Royal Review - Auburn

It was a beautiful night for football, and WVU again responded with another great performance under the lights. That makes for a very happy Top Ten in this week's Royal Review.

10. The Mountaineers are back! West Virginia needed it, and it fought back for a big 34-17 win over the SEC Auburn Tigers. As great as the 31 consecutive points scored by the Mountaineers were, I believe West Virginia should have actually scored more points in this contest. On West Virginia's opening drive, the Mountaineers marched down to the Auburn 12-yard line, and a perfectly executed fake by Pat White set up a screen pass. WVU's receiver was wide open on the play, but Auburn's defensive lineman Josh Bynes made a super effort to intercept the ball, snuffing the early scoring threat. West Virginia's confidence at this point could have been broken, but the Mountaineers rallied. Even when stuck on the short end of a 17-3 score, the team stuck together and pulled out great win.

9. Five-foot eight-inch Noel Divine played like a monster. Nearly every one of his 17 carries for 207 yards was spectacular in some fashion. While Divine was rightly crowned king of the night, Jock Sanders and Mark Rodgers shouldn't be overlooked either. Sanders carried the ball six times for 42 yards, and many were hard earned up the gut style. He also added four catches for 31 yards. Mark Rodgers' 14-yard run in the third quarter really added to the West Virginia momentum. Tallied up, the running game produced 271 yards on 35 carries for a 7.7 average on one of the best defenses in the country.

8. Midway through the third quarter it appeared to me that West Virginia was clearly the better conditioned team as Auburn started to miss tackles that they had not in the 1st half. Tiger coach Tommy Tuberville admitted as much, saying his team "ran out of gas" in the fourth quarter.

7. It was enjoyable to watch a college football game this past weekend without worrying about the outcome of the game. To set the scene in no particular order I'd like to see the following teams go 0-12 every year: Penn State, Michigan and, of course Pitt. Have you ever noticed that even when you believe that you really don't care about the outcome of a game that you begin to pull for a team with simple body language – for example leaning? This past weekend I watched the Michigan – Penn State game and I was shocked which way I was leaning.

WVU's win on Thursday also sets up another enjoyable weekend of watching games, knowing the Mountaineers already have that win in their hip pocket.

6. I saw flashbacks of the Colorado game concerning clock management as the game approached half time. West Virginia squandered valuable seconds by not using their timeouts after its first play of its last possession. I recall the New York Jets hired a "Clock" coach under head coach Herman Edwards to handle this aspect of the game. West Virginia might want to consider this.

5. J.T. Thomas is starting to remind me of a former great Mountaineer linebacker, and it isn't his dad. My favorite all-time West Virginia linebacker is Bernard Russ, as he played with a great passion and ferocious intensity. Russ's teammates fed off his passion and intensity – and perhaps they were a little afraid not to perform with Russ watching over them. As I watched J.T. on Thursday, I could see his passion and intensity spilling over to his teammates. J.T. had a great game with eight tackles and a pass breakup. His running mate, Anthony Leonard, continued to shine as he led the defense with 16 tackles. After the Rutgers game I highlighted the play of Scooter Berry and Chris Neild, and noted that they were only sophomores. The same holds true with Thomas and Leonard. Gang, there other freshman and sophomores contributing significant minutes as well. This defense is only going to get better.

4. In the home game program, Mountaineer Illustrated, several players are asked a series of questions ranging from "What team do you use when you play Madden" to "What is running through your mind in the tunnel before a game?" One of the questions routinely asked is, "Who is the best dressed on the team?" The majority of the responses are "Dorrell Jalloh." Jalloh's flair for fashion spilled over the football field with a spectacular 32-yard touchdown where he split the defenders with a little jump move and then high stepped into the end zone. Jalloh said in the locker room that he didn't plan anything, but once he broke free the end zone was wide open and his enthusiasm just took over. It was the signature play of the game, and will likely live long in Mountaineer lore.

3. Special teams needs some work prior to the UConn game. Auburn's Mario Fannin returned a kickoff 69 yards to West Virginia's 31-yard line in the second quarter to set up the Tigers' final score, and then in the third quarter Tristan Davis returned a kickoff 62 yards to the West Virginia 38-yard line. Ellis Lankster also struggled catching and holding on to punts, with two muffs on the evening. The gusting wind may have played a role in one of them. Perhaps the coaching staff should have instructed Ellis to stay clear? However, you never want to let a punt bounce if you can help it, so if this continues we may see a change in personnel.

2. There were a couple of oddities at the game tonight. I hadn't noticed this in prior games, but Chris Neild's jersey didn't have his name on the back. Also noticeable by their absence were the majority of the Auburn team (except their kicking units) during pregame warm-ups. The Tigers didn't come out to warm-up until 15 minutes prior the West Virginia band coming on to the field. I haven't timed this in the past, but normally teams begin their full squad warm-ups at least 30 minutes prior to band coming on to the field.

1. You can pick out many great efforts from this game, but from my seat, Pat White's 44-yard touchdown pass to Alric Arnett was the play of the game. Auburn had taken a commanding 17-3 lead and the Mountaineers desperately needed a score before the half. With a defender in Pat's grill, White delivered an absolute strike to a streaking Arnett for the score.

During the course of game, the new video board will highlight great plays by former West Virginia players with the caption, "Heroes will always be remembered, but legends never die." White certainly belongs in the legend category.

See you in Hartford next Saturday for UConn game as WVU tries to stay atop the Big East conference!

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