down, going 0 for 6 before intermission.
The field was sloppy, and footing clearly was a problem. But things picked up in the second half when Stedman Bailey caught a 19-yard touchdown pass that he tipped to himself in the end zone to cut the deficit to 31-28.
The drive included the team's first third-down conversion of the game, a5-yard run by Shawne Alston with 7:51l eft in the third quarter.
Brodrick Jenkins' interception on the next series produced the notion that West Virginia might have seized the momentum and put the ball at West Virginia's 43.
But the offense went three-and-out on its next two possessions, with Dustin Garrison dropping a third-and-9 pass that would have given the Mountaineers a first down on the second one.
Despite the sloppy conditions, there was a steady stream of scoring in the first half.
Alston busted out for a 52-yard touchdown run to put West Virginia ahead, 7-3, but Smith, untouched, fumbled on the next possession. Rutgers made the Mountaineers pay.
Mohamed Sanu scored the touchdown on a 15-yard pass reception when Keith Tandy missed the tackle and only bumped Sanu slightly as he made it 10-7.
On the first play of the Mountaineers' next possession, Austin struck on a reverse, flying up sideline -- the only plowed part of the field -- for an 80-yard touchdown run to make it 14-10.
Rutgers retaliated with Nova's 45-yard touchdown pass to Mark Harrison.
Moments later, Julian Miller recovered a fumbled snap with Rutgers pinned deep in its own end, and Alston scored on a two yard run to give West Virginia a 21-17 lead.
Rutgers, aided by a pass-interference penalty by Pat Miller, scored on the next drive to go up, 24-21 and, a series later, built a 31-21 lead that stood at halftime.