So much went so wrong for so much of the game for WVU. And then, with so little time, so much went so right, as the Mountaineers exorcised the Red Raider demons with 17 unanswered points in the final six minutes, including a third career game-winning field goal for a sophomore in Josh Lambert. There was bad tackling on the defense. There were ill-fitting run alignments. There was the inability to get off the field on a handful of key third downs.
There was an offensive line that struggled to win the line of scrimmage against a weak box in the first half. There was a quarterback in Clint Trickett struggling with accuracy and timing over the first 40 minutes. And there were two absolutely foolish penalties, one a personal foul against Quinton Spain that got the left guard benched for the next play as the coaching staff provided discipline.
And then, after what most assumed was the backbreaker on Tech’s 69-yard touchdown run for a 34-20 deficit with 7:32 to play, much of it changed. West Virginia, using a steady mix of inside zone run against a cover two defense designed for max protection over the top, put together a pair of seven-play, 70-plus yards scoring drives on back-to-back possessions to tie the game at 34-34 with two minutes left. The first, a 75 yard drive, took just 97 seconds. The second, all of 2:37 that culminated with Rushel Shell’s one-yard scoring run on fourth and goal. Trickett suddenly honed in on receivers. West Virginia began challenging Texas Tech over the middle – and completing throws. The Mountaineer defense forced the Raiders to punt on four of their last five drives via quality coverage and fitting up on the run far better than it had early in the game.
The final drive was a prime example in itself. Starting at the 20 after a touchback, with just 52 seconds left, West Virginia mixed in the run with the pass, again feeding Tech the zone read in the single back with Wendell Smallwood. The Mountaineers converted a third and two from the 28-yard line with 30 seconds left. They smartly used timeouts, an aspect lacking in the first half. And they found pass game openings in the 4-2-5 look that Tech utilized in trying to get a pass rush while adequately covering four- and five-wide.
WVU, which finished a school-record fifth straight game with more than 500 yards of offense, never took a snap in Tech territory on the drive until there were 14 seconds left. And then, again facing the 4-2-5 alignment, it put trips left with Kevin White alone on the right, and handed to Smallwood for a gain of eight that took the clock to seven seconds. An incompletion to the sideline left three seconds on the clock, and Lambert came on to nail the 55-yarder, tying a school-record for distance. The kick, dead-on down the middle, would have been good from 60-plus.
It was the topper on another worthwhile note: West Virginia at least stalemated – and it reads here beat – Texas Tech on special teams. Save the Worley fumble, WVU was crisp in every phase. It covered kickoffs, it nailed down solid field position on punts, and even with one Lambert miss, the game-winner overwhelms.
It wasn’t even good at times, let alone flawless, and there were certainly issues. It’s amazing how well and how poorly West Virginia can run the two – in, in this case, one – minute drills. We examined the game-winning drive above, now let’s look at the flip side.
After K.J. Dillon’s interception with a minute left in the first half, West Virginia had the ball at its own nine-yard line with three timeouts. Certainly, play selection must be somewhat conservative. The three run calls were fine, and picked up a first down at the 26 yard line with 24 seconds. From there, the choices were interesting. Another run call netted nine yards, but also took a full 10 seconds off the clock. That could have been just six seconds, but WVU’s coaching staff was exceptionally slow at calling a timeout even though the Mountaineers had three.
That was fine – until the first down to the 26. Again, WVU must begin throwing at that point. It has the entire field available with three timeouts. And instead it selects a 10-second, nine-yard run (again, an extra four seconds expired because of the tardy timeout call) followed finally by the attempt at a pass downfield. Tech’s secondary blanketed the Mountaineer wideouts, and Trickett was brought down to end the half.
There were other issues. It was, at least, a questionable decision to throw deep to Mario Alford on fourth and three on West Virginia’s penultimate possession of the first. The conversion percentage of those plays are low. It’s certainly more desirable to attempt a higher percentage play. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a run – WVU was getting bottled at the line at times –but one would think something with a settle patter to find an open area on a shorter attempt would have been preferable. Even with man coverage and no safety help over the top, the long pass on fourth and three isn’t the best of choices in that instance.
But even with the mistakes and missed assignments, the poor tackling, the offensive bog down while WVU adjusted its run game, the good and bad clock management, the lackadaisical and superior line play, through all that, the win is the key. West Virginia, now 4-2 overall, 2-1 in the Big 12, got a victory when it badly had to have it to continue to position itself in the conference race and for a bowl game. It’s as big of a win as the program has had in two-plus years. Read into that what you will, but collectively WVU will take it. Time to get back from Lubbock, clean some things up and get ready for No. 5 Baylor.