Finding a way to win
MORGANTOWN - No matter where others tried to take the conversation late Saturday afternoon, Dana Holgorsen kept steering it back to the point he had hammered home all week long.
West Virginia had just completed a 24-21 win over No. 23 Cincinnati in rather improbable fashion. The Mountaineers had overcome yet another afternoon of special teams gaffes and penalties, of alternating offensive and defensive superlatives and meltdowns, to win by blocking a Bearcat field goal try on the last play of the game.
Yet Holgorsen was reluctant to talk about many of the specifics.
"This was a classic example of just trying to find a way to win,'' Holgorsen said. "Offensively we could have done it at the end and we didn't. The field goal unit could have knocked it through at the end and made it a six-point game, but we didn't. Defensively, at the end we could have caved in and let them score a touchdown, but we didn't.
"And then we blocked the field goal at the end. Find a way to win.''
Indeed, for only the second time in the last month, West Virginia found the way. And it was not a moment too soon.
In knocking off Cincinnati, which went into the game with at least a two-game lead in the loss column over every other school in the league, the Mountaineers did their part in making the final three weeks of the chase for the Big East championship at least interesting. Yes, Cincinnati (7-2, 3-1 Big East) still holds all the cards.
Win out against Rutgers and Syracuse on the road and Connecticut at home and UC walks off with the league's automatic berth in the BCS.
Ah, but if Cincinnati slips anywhere along the way - and given that starting quarterback Zach Collaros will likely miss all three of those games after suffering a broken ankle Saturday, a slip is quite possible - then WVU (7-3, 3-2) and nearly everyone else save for South Florida and Syracuse are right in the hunt. Pitt, Rutgers, Louisville and UConn each have two losses in the league.
"Being that I've played in this league all these years, I know how it goes,'' said fifth-year senior defensive end Julian Miller, whose fumble recovery in the end zone for a touchdown was one of the material highlights of Saturday's win at Paul Brown Stadium. "Two losses doesn't mean you're out. We've just got to keep hope alive.''
This win did that.
As for West Virginia's path the rest of the way, first comes a week off. The Mountaineers now have nearly two weeks to prepare for what could be the last Backyard Brawl for a while, the day after Thanksgiving at Mountaineer Field. Six days after that is the season finale against South Florida in Tampa.
If WVU can win those two to finish 9-3 overall and 5-2 in the league, and if Cincinnati slips up at least once along the way, the Mountaineers' chances to earn the league's BCS berth would depend upon how many and which teams also finish 5-2. At 5-2, West Virginia would lose a head-to-head tie-breaker only against Louisville, but if more than two teams are tied then that head-to-head disadvantage against the Cardinals would likely be wiped out.
"We've put ourselves back in position, but we have to work and do what we do,'' Miller said. "We can only control what we do. We got a big win on the road [at Cincinnati] and the next thing is to get another big win in two weeks against Pitt.''
While that will certainly entail playing better offensively, defensively and on special teams - as well as eliminating penalties - Holgorsen is likely to continuing preaching the same thing above all else. West Virginia overcame all of the highs and lows and stops and starts in Saturday's game to maintain its intensity, and that will be the goal again when it is time to face Pitt and then South Florida.
"You've got to be able to do it,'' Holgorsen said. "We can't go home until the clock's at zero. If it lasts three hours or five hours, we can't go anywhere until it's zero-zero-zero, so you might as well stay there and do what you're supposed to do.
"We talked about that. Regardless of what happens, we've got to stay up. We've got to believe that we can win and we've got to find a way to win at the end.''
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org.