Plays Made - And Left Unmade

There were multiple chances for West Virginia to increase its odds to win in the overtime loss to Texas.

The Mountaineers could have converted on second and one or third and one with three minutes left. Head coach Dana Holgorsen chose to run the ball twice – solid moves – and yet WVU was stonewalled by the Texas defense. Holgorsen corrected noted that "it's tough to take. We called two consecutive run plays and we didn't get a yard. I don't know what else to call."

Converting there wouldn't have sealed the game; UT still had all three timeouts. And it might have only allowed the Mountaineers to run three more plays. Who knows what happens from there? West Virginia also could have stopped Texas on a fourth and seven when the Longhorns drove for the game-tying field goal in their last possession of overtime. Texas did use a timeout before the fourth down, and thus was down to a pair with 59 seconds left. A stop there, and WVU can nearly exhaust the clock on three plays. One WVU first down definitely ends the game, barring yet another fumble in a contest full of them. But Texas quarterback Case McCoy found Jaxon Shipley for nine yards to the Mountaineer 38-yard line, and Anthony Fera converted the 24-yarder to tie the score at 40.

And, the one that likely sticks out to most fans, West Virginia could have managed a stop on the third and goal from the two-yard line when UT threw to fullback Alex De La Torre for what became the game winner in the 47-40 UT win. The Mountaineers stuffed the run twice from the five yard line or closer, and again sold out, not expecting a Texas team that had thrown 46 times to do it just once more. But the most curious decision was West Virginia's choice not to try at a single run in its final three plays. Holgorsen had a solid explanation, essentially noting that UT had nine players in the box and later mentioning that West Virginia failed to gain any yardage on the second and third and one plays that could have helped seal the game.

On its first play in overtime, WVU faked to its backs in offsetting directions, then pitched the ball to receiver Mario Alford an a misdirection end around that put the ball at the Texas five-yard line. On first and goal, Charles Sims pounded up the middle for one. But after that – nothing from the run game with zero chances. West Virginia chose to try three consecutive passes. It made some sense, since WVU had failed to gain much yardage when UT was packed into an area in its penultimate possession of regulation. On first down, Cody Clay ran his route too close to a fellow wideout, and cornerback Quandre Diggs came off to defend.

"Cody has to get out in the flats," WVU offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson said of WVU's second down overtime play. "We had what we wanted as far as getting the guy in the back of the end zone. The receiver got a great release to the inside and we just pushed that route a little too deep. We wanted to pivot it out to the sideline to pull (the defender) from the post. It just didn't happen."

On its next two plays, obviously also from the four-yard line, WVU ran the same play twice, just to different sides. The goal was to get Alford open in the back of the end zone, but it was well-defended both times by 6-3 linebacker Steve Edmund, who intercepted Paul Millard on the final play. Diggs harassed Millard via on a corner blitz.

"There was some pressure, but we just didn't get it done," said Millard, who struggled early after starter Clint Trickett was injured, but seemed to find a bit of a groove as the game wore on.

Dawson noted that Millard "came in and put the ball in play. He gave us a chance, no doubt. That's a positive. He made some good throws down the stretch that were good, and that's something we wanted to take advantage of, and it just so happened at the end, we did. Unfortunately we just didn't execute."

The lack of runs that close in the game's closing plays could be questioned, and one wonders if Holgorsen was a bit unnerved by the Mountaineers' inability to gain three feet in two plays in a prior series. There's no right or wrong there, only plays made and play left unmade. And West Virginia was saddled with more of the latter when it mattered most. One has to be encouraged by the performance, though former Arizona Cardinals head coach Dennis Green's quote comes largely to mind on this one: They are who we thought they were. And we let'em off the hook.


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