"We're very, very lucky to get out of here with a win today," said Mountaineer head coach Rich Rodriguez after the game. "Some of our guys must have thought this was Disney World or something," fumed Rodriguez, who was clearly upset with his team's performance. "We made enough mistakes for half a season out there today and some of our guys just didn't give the effort we expect out of them. I don't know if these guys are too busy reading the press clippings or watching SportsCenter or what, but we aren't anywhere close to playing Mountaineer football right now. I don't have to watch the tape [of the game] to know what a lot of our mistakes were, but some of our guys just aren't executing out there. We may have to take a look at some of our younger guys if our veterans don't start playing the way they're supposed to play."
Marshall, WVU's senior quarterback, was a bright spot for the Mountaineer offense, completing 18 of his 27 passing attempts for 238 yards and the two touchdown passes, a 14-yarder to his favorite target, Chris Henry, and a 5-yarder to tight end Josh Bailey. Marshall added 46 yards on 10 carries, despite being sacked three times by an inspired Golden Knights defense. Harris rushed for 95 yards on 19 carries, but his two fumbles left the WVU feature back in a sour mood in the WVU locker room after the game.
Henry had another big day, if a bit less spectacular than the Mountaineers' opening win over East Carolina, where the lanky receiver snared 9 passes for 142 yards. On the day, Henry gathered 6 Marshall aerials for 103 yards and the lone WVU first half touchdown with 9:01 left in the opening quarter.
UCF gave an indication that they had come prepared to give the nationally ranked Mountaineers a battle on their first play from scrimmage. After returning the opening kick-off to their own 29, Knight quarterback Steve Moffett handed the ball to tailback Alex Haynes, who subsequently turned and pitched the ball back to Moffett, who then hit a wide open Tavaris Capers on the flea flicker down the WVU sideline for a gain of 52 to the WVU 19-yard line, electrifying the sell-out crowd of 70,345. Only Lawrence Audena's shoestring tackle prevented Capers from taking the long completion into the end zone.
However, the WVU defense quickly stiffened and limited the Knights to Matt Prater's 31-yard field goal for the Knight's early 3-0 lead with just 1:42 gone in the game.
The Mountaineers took the ensuing kickoff and began their first possession of the day at their own 31, quickly driving downfield on the strength of Marshall's arm and Harris' legs. The drive featured Marshall completions to Eddie Jackson for 13 yards, freshman Brandon Barrett for 11 and Miquelle Henderson for 15, plus runs of 8, 7 and 8 yards by Harris to reach the 7-yard line. After a sack by UCF's Brent Bolar, Marshall lobbed a timing pattern toss into the deep right corner of the end zone on third down from the 14, where Henry made a leaping catch while coming down with both feet inbounds to give West Virginia its first touchdown of the afternoon and the Mountaineers their first lead at 7-3.
The WVU defense then held the Knights to a three-and-out, forcing the Knights to punt. West Virginia took control at their 26 and, primarily via the ground game, WVU marched to the Knight's 11-yard line and appeared poised to score again. However, on first down, Harris took a pitchout from Marshall and bobbled the pitch, losing the ball when hit by Knights' lineman Frisner Nelson. UCF defensive end Paul Carrington recovered the fumble for the Knights at the 14 and UCF took over, beginning a long drive of their own. Moffett completed passes to Capers, Luther Huggins twice and Brandon Marshall and Haynes ran for gains of 21, 9 and 12 yards as the Knights methodically drove to the WVU 7. From there, Moffett hit his tight end, Darcy Johnson, for the touchdown over the middle of the end zone. The ensuing extra point gave the Knights a 10-7 lead with 9:51 left in the second quarter.
After the two teams exchanged punts on short, ineffective possessions, WVU took over after a Matt Prater punt at their own 26 and drove to the Knights' 8 yard line, highlighted by Marshall completions to Rayshawn Bolden for 17 and Brandon Myles for 17 yards and a 27-yard run by Jason Colson. The drive then stalled at the UCF 8 and the Mountaineers settled for Andy Good's 25-yard field goal for a 10-10 tie. The Knights mounted another drive before halftime, but time ran out in the half with UCF on the West Virginia 38.
The halftime score was indicative of the teams' first half yardage totals, as each team gained 206 yards with the time of possession also nearly even at 15:30 to 14:30 in WVU's favor. However, Harris' first quarter fumble proved critical, as the Mountaineers' drive deep into the Knights side of the field came up empty and the Knights capitalized on the mistake in driving for their lone first half touchdown.
Whatever Rich Rodriguez told his team at halftime seemed to work, at least temporarily, as West Virginia received the second half kick-off and, showing an elevated level of intensity, quickly drove downfield for their second touchdown. On the drive, Marshall completed passes to five different Mountaineer receivers and Harris ran effectively on plays around the ends as the Mountaineers completed an 8-play, 69-yard thrust in 3:14, culminating with Marshall's zig-zagging scramble through a host of would-be UCF tacklers from 14 yards out. The run put the Mountaineers on top, 17-10.
On the ensuing UCF possession, Adam ‘Pac Man' Jones stepped in front of a Moffett pass intended for wideout Brooks Turner and the WVU junior returned the interception from the WVU 30 to the UCF 48. However, the Mountaineer offense fizzled, picking up just eight yards, which forced an Eric Daugherty punt. A short UCF drive also resulted in a punt and WVU then mounted its last scoring drive of the day.
From their own 15, Marshall hit Jackson, Harris and Dee Alston on consecutive plays for a total of 51 yards, Harris ran for 20 and, on second down from the UCF 5, Marshall connected with tight end Josh Bailey for the final WVU touchdown of the day with 2:52 left in the third quarter and a seemingly safe 24-10 lead. However, things began to unravel for the Mountaineers from that point.
Following a short drive to their own 42, UCF's Matt Prater, who handles both the placekicking and punting duties for the Knights, hit a booming 56-yard punt that was downed at the WVU 1-yard line. On the first play from scrimmage, Marshall tripped while coming out from under the center and nose tackle Larry Brown collared the WVU quarterback behind the goal line for a safety, cutting the WVU lead to 24-12 and putting momentum back in hands of the Knights.
After the free kick, the Mountaineer defense stopped the Knights at midfield on three downs. Taking the ensuing punt, West Virginia began chewing up yardage and moved from their own 13 to the Knights' 3-yard line. Appearing ready to put the clinching touchdown on the scoreboard, Harris took the handoff from Marshall and was hit immediately, fumbling the ball, which was recovered by the Knights' blitzing linebacker Gerren Bray at the UCF 6.
A deflated WVU offense yielded to a WVU defense that was equally deflated, as the Mountaineer prevent unit allowed the Knights to complete a 12-play, 94-yard march, ending in Haynes' 5-yard touchdown run. Haynes was virtually untouched while crossing the goal line and the mostly partisan UCF crowd went ecstatic, as the Knights had climbed to within 5 with 4:13 remaining.
The now shocked WVU offense could muster only one first down on the subsequent possession and West Virginia punted to UCF with 2:35 left in the game. The Knights then began their final drive of the day from their own 11 to the WVU 39 in less than a minute and a half. With 0:58 remaining, Moffett was flushed out of the pocket by Jason Hardee and, throwing on the run, tried to hit Al Peterson along the Knights' sideline. However, the Mountaineers' Jahmile Addae sensed what was coming and darted in front of Peterson to make the defensive play of the day for the Mountaineers, intercepting the pass and effectively ending the inspired Golden Knights' dreams of the upset. West Virginia ran out the final 0:44 and walked off the Citrus Bowl turf knowing they had avoided a near-catastrophic loss.
WVU played well at times, but was unable to mount a conistent effort against the fired up home team. Turnovers, which the Mountaineers fed upon during the last two seasons, were also an issue. The Golden Knights turned two turnovers into touchdowns.
"Turnovers were obviously a problem for us today. They capitalized on every one of our mistakes. When you give the ball up the way we did today you just have to hope you can squeeze your way out of it and find a way to escape with a win, which we did," added Rodriguez following the game.
UCF head coach George O'Leary was dejected in the Knights' locker room following the tough loss.
"We had our chance to win it at the end, but West Virginia came up with the big play when they needed it, which is the mark of a great team. I'm sure there's a lot of relief in their locker room; there's a ton of disappointment in ours. I'm proud of the effort we gave against one of the better teams and the better programs in the country. And our fans were unbelievably great today, just great," added O'Leary.
Rodriguez did have some positive remarks regarding his senior quarterback after the game. "Rasheed Marshall was the difference for us today. He was a steady force for us on the field all day long. He makes smart decisions and doesn't get rattled. He has room for improvement and we expect him to improve, but we're real confident in the quarterback position with him out there."
Rodriguez also had words of praise for his secondary. "We have some real playmakers back there. They've come up with some big plays for us so far [this season]." "We're getting more pressure on the quarterback, but not nearly enough," said the Mountaineer mentor. Linebacker Jay Henry led the Mountaineers in tackles with nine, two for losses, and the defensive line recorded four sacks, two by Ernest Hunter and one each by Ben Lynch and Hardee.
Asked whether his team was looking past UCF to next week's showdown in Morgantown against recent tormenter Maryland, Rodriguez quipped, "We had one guy this week that said ‘Maryland'. I think he's still running steps back at the stadium [Mountaineer Field]. We preach to these guys that every game is the only one on the schedule. If they were looking ahead, I think they saw today how dangerous that can be."
West Virginia moved to 2-0 in the rankings and will likely move up from 11th in the USA Today/coaches poll as a result of upsets to several teams ranked higher than the Mountaineers in the latest poll. Central Florida fell to 0-2 after losing in Madison to Wisconsin a week ago.
Next Saturday's home game with the Maryland Terrapins is sold out and has been moved to a 7:05 PM start to accommodate ESPN television coverage. The gates at Milan Puskar Stadium will open at 5:30 PM.
Attendance - 70,345
First Downs - WVU 23 UCF 21
Rushes-Yards - WVU 46-213 UCF 42-192
Passing-Comp-Att-Yds-TD-Int - WVU 18-27-238-2-0 UCF 18-29-239-1-1
Punts-Avg. - WVU 3-34.3 ECU 5-42.2
Fumbles-Lost - WVU 2-2 ECU 1-0
Penalties-Yards - WVU 7-53 ECU 6-47
Time of Possession - WVU 30:47 ECU 29:13
RUSHING-Att-Yds-TD - WVU Harris 19-95-0, Colson 14-71-0 Marshall 5-27-1 Little 4-9 Johnson 1-3 UCF Haynes 24-123-1 Moffett 8-18 Brown 6-24 Wilcox 3-14 Williams 1-13
PASSING-Comp-Att-Yds-TD-INT - WVU Marshall 16-26-219-1 UCF Moffett 18-29-239-1-1
RECEIVING-Rec-Yds-TD - WVU Henry 6-103-1 Jackson 3-46-0 Henderson 3-38-0 Barrett 2-19-0 Pennington 2-11-0 Austin 1-14-0 Bailey 1-7-1 UCF Capers 5-89-0 Huggins 4-69-0 Johnson 5-32-1 Marshall 2-15-0 Turner 1-14
DISCLAIMER: The contents of this article are intended for entertainment purposes only. The author has created detailed statistics including each drive's time of possession, yardage, key plays, etc. for each game in order to make this fantasy series of WVU game outcomes as realistic as possible. The author assumes no responsibility for any errors or inconsistencies and has produced the series strictly for the enjoyment of Mountaineer football fans during the agonizing summer months without WVU football.