WVU fans witnessed seven lead changes in overtime loss

It was an emotional, exhaustive night for WVU Mountaineer fans Saturday. Four hours of football. Seven lead changes. Punches and counter punches. More turns of momentum than one could count. A remarkable 43 nail biting 3 and 4 down conversion attempts by the two teams. But after it was all over West Virginia had suffered a 47-40 overtime loss to the Texas Longhorns, and the drive home across U.S. 50 seemed all the longer.

For the first half and much of the third quarter, the two teams played less than stellar football. Turnovers and missed opportunities were the norm. After taking a quick 9-0 lead in the first quarter fueled by a blocked punt, the Mountaineers had opportunities to increase their lead with two Texas turnovers near midfield but couldn’t capitalize. For their part, the Longhorns forced two fumbles and an interception deep in WVU territory, twice inside the 10, but came away with only three field goals for their efforts.

Late in the first quarter, quarterback Clint Trickett left the game with a concussion after several hard hits, and backup Paul Millard initially struggled. Texas was dominating the line of scrimmage and Millard had no time to throw and the Mountaineers couldn’t run. In one stretch, six consecutive WVU possessions resulted in no first downs and netted minus 31 yards. But just when things appeared hopeless on offense, Millard found his rhythm and the Mountaineers were efficient thereafter, as Millard led sustained scoring drives of 51, 76, 91 and 52 yards, three of which ended in touchdowns. He later hit Mario Alford in stride on a slant pattern for a 72-yard TD.

The West Virginia defense performed as well as it had all year through the first two-and-a-half quarters. In its first 12 possessions, Texas ran 46 plays, gained only 143 yards and managed only one touchdown. But as we have seen so many times in 2013, the Mountaineer defense was unable to sustain a good level of play throughout the game. Beginning midway through the third quarter, the Longhorns scored touchdowns on three consecutive possessions and ended up with 435 total yards.

As can usually be said in any close loss, WVU was one play away from sealing a victory or extending the game, but couldn’t quite close the deal. The Mountaineers were 3rd and 1 with three minutes remaining and couldn’t get a first down which might have clinched a victory. Texas was down to its last gasp with a 4th and 7 on its last drive to tie the game and was able to convert. And when West Virginia had its back to the wall on 4th down at the 5-yard line in overtime, they were unable to score.

The Mountaineers gave a good fight. They came off the mat with a backup quarterback, twice came from behind in the fourth quarter, but the better Texas team just made a few more plays. Unfortunately this scenario has played out several times this season, as West Virginia has had second half leads against four good Big 12 opponents (Oklahoma State, Kansas State, Texas Tech, Texas) but could hold on only once for a win.

One has a feeling that in the Big East days of playing Rutgers, Connecticut, South Florida, etc., these kind of games would have turned into wins. The significant upgrade in the quality of opponents week-to-week in the Big 12 is showing up in the win/loss record.

This Saturday: The Mountaineers still have an opportunity to be bowl eligible if they can garner wins over the two league foes who have been unable to win a conference game thus far in 2013. But the trip to Kansas Saturday will be no easy task. West Virginia has played two consecutive overtime games, and left a lot on the field Saturday night. On their side of the ledger, the Jayhawks are desperate to break a humbling three-year 27 game conference losing streak. West Virginia 28 Kansas 21.