The West Virginia Mountaineers had a golden opportunity to stop the downward spiral the 2012 season has become, but could not take advantage. The result was a crushing 39-38 double overtime loss to TCU.
A turnover early in the second half and a chance to garner a two-touchdown lead. An opportunity missed. A dramatic punt return to grab a seven-point lead with three minutes remaining. Squandered. A chance to win the game on a field goal attempt in the first overtime. Blocked. For Mountaineer fans chilling for 3.5 hours in a November chill. Frustration.
The defense, which had played so terribly through the first half of the season, actually showed some life. Forcing three turnovers, several three and outs and pressuring the quarterback, it kept West Virginia in the game. But all of the good play was offset by one horrendous mental mistake with less than two minutes remaining. With TCU backed up on it's own 6-yard line and out of time outs, the Mountaineer defenders lost track of the Horned Frog's best receiver. But the quarterback found him -all alone 10 yards beyond the nearest defender, and suddenly it was a 94-yard touchdown pass to tie the game. A mental mistake that was inexcusable in that situation. It was not the first time the WVU defense had given up a huge scoring play in the waning seconds of a half or game, but it was by far the most crushing.
The defense was not alone. The kicking game gave up a score off a bad punt snap, and with a chance to win the game the Mountaineers could not prevent a field attempt from being blocked.
But perhaps what is most inexplicable is the disappearance of the West Virginia offense. In the second half it was inept. With a chance to put the game away with one first down, it couldn't execute. Even after TCU tied the game, one more first down would have put the Mountaineers in a reasonable field goal range, but they couldn't get the job done.
TCU simply dropped seven defenders into coverage and WVU receivers could not get separation. The answer would, of course, been to successfully run the football but the offense could not muster any semblance of a rushing attack. The offensive line could not control the line of scrimmage. West Virginia will need to recruit better athletes along the offensive line or winning in this league will be difficult indeed.
West Virginia was in this game at the end mostly because of two remarkable scoring plays by Tavon Austin. He is a special playmaker, and one wonders where this team would be without him.
The Horned Frogs made a gutsy call to go for two in the second overtime to decide the game on one play. And they executed the key play as they had most of the evening. The Mountaineers couldn't say the same, as they looked more like a team finding a way to lose.
Next Saturday: It doesn't get any easier, as the Mountaineers travel to Oklahoma State. The Cowboys were one win away from playing in the National Championship last season. They have slipped a bit from that elite level in 2012 but still are a quality football team. The same TCU team that played WVU even was smoked at Stillwater, 36-14, and Oklahoma State played No. 2 Kansas State tough before losing 44-30 last Saturday. Oklahoma State 45, West Virginia 28.