Red Letter Day

PISCATAWAY, N.J. -- On a sloppy Saturday (both in terms of the weather and the play on the field), WVU's defense dominated the Scarlet Knights en route to a 24-21 victory at Rutgers Stadium -- just before formally accepting a bid to the Konica Minolta Gator Bowl.

"It is an honor and a privilege to be able to represent the Big East at the Gator Bowl in Jacksonville, (Fla.) on Jan. 1," said Mountaineer head coach Bill Stewart. "We are really pleased and tickled about that."

The opponent for West Virginia in that game is yet to be announced, and will not be formally released until later this weekend.

Gator Bowl selection committee chairman Brian Goin said that tonight's ACC championship game between Georgia Tech and Clemson could have an impact on the game's representative from that league.

Goin, a Morgantown High and WVU graduate, made clear that the Gator Bowl desires to have Florida State meet the Mountaineers in the contest, which will be long-time coach Bobby Bowden's last along the Seminoles' sideline.

It wasn't clear that West Virginia would be able to earn a ninth victory in front of representatives from the Gator Bowl until quarterback Jarrett Brown rushed for 12 yards (after stiff-arming Rutgers defensive end George Johnson as the defender attempted to tackle Brown in the open field) on a third-and-6 play in the final minutes.

From there, Brown was able to kneel from the victory formation to seal a victory that came in closer-than expected fashion after what had been a quick start by WVU.

The Mountaineers (9-3, 5-2) scored on two of their first three possessions of the contest to jump out to a 14-3 lead on the Scarlet Knights.

But Ryan Clarke's dive into the end zone from one yard out, which set that margin with 46 seconds remaining in the first quarter, would be the end of any real signs of life from either offense in the opening 30 minutes.

Neither team would earn a first down in the next nine possessions of the game. Both teams moved the chains once on their final drives of the half, but neither could move into scoring position.

RU head coach Greg Schiano opted not to call a timeout after his defense earned a sack of WVU quarterback Jarrett Brown on a third down play with around 1:30 remaining in the half.

He then opted to run out the clock instead of trying to mount a drive, and the majority of the 52,534 fans announced in attendance at "The Birthplace of College Football" booed their team as it entered the locker room for the intermission.

That was in spite of an inspired effort from Schiano's defense in the second quarter, as West Virginia was held to a mere two yards of total offense on 18 plays in that span of 15 minutes.

"We opened the game with some defensive mistakes that I can't explain," Schiano said. "I can't explain why we did it. Once we started doing it right, we shut them down."

"But you can't say that. That is the game of football. It is 60 minutes for a reason. We made some mistakes coming out of the gates. I don't know if it was the emotion, but it cost us."

This game recap presented by The Book Exchange

The defenses would continue to control things in the second half, making for a long day for both offenses.

Those units combined to go 3-of-29 on third down conversions and few sustained drives. It was big plays on defense and special teams that ruled the day instead.

RU freshman quarterback Tom Savage stared down a receiver to his left on a third-and-8 play from his team's 19-yard line early in the third quarter.

That allowed safety Sidney Glover, who had been covering a deeper route more in the middle of the field, to cheat up and cut in front of Savage's throw. The safety picked the ball off cleanly and found nothing but open field in front of him.

The 24-yard return for a touchdown gave WVU a seemingly insurmountable 21-3 lead, considering the strong play of the Mountaineer defense to that point.

With its offense sputtering, Rutgers instead turned to its kick return unit -- a season-long weakness for the visitors, who had opted to squib each previous kickoff in the game -- for a much-needed jolt of momentum.

RU's Joe Lefeged fielded the ball at his own 9-yard line and raced almost untouched to the house. Savage ran in a draw play out of a five receiver set on the subsequent 2-point conversion attempt, drawing the Knights within 21-11 with 9:48 left in the third.

From there, the offenses resumed their battle of ineptitude, with each team trading punts after three-and-outs.

WVU failed to even get to the third play of its next drive, as the offense squandered good field position (a Jock Sanders punt return had given his team the ball at the RU 33) when Brown fumbled on a rushing attempt. The ball was recovered by Damaso Munoz.

From there, Savage and company went to work. A personal foul on Nate Sowers for hands to the face aided the drive, and Savage hit Mohamed Sanu for a 17-yard gain to put his team in position at the Mountaineers' 34-yard line.

The quarterback threw incomplete on third-and-goal from the WVU 10-yard line, however, and the home squad had to settle for a 27-yard field goal from San San Te to draw within 21-14 as the third quarter came to a close.

The ensuing West Virginia drive seemed promising when Noel Devine and Brown rushed for big gains -- 32 and 11 yards, respectively -- on the first two plays. But after Devine lost two yards and Brown was sacked for a loss of one more on the subsequent snaps, the momentum stalled at the RU 34-yard line.

As he did for most of the game, Scott Kozlowski kept field position in the visitors' favor, punting the ball a mere 24 yards to the Rutgers 10-yard line.

"Our punting was absolutely awesome in such bad weather conditions," said Stewart, referencing the cold, wintry mix that fell over Rutgers Stadium throughout the game before turning to a steady snow in the aftermath.

A three-and-out for Savage and company gave the WVU offense another shot, and a 24-yard run by Clarke -- one of his career-high 14 carries on the afternoon -- once again put West Virginia on the Knights' side of the 50.

Clarke was stuffed on a third-and-5 from the RU 24, setting up a 41-yard field goal from Tyler Bitancurt that gave the Mountaineers a 24-14 cushion with 8:44 to go.

That cushy, two-possession lead would be short lived again, however. On the first play of the subsequent drive, Savage hit Sanu for a 62-yard catch-and-run for a touchdown.

Sanu came free as Glover slipped on the play, allowing an easy throw from the freshman quarterback. Te's extra point drew the home team within 24-21, and momentum was clearly on the red-clad side of the field.

A three-and-out from the WVU offense did little to change that, but the Mountaineer defense was equal to the task, forcing another punt from RU's Ted Dellaganna after a mere three snaps.

Dellaganna's kick was blocked by Kent Richardson, giving the offense good field position once more (and a chance to reclaim that two-possession lead) at the Rutgers 40-yard line.

Once more, the turnover bug bit the Mountaineers from there. Brown fumbled again on third down, and RU's Alex Silvestro pounced on the ball near mid-field, giving his team a short field to drive for a potential game-tying field goal (or game-winning touchdown).

Called upon again, the WVU defense -- blamed by many for the team's loss at South Florida -- rose to the occasion.

After a pair of incomplete Savage passes were sandwiched around a rush of four yards by Sanu, the freshman quarterback threw a ball that was tipped near the line of scrimmage and ultimately picked off by J.T. Thomas on fourth-and-6.

After Brown's stiff-arm of Johnson, the Mountaineers were finally -- mercifully -- able to run out the clock and head to the locker room to accept their Gator Bowl bid.

Like several of West Virginia's nine wins this season, the victory over RU was ugly at times. That mattered little to the team's head coach.

"Do you understand how many teams in America would like to be 9-3?" Stewart asked, rhetorically, going on to say that the team had played only four bad quarters of football this season (the final period at Auburn, the final three quarters at South Florida).

"There was some ups and downs. But there were a lot more ups than downs. I am not going to let people keep telling me that my players -- my boys -- are not good. They are 9-3. I told you about the four (bad) quarters. Did we win pretty all the time? No. But that was pretty to me today."

Brown was 10-of-20 passing for 116 yards, was sacked three times and fumbled twice. His rough day -- along with that of Savage, who was 9-of-27 for 153 yards, one touchdown, two interceptions and was sacked four times -- may have been partially due to the conditions.

"I am sure (the conditions) did (effect Savage) -- but they were tough for Jarrett Brown also," Schiano said. "They were tough for everybody. That is part of playing football in the northeast.

Devine had 16 carries for 65 yards, including a long rush of 32 yards. Clarke gained 58 yards on his 14 attempts, giving the two WVU runners -- who differ widely in style -- an identical 4.1 yards per carry average.

Kozlowski punted nine times for an average of 42.3 yards, pinning four kicks inside the RU 20-yard line.

The Mountaineer defense did a solid job of containing Sanu in the Wildcat formation, holding him to 47 yards on 13 carries and ensuring that his only pass attempt fell incomplete.

Sanu did have six receptions for 105 yards and a touchdown.

The statistics -- and the New Jersey weather -- may not have been ideal, but the result was just fine for a team that will hope for a better performance in more temperate climes in the Gator Bowl.

"I have a very, very happy locker room, as you can all imagine," Stewart said. "And they should be."

"They try to be as professional as they can. They want to be as polished as they can and they were frustrated that we did not knock off our opponent in a quicker and more convincing fashion."

"It wasn't pretty and it wasn't polished, but it is a win."

A win that sends West Virginia into postseason bowl preparation on a positive note.

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