Turning Point

While Steve Suter's punt return for a touchdown on WVU's ill-advised kick down the center of the field was a crunching blow, the Mountaineers still had a bit of hope left until another self-inflicted wound pretty much ended all hope.

After Suter's return gave the Terrapins a 17-0 lead, things obviously looked grim for WVU. The Mountaineers had surrendered the ball twice on turnovers, and appeared to have suffered a complete meltdown on special teams, twice having to call timeouts to get the correct number of players on the field and then strangely giving Suter the chance to return a punt, which he gleefully did for a score.

The one ray of hope was that the WVU rushing game appeared to be in decent shape. To that point, West Virginia had rushed seven times for 43 yards, and when WVU immediately picked up the peices following Suter's dagger to start another drive, at least a bit of hope bloomed among the Mountaineer faithful.

From the West Virginia 29-yard line, Quincy Wilson ripped off 18 yards on two carries, and after a Rasheed carry lost one yard, Kay Jay Harris rumbled across midfield for ten yards to the Maryland 44. Facing a fourth down and one from that point, a last down try seemed to be the proper call.

However, West Virginia failed to answer the bell. Despite the hopes of at least two offensive players who wanted the ball in their hands for a first down try, the Mountaineer coaching staff elected to quick kick the ball away in the hopes of pinning Maryland deep.

Had the game been a low-scoring, field position grinder, a punt would be understandable. But with the Mountaineer running game appearing to be in at least decent shape (now at 12 carries for 70 yards), going for the first down was the proper decision. WVU desperately needed to get points on the board, as it was obvious that the Terps were going to score a lot on the beautiful day in Jacksonville.

Had a fourth down play failed, at least the Mountaineers would have tried. Instead, Maryland took possession of the ball at their own 19-yard line after Rasheed Marshall's pooch kick and marched 81 yards for a touchdown that removed any doubt about the outcome.

It's easy to look back in hindsight and criticize calls. This is one case, however, where the criticism is probably valid. Had the fourth down effort failed, it still would have been the correct call, just like it's correct to throw the ball to Chris Henry when he's matched up in single coverage with a 5-10 defensive back, even if the pass is incomplete.

By punting the ball away, WVU lost their first chance to put points on the board in the opening half, showed little confidence in the offense's ability to make a statement, and shut the door on the Gator Bowl with more than 41 minutes to go in the game.

Did that call make the difference in the game? Probably not. Maryland is simply a better team and program than WVU right now. However, when a team is faced with those types of odds, they must seize every chance to win. The Mountaineers, in meekly bowing to the inevitable, didn't even take a shot at it.


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