One Big Fiesta For Stewart, Mountaineers

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Michigan may have gotten Rich Rodriguez, but West Virginia still has Patrick White. The junior quarterback improved to 3-0 in bowl games as he led the Mountaineers with his legs and arm to a 48-28 victory over the Oklahoma Sooners in the 2008 Tostitos Fiesta Bowl here on Wednesday night.

White accounted for and 326 yards and two touchdowns as the Mountaineers rod him to victory in a BCS game for the second time in three seasons.

Though Rodriguez, a perceived offensive genius by trade, was nowhere to be found, the Mountaineers had their most impressive offensive performance in quite some time against a defense and team regarded as among the nation's best.

Much was made of West Virginia and interim head coach Bill Stewart opening up the playbook, and while there were a few new wrinkles here and there, the biggest difference between this and the regular season finale against Pitt was the often flawless execution carried out by White and company. West Virginia averaged nine yards per play on the night, keeping the vaunted OU defense off guard with a steady mix of inside runs and downfield passes. White's passing numbers (10-19, 178 yards and two touchdowns) weren't exactly Tom Brady-like, but West Virginia's willingness to at the very least take a few shots downfield seemed to soften up Oklahoma's defenders in the box, and keep the Sooner secondary on its heels looking for both the pass and run.

Case in point, a pair of Mountaineer touchdowns.

With 2:27 remaining in the second quarter, the normally normally-disciplined OU defense bit on a run fake to West Virginia freshman Noel Devine, never noticing in the process that slot receiver Darius Reynaud was jogging uncovered towards the end zone. White lofted the ball to Reynaud, who backed into the end zone for his record-tying 12th touchdown catch of the season. Current Cincinnati Bengal standout Chris Henry set the previous record in 2004.

In the second half, the big-play passing game showed itself once more when White led off a third quarter drive by delivering a rocket to junior wideout Tito Gonzales, who escaped the grasp of an Oklahoma defender and galloped into the end zone with a 79-yard touchdown catch. The touchdown reception was the longest in bowl history for the Mountaineers.

With the passing game clicking, open running lanes were easy to come by for a host of Mountaineer ball carriers. For the second consecutive bowl game, star running back Steve Slaton was rendered ineffective due to a pulled right hamstring that occurred in the first quarter. In his absence, White, fullback Owen Schmitt, and Devine more than picked up the slack en route to running for 349 yards on 39 carries.

Schmitt scored West Virginia's first offensive touchdown of the game when he took a handoff from White and jaunted 57 yards down the West Virginia sideline early in the second quarter. The Mountaineers had taken the lead courtesy of two Pat McAfee field goals, and the Sooners answered with a field goal of their own. Schmitt's touchdown was the longest run of his career, and pushed West Virginia's lead to 10 points.

Devine answered another OU score in the third quarter with his 17-yard run around the left side.

Devine's 65-yard touchdown run all but iced the final outcome in favor of the Mountaineers. In fact, the only thing fleeing faster than Devine may have been Oklahoma's red-clad fans following the play. Sooner backers rushed to the exits as Devine crossed the goal line, as West Virginia began to taste another big victory.

"The credit goes to Pat White and Noel Devine," said standout Oklahoma defensive end Curtis Lofton. "They are great players and make a lot of guys miss."

"There were a lot of missed tackles, a lot of guys not being in position, discipline containing the ball, just different issues and different occasions," added Stoops.

White, Devine, and the West Virginia offense were definitely impressive. So too was the Mountaineer defense, despite giving up 28 points. Oklahoma was held to a total of just one yard on 12 plays in the first quarter, allowing the offense to feel out OU's defenders before the big plays came rolling in. The Sooners, owning a significant size advantage on both lines, simply could not keep up with West Virginia's smaller but fleeter defensive line, most notably defensive tackle Keilen Dykes and defensive end Johnny Dingle.

"They really outplayed us big-time through the first half of the game, getting to the quarterback and not being able to protect him and even not being able to run the field goal," Stoops said.

"Going into halftime, we had two field goals, and they had stopped us on multiple occasions. There was pressure."

Added Bradford, "Any time we tried to run it, they stuffed it. I missed some throws in the first quarter that could have got us going and unfortunately missed them and got us behind the change. We have to play behind the change against a good defense. It is hard to move the ball."

In the second half, Bradford and the OU offense got going while Stoops's defense began to slow down White and West Virginia. Two three and outs for the Mountaineers gave way to an Oklahoma field goal and touchdown on a run by Chris Brown. Brown's scoring run cut the West Virginia lead to five points, and Stoops opted to chase a three-point deficit by going for two. Bradford's pass for Juaquin Iglesias was short and wide, holding West Virginia's lead at a steady five points.

On the corresponding kickoff, the Sooners tried to catch West Virginia off-guard with an onside kick. The attempt failed miserably as Mountaineer safety Ridwan Malik pounced on the pigskin to give his team prime field position. The Mountaineers would later capitalize with Devine's first touchdown run.

Stoops elected to gamble in hopes of giving his team a spark. Instead, both moves ended up backfiring on the Sooners, and paying off for the Mountaineers.

"Obviously, you are in a tight situation," Stoops noted. "If they work – you know, the two-point conversion gets you from within three. That's what you need to do. We had the momentum, and if you get the onside kick, you got a chance to really make – to give them a blow. And, obviously, we don't kick it far enough and there you have it.

"In the end, you don't do those kinds of things when you don't have the momentum. I felt we had the momentum, the opportunity was there. We just didn't execute it. And, you know, who knows? There were still a lot of plays after that that we didn't – they played a heck of a lot better and executed a heck of a lot better than we did in a lot of other areas."

Albeit with an interim head coach leading the way. But might that title for Bill Stewart change soon? At least one Mountaineer hopes so.

"He needs that job," said White. "He deserves it, the head coaching job.

"Great man, great coach," continued White. "All the players respect him and love him. Couldn't ask for a better man to lead us to victory today."

Not just any victory. One of the biggest in West Virginia's growing football history.

"It is an honor and a privilege and a pleasure to be up here with these young men," said Stewart afterward. "We had a tremendous football game tonight against a tremendous opponent."

And came out on top. There was Stewart, soaked in Gatorade for the first time in his career, being carried off the field by the team he rallied together less than three weeks before the game in the wake of Rodriguez's departure.

"So for all the assistant coaches out there that never had (the Gatorade bath)," this is for them."

Another landmark win against another big-time program on another great night to be a Mountaineer.

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