Defense, Trickett keys to WVU upset

There is an old saying in sports that you are never as bad as you look when you lose or as good as you look when you win.

After the embarrassing humiliation at the hands of Maryland, Mountaineer players, coaches and fans suffered a long week digesting the impact of that defeat. Was this team really as bad as it looked? Would it be a harbinger of the rest of the season?

West Virginia answered those doubts and questions by regrouping and upsetting the Oklahoma State Cowboys in a stressful but exciting four hour war of attrition in Morgantown Saturday.

Clint Trickett became the third quarterback to lead the Mountaineers and although the offense continued to struggle at times it did just enough to secure the victory. The primary difference between Trickett and the efforts of the two previous starters was his mobility. Although by no means a fast runner, he did on occasion tuck the football and run and more importantly was able to avoid sacks and buy time when pressured in the pocket.

But it was the defense that truly shined and preserved the victory. Much maligned after a disastrous 2012 season, the WVU stop unit showed its mettle in the upset on Saturday. Oklahoma State had taken a 7-0 lead on a long scoring play and was in position to add to the lead after a Mountaineer turnover. Had the Cowboys tacked on another score at that point, the fragile confidence of the Mountaineers may have been shattered and another long afternoon ensued. But Ishmael Banks intercepted a pass and returned it 58 yards for a touchdown, tying the game and turning the momentum.

Oklahoma State had an offense considered one of the best in the Big 12 yet in 19 possessions scored only 21 points. In addition to the early score, the defense forced a second-quarter fumble leading to a Mountaineer field goal and intercepted a pass with 3 minutes remaining that enabled West Virginia to seal the win.

What may have been the key series of the game occurred midway through the fourth quarter as Oklahoma State had second and goal inside the WVU 1 poised to take the lead. But after deflecting a pass and stuffing a run for a 5-yard loss, the Cowboys were forced to attempt a field goal. Preventing the touchdown alone would have been considered a plus at that point but the Mountaineers got a bonus when the 23-yard attempt hit the upright and was no good.

Special teams play also was a factor. While the Mountaineers did make two mistakes on kick returns that left them at their own 3 yard line, overall WVU had the edge in special teams play. In addition to missing two field goals, the Cowboys shanked a 13-yard punt, setting up WVU in good field position that led to a second quarter touchdown. Meanwhile, West Virginia punter Nick O’Toole continued to be steady, averaging 45 yards on 8 punts.

The upset shocked just about everyone except former Mountaineer offensive guard Steve Earley, who proclaimed that the Mountaineers would pull off the upset and even correctly predicted an interception touchdown return. After having been derided by his friends as being delusional all week, he was quite pleased. But after the 30-21 win I don’t know why the big deal. He only picked us to win by 3.

THIS SATURDAY: After Robert Griffin III won the Heisman Trophy two years ago, Baylor just keeps plugging in quarterbacks who put up impressive passing numbers. This year it is Bryce Petty who has led the Bears to three one-sided wins averaging nearly 70 points, although admittedly against weak opposition. He won’t quite be that successful against an improved Mountaineer defense but playing at home in Waco gives his team the edge. Baylor 31, West Virginia 21.