"Maybe we're not as bad as perceived," Rodriguez said in an understatement. "Who would have thought?"
With the win the Mountaineers (7-3, 4-1 Big East) assured themselves of a bowl bid and are still in contention for the Big East championship with two games to play. The Mountaineers were picked to finish sixth in the eight-team Big East and now can finish no lower than fourth.
"We're not done," WVU offensive tackle Lance Nimmo said. "We still have two more games and we want to win both."
Virginia Tech and Pitt, two thorns in the side of WVU in recent years. Pitt has won two straight in the series and Tech four, including seven of the last eight. But WVU has made a habit of payback this year, knocking off Temple and Boston College, both winners over West Virginia last year.
The latter win might be the Mountaineers' most impressive this season. The Eagles (5-4, 0-4), predicted to finish third in the conference, came off a win over then-No. 3 Notre Dame in South Bend and were looking to rally from a disappointing start with five consecutive wins.
West Virginia wouldn't have it. It turned BC passing lanes into thin strips and muzzled the Eagle offensive front in one of the most dominating defense performances of the season. Boston College finished with 80 net yards rushing, though some of that must be attributed to WVU's early lead that forced the Eagles to throw.
Even with a fifth-year senior in Brian St. Pierre at quarterback, an offense that had been prolific in the weeks before Notre Dame was bottled by the 3-3-5 stack. West Virginia gave up 284 passing yards, but most of it was between the red zones.
"They gave us a long field all day," said St. Pierre, who was 28 of 50 throwing out of an I-formation power running offense. "They have a really good scheme, and it took us a couple drives to figure it out."
By that time WVU forged ahead 10-0, thought it could have been more. The initial nine-play, 54-yard drive stalled at the BC 15-yard line on a second and four when the Mountaineers, a sign of things to come, threw twice, both incomplete.
Todd James' knuckler of a field goal went through for the 3-0 edge.
WVU then set the tone for the rest of the game on the next two Eagle series'. On the first, after an initial first down, BC was stuffed on three plays and punted. On the next, James Davis, unquestionably the defensive player of the game, headhunted BC ball carrier Derrick Knight (54 yards on 18 totes) on one play, then blocked the first of two field goals, this a 48-yard effort from Sandro Sciortino.
"They just told us to jump," Davis, a 6-2, 38-inch-plus vertical leaper, said. "We got a push inside and jumped."
The ball, which hit Davis in the chest, was recovered by Grant Wiley. Davis later blocked another field goal, this time with his right hand. He added seven tackles, one for loss, to tie Kyle Kayden for WVU's all-time tackles for loss mark.
BC, down just 3-0, could feel the momentum shift. Head coach Tom O'Brien, 3-3 against WVU, said it was a mix of many things.
"We couldn't catch up to the offense," he said. "Everything was different this year. Then we got in situations where we could not run. And St. Pierre was not in rhythm early."
He never found it when it mattered. With BC having started at the 50-yard line and only managing a long field goal that was blocked, WVU capitalized and drove to the BC 14, where it was stopped on fourth and one. The Eagles, winless at Mountaineer Field since 1990, had that long field again, and were stopped immediately and forced to punt. This time the Mountaineers took advantage.
West Virginia mixed the run and pass in its longest drive -- by plays -- of the game. It took WVU 11 snaps to move 61 yards.
Quarterback Rasheed Marshall threw to Derrick Smith for 12 yards and Miquelle Henderson for five on two of the first three plays. From there in, seven rushing plays stuffed the ball into BC's front seven before a fake dive and roll-out pass to tight end Tory Johnson gave WVU a 10-0 lead.
"We wanted them to pass," Eagle defensive end Derric Rossy said. "But they passed more then we thought, and that didn't work. We felt had to stop (Avon) Cobourne."
BC didn't do either. Cobourne, moving into 16th-place all-time on the NCAA rushing list, netted 138 yards on 25 carries and scored once. Quincy Wilson rushed for 100 yards, and Marshall added 26 while completing 12 of 18 passes for one score and no interceptions. It was his best passing day since WVU's 35-32 victory over Cincinnati.
St. Pierre had two interceptions and another by Grant Wiley that was taken away because of a penalty, and BC fumbled five times but did not lose any as WVU moved ahead in its turnover ratio against foes.
"This was a physical game," Rodriguez said, "and I believe that was our key to victory." Ahead 10-0, West Virginia clamped down defensively and forced another three-and-out, then went ahead 17-0 on the next drive. Starting at its 39, WVU paired a Henderson 15-yard catch-and-run with Cobourne's 36-yard burst to the goalline that setup his five-yard jaunt for a score after a false start penalty with 11:18 to play in the half.
"You can't get no better than that on your last game," Cobourne said.
But it did get better. BC, forced out of its offensive shell by the deficit, started to throw more, playing right into West Virginia's game plan. The Eagles managed a score on their next drive, then were shut down for the rest of the game.
When BC did move the ball on the next drive, Davis blocked another field goal, this time a chip-shot from 21-yards out. To start the second half BC went three and out, then WVU returned the favor, giving the Eagles the ball back.
"That's when the game changed," O'Brien said.
That's when the Eagles managed to pin WVU at its one-yard line with a stellar drive and punt. But WVU, the playmakers all game, punched out to the five with Cobourne, then surprisingly threw a 14-yard pass to Henderson. Two more Cobourne runs and an 11-yard toss to Aaron Neal moved the ball to the 40 and the danger was over for WVU, which immediately put the pressure on Boston College with a punt to the BC five. A holding flag moved the ball to the three.
"We didn't make a play," O'Brien said. "Who knows what happens if we do there?"
"I thought that was big," agreed Rodriguez. "That stop on their first drive, then to force them inside their five, that was big."
BC, long field, again.
St. Pierre, under pressure near his goalline, threw a pick to a diving Arthur Harrison, who set his squad up at the 33. Six plays later Phil Braxton took a reverse and got a solid block from Marshall to get him inside the three, where he launched and placed the ball just inside the pile-on to give WVU a 24-7 lead over a stunned foe.
The rest of the game was largely played out with BC throwing, and WVU running. It was clock-eating, and the Mountaineers did it well. BC's final score came with 39 seconds left on fourth and goal from the eight. It was meaningless, and by that time the WVU team and fans had started the celebration.
"Way to go, boys! Way to go men!," Rodriguez shouted on the sidelines.
It was, perhaps, not an upset, West Virginia being a three-point favorite. But WVU"s sheer dominance was a surprise. The Mountaineers could have won the game 31-7 if it had not settled and smartly ran down the clock.
The smaller WVU team dominated the bigger Eagles up front. West Virginia was better in all phases; it was more physical, hit harder, played batter and was just plain superior in Rodriguez's biggest win as Mountaineer head coach.
"During the Maryland game we had that deer in the headlights look," Rodriguez said. "I haven't seen that from them since. We're just playing it one play at a time. But this was a great win over a very good program."
West Virginia came out happy, satisfied, but beat-up. With the schedule turning to the road, WVU gets a few days of before preparing for rival Virginia Tech, a Wednesday night game on Nov. 20.
And, suddenly, the once vaunted Techsters look beatable after consecutive loses to Pitt and Syracuse, which WVU crushed 34-7. And with Pitt, the arch-rival, every stat is tossed. With consecutive wins to end the season WVU would finish second in the Big East, and could be in line for the Gator Bowl.
It's no longer a question of if, but what bowl. Who would have thought?