Mountaineers top Baylor in sloppy showdown

There is no rule that says a win has to be pretty to count.

The first quarter of the West Virginia game against Baylor Saturday portended how things would progress the rest of the afternoon. The quarter took nearly an hour to play. Neither team could move the ball with any consistency. At one point there were six penalties called in a span of seven plays, most of which were preceded by long discussions among the officiating crew.

It was inexplicable that Baylor, a team coming in having lost five in a row, was playing with more energy and enthusiasm than the Mountaineers, playing on Senior Day in front of a home crowd. As a result the Bears grabbed a 14-3 lead early in the second quarter leaving WVU a long uphill climb.

West Virginia seemed to be doing everything it could to give its downtrodden opponent some hope. The Mountaineers were inside Baylor territory on their first four possessions and came away with just 3 points.  A kickoff return for a touchdown to open the second half was negated by a holding penalty. A 63 yard run by Justin Crawford in the third quarter resulted in zero points after a dropped pass on third down and a missed 31 yard field goal.

Quarterback Skylar Howard had one of the worst days of his career. If they had erected the side of a barn in the middle of the field most likely he wouldn’t have been able to hit it. The Mountaineers were thus forced the run the ball, which they did with considerable success, gaining 311 yards on 62 carries.

But for all its troubles West Virginia persevered. A remarkable catch by Daikiel Shorts on fourth down brought WVU to within striking distance before the half.

In the third Howard managed to hit Gary Jennings on a slant over the middle that resulted in a 58 yard touchdown pass. The defense then forced a turnover which was converted into another score and it appeared the Mountaineers were back in control with a 24-14 lead.

WVU fans suffered more stress in the final four minutes, however, as Baylor pulled within 24-21. An onside kick recovery was reversed by replay, and the Bears still had one last possession but the victory was preserved after the fourth forced turnover of the game.

The win gave the Mountaineers a 10-2 record and a tie for second in the Big 12 in a year they were predicted to finish seventh in the league.

WVU began the year with only two returning defensive starters, had inconsistent play at quarterback, and a rash of injuries at the running back position.

Ten wins and a 7-2 record in conference certainly is a tribute to how far the program has progressed. While the Big 12 was admittedly having a down year, it still is of better quality than the Big East in which WVU formerly played.

Note that West Virginia lost two conference games in each of its last four years of Big East play.

The Mountaineers will play Miami in the Russell Athletic Bowl in Orlando on Dec. 28.