West Virginia makes cardinal errors in loss to Louisville

Conference title bid precarious

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MORGANTOWN, W.Va.-- If one thing is clear about West Virginia this season, it is that the Mountaineers are capable of losing to any other Big East Conference team.

They proved the point again Saturday in a game filled with special-teams mistakes and offensive miscues that led to a weighty, 38-35 loss against Louisville that could ruin the Mountaineers' bid for a conference championship and BCS bowl game.

"Right now, we're definitely not doing what it takes to win," said quarterback Geno Smith. "We've got to fight, ignore the negativity. ... Right now, that locker room is kind of emotional. We've got to continue to make progress and not let the negativity seep in."

West Virginia (6-3, 2-2) fell down the standings in front of 57,287 at Mountaineer Field.

Worse for West Virginia, the loss means the Mountaineers no longer are in control of their destiny to reach the top of the conference standings.

West Virginia missed a pair of field goals, lost two fumbles, shanked a pair of punts that led directly to scores and dropped a touchdown pass in the end zone.

It is the second time this year the team has lost despite outgaining its opponent in total yardage; this time it was 533-351 yards.

The key swing came 12 seconds into the fourth quarter when the Cardinals blocked a field-goal attempt, and Andrew Johnson ran it back for a touchdown to give Louisville a 31-21 lead.

Smith fumbled on the next series, Louisville's Calvin Pryor recovered, and the Mountaineers had less than 12 minutes to rally when they got the ball back.

Smith, pinned on the 4 from the previous punt, drove West Virginia 96 yards, and, with 9:01 left, Shawne Alston muscled into the zone, pummeling his lineman on the way.

Suddenly, the Mountaineers were trailing by only 31-28, but West Virginia's defense -- which played well in spurts, including two sets of back-to-back sacks -- could not get off the field.

The Cardinals, led by true freshman quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, chewed 7:03 off the clock and scored on Dominique Brown's 3-yard run to go up 38-28 with 1:50 remaining.

Smith drove the Mountaineers 65 yards and connected with Stedman Bailey for a 1-yard touchdown pass with 42.5 seconds left.

The ensuing onside kick was recovered by Brown.

"Not a very hard one to figure out. You lose the turnover battle, you go 0-2 on field goals, that gets you beat," said coach Dana Holgorsen.

"We played decent on defense in spurts. We played better in the second half, but didn't get them off the field when we needed it."

West Virginia held Louisville to 5 of 13 third-down conversions,105 rushing yards and 246 passing yards.

Bridgewater completed 21 of 27 passes for 246 yards and threw one interception. Smith completed 31 of 44 passes for 410 yards but fumbled twice.

Louisville had not beaten West Virginia in Morgantown since 1990.

"We have overcome adversity all year long," said Louisville coach Charlie Strong.

"I told them before the game it is not so much about playing hard, playing smart, or playing with emotion, it's about you yourself going out and doing your job. ... Our football team played very well today.

"We went on the road and won a tough game here at West Virginia."

The Mountaineers were about to take a 21-14 lead into halftime before Bridgewater led the Cardinals on a tying drive that ended nine seconds before the break.

The second half did not start well either for West Virginia, which could not capitalize on Najee Goode's interception.

His return to the Louisville 35 was called back for an illegal block in the back, and the ensuing series stalled on the 23.

Tyler Bitancurt's 32-yard field-goal attempt curled wide left.

After a Louisville three-and-out, Andrew Buie fumbled on the first play of West Virginia's next drive.

The defense came up with back-to-back sacks and held the Cardinals to a 39-yard field goal and a 24-21 lead.

The blocked field goal came next, and Louisville built a 31-21 lead.

NOTES -- West Virginia wide receiver Brad Starks left the game at halftime with an undisclosed injury and did not return.... The loss marked the third time since 2000 that the Mountaineers have lost a game in which they scored 30 or more points.

Jenn Menendez: jmenendez@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1959.


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