WVU squanders late lead, loses 3rd in a row
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — It was the ultimate indignity in a season gone terribly wrong for No. 21 West Virginia.
Despite overcoming another subpar offensive performance and appearing to finally take control on Tavon Austin's 76-yard punt return for a touchdown late in regulation, the Mountaineers collapsed Saturday in a 39-38 loss to TCU in double overtime before 52,322 fans at Milan Puskar Stadium.
In a meeting between first-year members in the Big 12 Conference, WVU faltered down the stretch despite holding leads of 24-14 in the third quarter and 31-24 with 3:19 remaining in the fourth quarter.
In losing three consecutive games for the first time since the end of the 2004 season under Rich Rodriguez, the Mountaineers fall to 5-3, 2-3. TCU is 6-3, 3-3.
“It was quiet in the locker room,” WVU junior nose tackle Shaq Rowell said. “It was a victory we felt we could have had.”
Instead, it was another frustrating loss for a team that was once ranked as high as No. 5 in the country and whose quarterback was the favorite to win the Heisman Trophy.
Asked about the performance of senior quarterback Geno Smith (32 of 54 for 260 yards, three touchdowns and one interception), WVU coach Dana Holgorsen replied, “Geno was probably as bad as he's been since he's been here.”
Yet it wasn't Smith's performance that did in the Mountaineers.
After Austin's clutch punt return gave WVU a seven-point lead, the Mountaineers' defense allowed TCU to tie the score on a 94-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Trevone Boykin to Josh Boyce with 1:28 left in regulation.
To that point, it had been the Mountaineers' best performance in two months. It was their fewest points allowed since a 31-21 win over Maryland on Sept. 22. But after forcing TCU into six three-and-outs and creating three turnovers, WVU's defense failed to make one final stop.
“We got better on defense. We made plays on defense,” said WVU defensive coordinator Joe DeForest, who called plays from the press box for the first time in his career. “That last play, we had the game won. All we had to do was stay in coverage. You can't give up the big one.''
The teams traded touchdowns and field goals in overtime. When Smith passed to Stedman Bailey for a 25-yard touchdown, TCU answered with a trick play for a touchdown on wide receiver Brandon Carter's 25-yard pass to Corey Fuller.
TCU coach Gary Patterson elected to go for a two-point conversion. Boykin's conversion pass to Boyce provided the winning points.
For the third consecutive game, WVU got off to a sluggish start. The Mountaineers failed to generate any offense in their first three possessions.
TCU drove 78 yards in 13 plays to take a 7-0 lead on Matthew Tucker's 2-yard run with 2:27 left in the first quarter. Boykin converted three third-down conversions during the drive.
WVU, however, rallied behind an unlikely source: its defense. Yesterday marked the first time in five games WVU's defense allowed fewer than 45 points.
The Mountaineers stopped TCU on its first drive on third-and-1, resulting in a standing ovation from the partisan crowd.
On TCU's third drive, Shaq Petteway sacked Boykin on third down, forcing a punt.
WVU responded with a seven-play, 67-yard drive. On first down from the TCU 22, Smith lofted a pass into double coverage in the area of J.D. Woods, who took the ball away from safety Elisha Olabode for a touchdown.
The Mountaineers, however, again were forced to play from behind when Smith's throw into double coverage was intercepted. TCU capitalized when Boykin tossed a 31-yard touchdown pass to a wide open Boyce for a 14-7 lead early in the second quarter.
WVU's offense, returning to early-season form, drove 66 yards in six plays to tie the score. Smith's quick toss to Austin, credited as a pass, resulted in an electrifying 43-yard touchdown when Austin reversed his field to score untouched to make it 14-14.
John Harris is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.