Another draining contest
It was a draining afternoon for West Virginia football fans for a sixth consecutive week, but the Mountaineer defense for the second straight time saved the day to preserve a 28-23 win over Kansas State on Saturday.
The WVU offense did manage to tally 28 first half points with quick scoring drives of 1 play, 4 plays and 1 play, but was again inconsistent and failed to protect the football. Four first half turnovers were committed, and for the second straight week the West Virginia offense failed to dent the scoreboard in the second half. Needing just one more score to take control of the game, they punted on their first five possessions of the second half and struggled to convert on third down.
The key sequence of the game occurred at the end of the first half. Kansas State trailed 21-20 with the ball in its own territory in the waning seconds but attempted an ill advised screen pass that was intercepted by Ezekial Rose at the 30. Fans were thinking that WVU might run one quick play to set up a makeable field goal attempt, but Will Grier escaped the pocket and found Ka’Raun White all alone in the end zone for a touchdown and what had to be a demoralizing first half end for the Wildcats.
Special teams also did its part to cause Coach Holgorsen to lose even more of his hair. Four times after either short punts or long returns Kansas State began possessions in WVU territory. Overall the Wildcats had 102 yards in punt return yardage. Then while punting in Kansas State territory, twice punter Billy Kinney was unable to keep the ball from bouncing into the end zone for a touchback. To Kinney’s credit, however, his last punt was downed at the 3, leaving the Wildcats a long field on their final possession.
But through all the adversity the defense made enough plays to secure the victory. Kansas State did have two long touchdown drives, but in quick change scenarios the West Virginia defense stood tall. The Wildcats began six possessions in Mountaineer territory, four of those in the first quarter alone, but on those the defense forced two punts, three field goal attempts (one of which was missed) and grabbed an interception.
It is a concern that the West Virginia offense, while showing quick strike capability, is having difficulty sustaining drives. Opponents are obviously making adjustments in the second half to take away the deep passes, and the Mountaineers are unable to run the ball with any consistency. But somehow this West Virginia squad is still standing with a 7-3 record, and has found a way to successfully close out four heart-stopping wins in the last five weeks.
THIS SATURDAY: Texas comes to Morgantown for a noon kickoff. When West Virginia joined the Big 12 in 2012 the Longhorns were considered the flagship program of the league, but the Mountaineers have won three of five meetings and Texas is coming off two losing seasons.
The Longhorns stand at 5-5 in 2017, but note that three of their losses have come to USC and Oklahoma State in overtime, and by only five to conference leader Oklahoma. So all signs point to another down to the wire finish. Would we expect anything different? WEST VIRGINIA 23, TEXAS 21.