PoG: WVU - UConn

Ultimately, the sting of defeat is what WVU fans and players will most strongly remember from Friday night's 16-13 loss at Connecticut. But beyond the four turnovers that proved to be the Mountaineers' downfall, there were several strong individual performances that kept West Virginia in contention in spite of its own blunders.


  • Julian Miller.

    Once again, it was the team's defense that needed to play lights out to make up for the miscues on the other side of the ball, and it was WVU's starting defensive end that led the way.

    The junior from Columbus, Ohio led his team with nine total tackles, including six solo stops -- an impressive effort that reflected just how well Miller pursued the ball considering that only one of his takedowns was a tackle for loss.

    In West Virginia's three-man front, typically the down linemen serve as space eaters (particularly in run defense). Their job is to command the attention of as many blockers as possible, leaving linebackers and safeties free to make plays near the line of scrimmage with minimal resistance.

    But Miller did better than that, making plays on his own while also being sound in terms of fulfilling his assignments. He was part of a run defense that limited UConn running back Jordan Todman to 3.4 yards per carry and part of a pass rush that sacked quarterback Zach Frazer four times.

    Ultimately, it wasn't enough to win. But even though Friday night was not WVU's best overall defensive effort of the season, players like Miller on that side of the ball played well enough to win. As has been the case for much of the season, however, they just didn't get enough help from their teammates.


  • Bradley Starks.

    Starks was one of the few bright spots on offense, making plays as a runner, a pass-catcher and as a generally aware player, managing to recover the first of what was ultimately two Mountaineer fumbles on the team's only overtime possession.

    It was the fourth-year junior wide receiver who got things started in a big way for the WVU attack, taking an end around on the team's second possession, reading his blocks well and showing an impressive burst to pull away from Husky defenders like Secretariat at the Belmont Stakes.

    Bradley Starks
    Nobody in blue laid a hand on the Unionville, Va., native on the way to a 53-yard touchdown run that opened the scoring.

    But Starks was hardly done. He had three catches for 35 yards -- hardly eye-popping numbers, but good enough to match the production of players like Jock Sanders, who needed seven grabs to lead the team in receiving with 43 yards.

    While it ultimately was meaningless, Starks also nearly saved the game for his team by recovering a Sanders fumble in overtime, allowing the offense to drive all the way to the Connecticut 1-yard line before fullback Ryan Clarke lost the ball on first-and-goal.

    Those turnovers ultimately served as a black cloud over what was otherwise a solid day for the offense -- it gained 414 yards, 254 of which came on the ground after some observers were wondering what was wrong with the WVU rushing attack.

    Beyond the fumbles, those issues were atoned for on Friday night. And with Starks continuing to make plays since his breakout game against UNLV several weeks ago, West Virginia's passing attack should be poised to play at a high level as well.

    But the offense still must find a way to put it all together in the last third of the regular season.


  • Terence Garvin again piled up numbers and plays worthy of a player of the game selection, and although Julian Miller got that nod, Garvin certainly had nothing to be ashamed of. The sophomore safety had seven tackles, forced a fumble and broke up a pass as the Mountaineer defense again did enough to win. Garvin was solid against the pass and again a force against the run, filling gaps and helping contain UConn standout Jordan Todman to just 3.4 yards per carry.

  • After sustaining several three and out offensive series against Syracuse, the WVU offense had just one such series (which gained nine yards) against UConn. Although WVU again couldn't finish drives against the Huskies, it did manage to keep the ball and gain yardage on most of its possessions. In doing so, the Mountaineers kept UConn in its own half of the field for most of the game, and also won the time of possession battle. Of course, none of those statistics make up the final score, and West Virginia was unable to capitalize on any of its advantages in those areas. Still, it was at least one ray of hope in what was otherwise a mostly dark night.

  • West Virginia's litany of woes were lengthy. The Mountaineer offense again petered out after a promising start in which it scored 10 points and gained 168 yards in the first quarter. (The Mountaineers had 246 in the final three-plus quarters.) WVU had just four penalties for 35 yards, but a couple contributed to the slowing of drives. Punt return specialists apparently can't, or won't field the ball in the air. Some curious play calls contribute to the lack of offensive continuity. But even with all of those issues, West Virginia could have won the game if it had just held on to the ball. Four lost fumbles, three in UConn territory, killed scoring chances, with the last, at the Husky four, setting up UConn's chip shot field goal to win in overtime.

    West Virginia simply isn't good enough to overcome turnovers and win, given its offensive problems and inability to come up with game changing plays on defense or special teams. The minus four turnover margin, which put WVU at minus five overall in 2011, was the key factor in the game.

    "They had zero turnovers," head coach Bill Stewart said afterward. "We can't strip the ball, can't pick the ball, can't knock the ball loose on defense, and our offense gave the ball away. You can't win games if you can't take care of the ball."

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