12 hours after the final bell sounded in another classic West Virginia-TCU game, I still can’t quite put my emotions aside. Like every bad dream, I keep hoping I will wake up and find out, no today is just Saturday and the game hasn’t been played yet. But it has and once again we must find a way to reconcile a game where the opponent was good, West Virginia was good and the Mountaineers gave away victory.
What frustrates me is all the talking heads picking TCU before the game, then having to read all the “TCU stakes claim as best in Big 12” after. I know that with victory come the spoils of war, but as the loser of this war I can’t help but think “Did you not watch the game? West Virginia lost the game a whole lot more than TCU won the game”.
Look through the box score of this game and everything favors West Virginia. The beleaguered Mountaineer defense, held the nation’s most efficient team on third down to 6 conversion on 15 attempts [40%]. The Mountaineers outgained the Horned Frogs by 102 yards. Will Grier outshined Kenny Hill by passing for another 300 yards and 3 touchdowns. The Mountaineers were able to hold onto the ball over 31 minutes, including 17 in the first half.
Up and down the box score everything favors the Mountaineers. Everything but one, turnovers. Once again, against a ranked foe, the Mountaineers shot themselves in the foot by giving the other team a chance at scoring with good field position.
The first turnover was maybe the most crucial. TCU had not done anything against the Mountaineers so far. The Frogs best defense was their punter, pinning the Mountaineers inside their own 5 yard line twice. Finally, the Mountaineers got a break and were about to get to start on their 35. Jovanni Stewart, a backup safety trying to help make a play, blocks a TCU defender into Marcus Simms. As luck would have it, the falling punt makes contact with a Mountaineer, either Stewart or Simms, and bounces into the waiting arms of Vernon Scott.
In the second half, following a Horned Frog field goal, Marcus Simms is bumped in his route and stops. Will Grier, attempting to kick-start the offense’s deep game, throws deep into the waiting arms Nick Orr who returns it to the West Virginia 45. Another purple touchdown gifted.
Marcus Simms, the speedster that helps take the top off of defenses, was unable to do so. The first time he was targeted resulted in a pass interference call. Unfortunately for the Mountaineers, this is a personal foul type call in college so you only get 15 yards. Had the play been a spot foul like it is in the NFL, WVU would have been standing on the TCU 35 yard line.
Two more times Grier targeted Simms but watched the ball fall incomplete as Simms was unable to make difficult catch, but one that a college receiver needs to make.
Even the defense was not immune to the costly mistakes that seem to thwart losing teams. Elijah Battle intercepted Kenny Hill during their go-ahead touchdown drive but bobbled the ball during the catch. While still photos show that Battle appears to have control the ball, a left foot down in bounds and a right foot still in the air, replay was never conclusively shown to the booth and the call on the field was reversed. This would have taken points away from TCU.
The final mistake is something that no one can get over. Somehow David Sills was called for offensive pass interference. I admit that during the first replay at game speed, I thought to myself “Oh crap, he pushed off”. But this was viewed from a high vantage point and not down on the field. Once I got a field-level view, it was clear to see that Sills did not extend to push off and TCU was in fact holding onto Sills’ jersey. The penalty backed the Mountaineers into a 1st and 25 and effectively ended the day for the Mountaineers.
Losing is tough. Giving away games is tough. For some reason, the Mountaineers now find themselves in the midst of another streak where losing to ranked teams is the norm. Four times now in this now 9-game streak the Mountaineers have had chances to win. Four times they’ve lost by one score and seemed to be on the cusp of getting over that hump. Eventually the Mountaineers will beat a ranked team and when it happens we can all celebrate and enjoy the victory but as for now, we’re stuck with that familiar taste of giving away a game in which you were as good or better than the opponent.