We finished the top ten wins under Dana, concluding with the 2011 Discover Orange Bowl dubbed the “South Beach Smackdown” when the West Virginia Mountaineers drubbed the Clemson Tigers 70-33. While the football team hasn’t reached those highs since that bowl game, it has experienced some highs, but as Marvin Gaye sang “ain’t no mountain high enough, ain’t no valley low enough”, these are the ten lowest valleys in Dana’s tenure.
10. Utah 30, WVU 14 (2017)
Really, any of the last three games in the 2017 season could have been chosen but I am going with the season finale for a one major reason: Chris Chugunov. Once Will Grier was lost for the season, the season was essentially lost. “Chugs” wasn’t going to replace Grier and every fan knew that. However, being in the system for three years and having several weeks to prepare, any reasonable fan would expect a serviceable, if not good, performance from the backup quarterback. That isn’t what was delivered.
Chugunov completed 9-of-28 passes for a palty 124 yards. Offensive coordinator Jake Spavital continued to call the offense like Will Grier was playing instead of altering the scheme. I wrote after the bowl game:
The fact that such a extraordinary dropoff exists between the #1 and #2 quarterback is (disappointing)(astonishing)(distressing)[PICK YOUR OWN ADJECTIVE]. I expect that no quarterback on the roster can match what Grier was able to show himself capable of, with the touch and precision of a surgeon and the arm strength of a Howitzer. That doesn’t excuse there being a canyon between the starting quarterback and the backup.
9. Oklahoma 16, WVU 9 (2013)
Five years into our Big 12 existence and this game remains the best chance the Mountaineers have had to beat the Oklahoma Sooners. Breaking in new quarterback Trevor Knight, the Sooners offense was not the juggernaut we saw with Landry Jones or what we would see with Baker Mayfield. Knight was good, but inaccurate and this allowed the Mountaineers to stay in the game for 60 minutes. The problem was found in quarterback Paul Millard.
Millard, making his second start for the Mountaineers, could not threaten the Sooner defense. He couldn’t make stick throws. He couldn’t make Tampa 2 zone-beater throws. The West Virginia defense held Oklahoma to their second lowest point-total of the season (Baylor would hold OU to 12 points in a 41-12 defeat of the Sooners), but could only muster 7 points off an early first quarter Dreamius Smith touchdown scamper.
8. Oklahoma 50, WVU 49 (2012)
This game. I’m convinced that this game has put a hex on the team. If we win this game, we finish the season with a winning record in conference, we likely win 9 games that season because we wouldn’t face Syracuse in the bowl game and Tavon Austin’s amazing night is remembered for securing a win rather than another “great performances that meant nothing”.
Tavon Austin put on what has to be described as the most amazing performance. He totalled over 500 yards, rushed for over 300 and introduced the word “cutability” to the nation. He made the Oklahoma Sooners look like fools, like they had never played tackle football before.
The problem was the young, inexperienced West Virginia defense led by Joe DeForest. They couldn’t get a stop no matter the down and distance.
7. Miami 31, WVU 14 (2016)
This one was a bad matchup for the Mountaineers and it showed. Miami, on a resurgent season behind former Georgia Bulldog head coach Mark Richt, ended a 10-year bowl drought when quarterback Brad Kaaya got hot at the right time for the Hurricanes.
West Virginia took a 7-0 lead in the first and then Kaaya happened. He completed 18-of-19 passes with the lone incompletion being a dropped pass. Quarterback Skyler Howard, who did a lot of good in the 2016 season, completed 17-of-26 passes for 134 yards and a rushing touchdown.
The Mountaineers committed 11 penalties and allowed four sacks. It was a miserable ending to an otherwise great season.
6. Syracuse 38, WVU 14 (2012)
A recurring theme for the Mountaineers. They scored 14 points in a blowout bowl loss. This time it was former Big East rival Syracuse Orange on the other side of the field and once again Syracuse proved to have WVU’s number.
Playing in the frigid Pinstripe Bowl with snow falling in Yankee Stadium, the Mountaineers looked disinterested in finishing their abysmal, inaugural season in the Big 12. Many players just wanted the season to be over. The snow hindered the Mountaineers ability to pass and it led to quarterback Geno Smith carrying the ball a career-high 30 times.
5. Kansas State Wildcats 24, WVU 23 (2015)
You want to put a damper on a season? Watch a team allow all of their starting quarterbacks to get injured so they are forced to bring in a wide receiver to play quarterback. Then watch said wide receiver lead back to back touchdown drives and then kick the ball to the most dangerous return man in the conference so he can return his fourth kickoff for a touchdown that season.
That is exactly what happened in 2015 when the West Virginia Mountaineers rallied out of a 0-for-October stretch to win 4 straight games. The defense was playing out of its mind, allowing 12 points in its last 11 quarters (165 minutes) of play. Then in the span of 3 minutes that was undone by a wide receiver. It was a heartbreaking end to what was otherwise a great end to the season.
4. TCU 31, WVU 30 (2014)
This game. This f’n game. ESPN College Gameday was in the house. The Mountaineers were in a bit of a resurgence after a 4-8 season in 2014. Clint Trickett was the starter and he was proving quickly that a competent quarterback and a dominant receiver could in fact be extremely dangerous. It’s hard to blame the atrocious facemask for this loss when it occured in the first quarter but Trickett, who would later retire from playing due to concussion, confessed he had five concussions in 2014. Given the way he stumbled around after this play, you wonder if he suffered one from this play.
Despite scoring 30 points this game, the offense would only score two touchdowns. They engineered a 75-yard drive on the opening sequence of the game. Following the facemask on Trickett by Josh Carraway (the penalty BTW was not called), the offense would only score one more touchdown, a drive that Trickett threw and completed one pass.
Eventually Trevone Boykin broke the hearts of Mountaineer fans when he lofted a pass Kolby Listenbee for 40 yards that put the Horned Frogs in field goal range. The play occured when the defense got crossed up and played the wrong coverage. One mental breakdown let a 6-2 start to the season end with one win in the last four games.
Video credit: Mike Casazza
3. Syracuse 49, WVU 23 (2011)
This game is burned in my mind with one image: former defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel throwing his hands up in the air at Dana Holgorsen as Syracuse ran their 1,584,267th wheel route of the game and his defense acted as if this was the first time they had ever seen the play.
Every year in the Big East since 2006, West Virginia was considered the favorite to win the conference. Yet, most years the team could not capitalize on their superior talent, often losing to a team less talented than they were in quite surprising fashion. This game qualifies as that. The Mountaineers lost to LSU Tigers and Louisville Cardinals that season. While the Cardinals only finished 8-5, they were a talented team with Charlie Strong as their head coach. Syracuse however finished 5-7 in 2011. The win over West Virginia was their last win of the season.
2. Iowa State 52, WVU 44 (2013)
The 2013 featured plenty of bad losses, but the season ending defeat was one of the worst. The Mountaineers had been knocked out of bowl eligibility the previous week but still played hard for three quarters. At the start of the fourth quarter of this game, the Mountaineers were up 31-14 on the Iowa St. Cyclones. The Mountaineer defense felt the world come crashing down in 15 minutes. They allowed 24 points in one quarter, then allowed another 14 points in three overtimes. In eight drives in the second half and overtime, the Cyclones scored on 7 of them. They scored on all three overtime possessions.
1. Kansas 31, WVU 19 (2013)
When you lose to Kansas, it is going to be your worst loss. The Kansas Jayhawks had lost 27 straight Big 12 conference games when they played the Mountaineers in 2013. The Mountaineers were in the midst of their worst campaign since 2011 but they were going to close the season with Kansas and Iowa State, the bottom feeders of the Big 12. The Mountaineers, in my mind, would win, finish bowl eligible and move onto better things in 2014.
The Mountaineers played lackadaisical all game. When James Sims broke free for a 68-yard touchdown near the end of the first half, you knew that this was going to be a bad game for the Mountaineers. When the Mountaineers turned the ball over on downs midway through the third quarter, while they were down 24-7, almost everyone knew how this game would end, even though there was still more than 20 minutes remaining.
Since that win in 2013, the Jayhawks would win only two more conference games: 2014 vs Iowa State and 2016 vs Texas. They are an incredulous 3-42 in conference since 2013 and 2-35 since beating West Virginia in 2013.