Miscues lead to WVU loss

The West Virginia Mountaineers incurred their second loss of the season to a good team by an identical 31-24 score. And similar to their season opening loss to Virginia Tech, key special teams miscues led to their downfall at TCU Saturday.

With the WVU defense playing well a fumble was lost on a punt return when a Mountaineer player blocked a defender into the returner. The Horned Frogs took advantage of the short field to take a 7-3 lead, and West Virginia was climbing uphill the rest of the afternoon. A miss of a makeable field goal in the second quarter also hurt the cause. Later an errant kickoff out of bounds after a tying score gave up field position. Meanwhile, TCU committed no turnovers and was exceptional in the kicking game throughout the day.

To their credit the Mountaineers fought back twice in the second half to tie the game. Their dormant offense suddenly struck paydirt with two big plays in the third quarter, a 63 yard touchdown pass to David Sills and a 76 yard scoring toss to Ka’Raun White. But the Mountaineer defense couldn’t avoid giving up big plays themselves and TCU was able to answer.

Comments following the game by Mountaineer fans focused on officiating calls which were key in determining the outcome. I seldom complain about such things in this column but today must make an exception.

Late in the fourth quarter in a tie game, WVU cornerback Elijah Battle intercepted a pass near the goal line. Indeed it was a close call as to whether he gained possession before his first foot hit inbounds. But under college football replay rules, a call must stand unless “indisputable video evidence” justifies reversing the call. Despite that the video was far from conclusive, the reply official substituted his own opinion (rather than applying the standard under the rule) and reversed the call. TCU then went on to score the deciding touchdown with 2:53 remaining.

West Virginia still had an opportunity to tie the game, and on its final drive wide receiver David Sills made an outstanding catch for a 25 yard game to the TCU 35. But Sills was called for offensive pass interference. The replay showed both players hand fighting for position and at one point the TCU defender had a hold of Sills’ shirt. Hardly enough to support the flag, which conveniently was made right in front of the TCU sideline. The call not only negated the gain but cost the Mountaineers 15 penalty yards which they were unable to overcome. It was a terrible call that should never have been made in the waning minutes of a competitive game.

We all like to see players make great plays to help win games. Saturday that happened twice but the efforts were negated. Also note that during the game two other major penalties against TCU were called but then waived off after a “discussion” among the officials.

This time I must side with Mountaineer nation. There were two egregious officiating errors which had a huge impact on the outcome of the game. TCU may still have prevailed, but we would have felt much better if they had done so without all the help.

THIS SATURDAY: Texas Tech stands 4-1 on the season, but has already exceeded expectations with quality wins over Arizona State and Houston, their only loss by just a TD to ranked Oklahoma State. The Red Raiders always have a prolific offense, and their defense appears improved in 2017. But coming back to Morgantown after a three week hiatus I expect to see a good performance from the Mountaineers in a shootout.