Personal growth can be hard to experience at times. It takes a large amount of self-reflection and intent in order to grow as a person. You have to experience a hardship, determine how to prevent in the future and then enact those changes on a day to day basis. For head coach Dana Holgorsen, part of that growth as a head coach was removing himself from the play-calling duties. Yesterday, that personal growth paid off with a win over a ranked team.
Make no mistake, this is a game the 2012-2015 West Virginia Mountaineers lose. In 2012, a 49-14 thumping at the hands of the Red Raiders in Lubbock spiraled out of control into a 5-game losing streak. In the middle of it was a 39-38 double overtime loss to TCU. It was a game West Virginia should have won with the questionable 2-point conversion review. That loss led to the Mountaineers not showing up against Oklahoma State the next week. One loss became two.
The 2013 season wasn’t much better when a 47-40 overtime loss to Texas, a game that WVU lead 9-0 and 19-13 at halftime and 40-37 with 2 minutes left, saw the Mountaineers forget to show up in Lawrence, Kansas and then forget to finish against Iowa State. One loss became three.
2014 and 2015 also featured tough losses that gave the opponent the next week an easier time with the Mountaineers. 2014’s 31-30 disappointing loss to TCU gave Texas and Kansas State a half-hearted squad which those teams took advantage of. 2015’s overtime loss to Oklahoma State led to the team not giving Baylor a challenge.
Last year was different, neither regular season loss was close which helps teams not to dwell too long. The Big 12 was also experiencing it’s own version of personal growth. A bevy of new signal callers and younger defenses allowed West Virginia to use its senior-laden team to finish tied for second in the conference.
This year, last week’s disappointing loss to TCU almost gave Texas Tech its first win as a ranked team since the 37-27 win over West Virginia in 2013, but Dana Holgorsen and Tony Gibson were able to challenge the team and overcome obstacles to secure a homecoming win.
The first half of the game, Tony Gibson had no answer for Nic Shimonek and Kliff Kingsbury. Gibson’s best defense was Texas Tech’s kicker, who missed two first half field goals, the only drives Tech did not score on in the first half.
The second half, the team almost let the Red Raiders get away from them. Tech scored their fifth touchdown of the game with 9:11 left in the third quarter! For the final 24 minutes, Tech gained only 72 yards on five drives. Three of the drives did not even feature a first down.
Holgorsen made an even tougher call. First, Ka’Raun White hauled in a pass to cut the lead to 35-30. There is still a whole quarter to play. Most coaches would kick the extra point and go from there. However, Dana took the more challenging, but the right call and went for 2. This cut the lead to three. That isn’t a call that Dana makes in previous years because he’s been so focused on calling the plays. Having the knowledge and wherewithal to make the call early gave the offense a chance.
The next drive featured an even more important choice. Faced with a 4th and 1 on the Texas Tech 28, Holgorsen could choose to send out his shaky kicker, Mike Molina, for a 28 yard field goal and tie the game, or he could game and pick up the first down. Initially he sent Molina and the kicking team out. It is a call most coaches will make. Tie the game with 9 minutes left and see if your defense can get you the ball again.
Yet, Holgorsen called a timeout (something he tends to hideaway in his timeout chest) and gave himself a chance to make another gutsy decision. “Fortune favors the bold”, Kliff Kingsbury once said. Dana chose to be bold and Grier picked up one yard and a WVU first down.
As a result of personal growth by the team, the Mountaineers kept pace with the rest of the conferece, kept themselves in contention for a Big 12 title and more importantly secured a win over a ranked team for the first time in three years.