West Virginia football notebook: Coming up perfect on 4th down
AUSTIN, Texas — West Virginia failed on all four of its fourth-down conversions entering Saturday's game at Texas.
In an impressive turnaround, the Mountaineers were 5 for 5 in their 48-45 win, including a 40-yard touchdown pass in the first quarter from Geno Smith to Tavon Austin on fourth-and-4.
During a 12-play, 76-yard drive capped by Smith's 6-yard touchdown pass to Stedman Bailey that gave WVU the lead for good, the offense was 2 for 2 on fourth down.
“It's how we play,” said Smith, who kept the fourth-quarter drive alive with an 11-yard pass to Austin on fourth-and-6 at the Texas 29. Five plays later, Smith ran for 8 yards on a sneak on fourth-and-1.
“No matter what it takes to win, that's what we're going to do,” Smith said. “Coach (Dana Holgorsen) did a great job managing the situations. He trusted us to get the first down.”
Both of WVU's fourth-quarter touchdown drives lasted longer than four minutes. Not only did the Mountaineers control the clock, they also kept Texas' offense on the sideline.
“We had to get first downs. That's our four-minute offense,” said Holgorsen, whose team jumped to No. 5 in the Associated Press poll — No. 4 in the coaches poll — with the win. “When you're winning by a lot, it's not something you have to do, but we had to do it a little bit against Maryland, and last week (against Baylor) we had to kill the last 3 1⁄2 minutes.”
Senior cornerback Pat Miller heard the criticism directed toward his secondary after the Mountaineers yielded 63 points and more than 700 yards against Baylor.
“It was a tough week mentally because it's hard to bounce back from a game like that,” said Miller, who responded with five tackles — one for a 16-yard loss — and a team-high two passes defensed against Texas. “There were a lot of people criticizing me personally. But you know, we just feed off that.”
After taking a 41-38 to open the fourth quarter, WVU turned back Texas on two straight possessions.
On the first drive, the Mountaineers stopped Texas on fourth-and-13 at the WVU 39. On the second drive — set up when the Longhorns recovered a Smith fumble at the WVU 12 — Miller tackled quarterback David Ash for a loss on third down following an errant snap from center.
Anthony Fera's 41-yard field goal attempt would have tied the score at 41-41, but he missed wide right.
“It was the difference in the game,” Holgorsen said. “If they get a score right there, we're looking at possibly a four-point loss.”
Odds and ends
WVU's win at Texas was its first on the road against a Top 15 team since a 17-14 win at Boston College on Nov. 26, 1993. ... Dating to last season, Smith has thrown 259 consecutive passes without an interception. ... Bailey has 13 touchdown receptions this season, a school record. Bailey has recorded multiple touchdown games in all but once this season. ... Kicker Tyler Bitnacurt punted for the first time in his career. His only attempt was partially blocked and netted 3 yards.
John Harris is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at email@example.com.