As I was driving home one day, pondering how the 2018 season would play out for the West Virginia Mountaineers, I began thinking about all of the good times we’ve had since head coach Dana Holgorsen took over. Don’t let the haters fool you either, there have been some very good times. Without further ado, here are the top ten wins in Dana Holgorsen’s West Virginia tenure.
10. #11 WVU 70, #25 Baylor 63 (2012)
The Mountaineers first Big 12 Conference game was a record-setter. It defined “Big 12 Football” to the world and announced that the Mountaineers had the talent to compete in the Big 12. Baylor, before they became world beaters (and cheaters!) under former head coach Art Briles, were known as this quirky, difficult team on the Big 12 schedule.
Briles’ offense split the receivers as far out as possible, threw deep a lot and forced you to pick your poison: play one-on-one with the receivers so your safety could help in run defense or bracket a receiver and defend the run with six in the box.
The game saw former quarterback Geno Smith throw for school record of 656 yards. He tied a Big 12 record with eight passing touchdowns. Both teams traded scores in the first half, including the young Mountaineer defense allowing a 67-yard touchdown reception as time expired in the first half. The Mountaineers reeled off a 21-7 third quarter and hung on for a 70-63 final score.
9. WVU 30, #11 Oklahoma State 21 (2013)
In what would go down as a dismal season for WVU, the team did pull off an unlikely upset in Morgantown. The Oklahoma State Cowboys came to Morgantown ranked #11 and sitting at 3-0. They would leave Morgantown with their first loss that season. The Mountaineers shuffled quarterbacks throughout the 2013 season but against Oklahoma State, former kisser of Nick Saban’s daughter Clint Trickett engineered some Mountaineer magic.
Keith Patterson’s defense generated three turnovers over J.W. Walsh and proved opportunistic, scoring thirteen points off those turnovers. The win would put the Mountaineers at 3-2 in the young season, before everything spiraled out of control for the Mountaineers.
8. #23 WVU 30, South Florida 27 (2011)
This game featured one of my favorite catches of all time by Stedman Bailey. The Mountaineers blew a 20-13 fourth quarter lead against the South Florida Bulls to find themselves down 27-20.
Running back Dustin Garrison tied the game at 27-all with five minutes left. On the ensuing USF possession, current Indianapolis Colts linebacker Najee Goode forced a fumble by quarterback BJ Daniels and the Mountaineers were set up with a chance to tie the game.
Geno Smith was sacked with 45 seconds left in the game. This put the team behind the eight-ball as the clock was winding down. On fourth and ten, Geno fired a pass across the middle that was caught by a diving Stedman Bailey. Bailey had the wind knocked out of him but had to get set so the Mountaineers, who were out of timeouts, could spike the ball and set up kicker Tyler Bitancurt. Garrison astutely yanked Bailey to his feet and forced the wide receiver to get set.
Bitancurt’s kick sailed through the uprights, giving the Mountaineers a share of the Big East title in their final season in the Big East.
7. West Virginia 46, #24 Texas Tech 35 (2017)
It was a long time coming, the win against Texas Tech Red Raiders. The Mountaineers beat Baylor in 2014 and then suffered two-and-a-half years before they beat another ranked team. The Mountaineers lost 10 straight games to ranked teams before finally getting the monkey off their back.
Defensive coordinator Tony Gibson has proven to be kryptonite to Kliff Kingsbury’s high octane Air Raid offense. Despite the Red Raiders ranking in the top five in total offense, West Virginia has generally held the fighting Ryan Gosling’s below their season average.
In 2017, quarterback Will Grier threw four touchdowns in the second half as the Mountaineers overcame a 35-17 deficit to secure their first win over a ranked team.
6. West Virginia 17, Kansas State 16 (2016)
When the Mountaineers joined the Big 12, Kansas State Wildcats had proven to be a thorn in the Mountaineers side. Luckily for WVU, the margin of victory was decreasing each passing year. In 2015, with a chance at an eight-win season regular season and a five-game win streak to end the season, West Virginia allowed a kickoff return by return specialist Morgan Burns and couldn’t overcome wizard Bill Snyder.
That luck changed in 2016 when the Mountaineers finally caught a break. Jesse Ertz was no Colin Klein and Bill Snyder was unable to conjure up magic from his wealth of junior college recruits and two-star athletes. With the Mountaineers lifeless on offense, receiver Shelton Gibson went up for a Skyler Howard pass and had his helmet ripped off. Gibson hung onto the ball and kick started the offense.
Quarterback Skyler Howard threw for 298 yards including the game-winning touchdown to Jovon Durante. The Wildcats missed a potential game-winning field goal and the Mountaineers had their first win over Snyder and the Wildcats.
5. WVU 21, Pitt 20 (2011)
The 104th version of the Backyard Brawl featured Pitt being Pitt. With Tino Suseri, remember that guy, the guy who was supposed to be better than Geno, holding the ball down one and a chance to be a hero, Pitt took back to back sacks to end the game.
West Virginia started slow, a theme for the Mountaineers in 2011. The Pittsburgh Panthers jumped out to a 20-7 lead with 11 minutes left in the third quarter. They then failed to score again as West Virginia scored two rushing touchdowns.
With Suseri facing a 1st and 10 on his own 44, Suseri fired an incomplete pass. On second down, Tino rolled out to his left but was chased down by Najee Goode and Bruce Irvin. On third down, Bruce Irvin stripped Suseri of the ball, ending the game.
Overall, the Mountaineers collected TEN sacks on Suseri, including 4 in that final drive. The 104th version of the Backyard Brawl wasn’t an instant classic but it was the last time the two teams played. It would be on this list no matter what.
4. WVU 43, Arizona State 42 (2015)
This is one of my favorite games. I had no idea what to think about this game but I remember staying up all night, watching us go back and forth with former Pitt Panther head coach Todd Graham and the Arizona State Sun Devils. This was the first season with Skyler Howard at quarterback and Tony Gibson calling the shots on defense.
The game, the last bowl game played before the last BCS title game, lasted until three AM eastern. At the end of the first half, following Howard’s second touchdown of the half, kicker Josh Lambert’s point after kick was blocked and returned for two points and a safety.
The safety forced the Mountaineers to free kick, which gave the Sun Devils at their own 49. They quickly moved the ball and kicked a field goal as time expired, cutting the lead to 22-18 instead of it being 23-13.
The bowl game also featured David Sills catching his second touchdown of the season on only his 7th reception. Even that early we could tell all Sills did was catch touchdowns.
3. #8 WVU 48, #11 Texas 45 (2012)
In 2012, this was the game that convinced me (before I knew better) that West Virginia was going to be a world-beater. Texas Longhorns, at the time, were looking like a very good football team. The 2012 version of the Longhorns would win 9 games, the last time they were that close to winning double digits.
Both teams entered the game at 4-0 and the Mountaineers left Austin, Texas at 5-0 and looking like the team to beat. Geno Smith and Tavon Austin connected 10 times for 102 yards, including three times on fourth down, once for a long touchdown.
The defense bent but didn’t break. Karl Joseph cemented his legacy early in his freshman year when he committed murder on Marquise Goodwin. This was the highpoint of the 2012 season.
2. WVU 41, #4 Baylor 24
The last “big” win by the Mountaineers occured in 2014. In Tony Gibson’s first year as defensive coordinator, he found his identity in this game. Gibson famously noticed that no one was willing to challenge Baylor one-on-one. Gibson told his corners, “We’re playing man press and you need to accept this challenge”. His corners responded by holding the buzzsaw Baylor Bears to 318 total yards.
Most people remember this game for the final score but I always remember it for Kevin White displaying his full GrownAssMan #GAM powers. White hauled in two touchdowns, including a beautiful one-handed grab. Baylor also committed pass interference penalties on nearly every down and the refs called their bluff.
Clint Trickett connected with Mario Alford mid-way through the 4th quarter, pushing the score to the final of 41-24. From there on, you saw Baylor quit. The loss would be the only blemish on Baylor’s schedule and it ultimately kept them out of the BCS Championship game.
1. #23 WVU 70, #15 Clemson 33 (2011)
The ultimate game under Dana Holgorsen. West Virginia took on the Clemson Tigers in the Discover Orange Bowl and laid what can only be described as “a smackdown of epic proportions”. The first half was a back and forth affair as teams traded scoring possessions. The Mountaineers held a 21-17 edge as Clemson drove down the field. Standing at the WVU 3 yard line, Clemson handed the ball off to running back Andre Ellington. He was stood up at the goalline and eventually stripped by linebacker Darwin Cook. Cook raced down the field before anyone realized what happened and scored a 99-yard touchdown and took out the Orange Bowl mascot.
Cook’s touchdown turned the tide and the Mountaineers scored 35 points in the second half. Clemson withered, pulling their trademark “Clemsoning”. Tavon Austin and Geno Smith perfected the Jet Sweep Touch Pass as Austin scored four times on the play. Geno Smith tied the national bowl record with six touchdown passes.
Austin tied a record for any bowl game with four touchdown catches. Smith went 31 for 42, and had 401 yards passing to break Tom Brady’s Orange Bowl record. Smith also ran for a score, helping West Virginia break the bowl record for points established six nights earlier when Baylor beat Washington 67-56 in the Alamo Bowl.