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Despite loss, Austin's night won’t be forgotten

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - This past week, the Los Angeles Times ran a headline over a Bill Plaschke column that read, "Marqise Lee has no equal in college football."

Oops.

On Saturday night, Tavon Austin provided the most electric performance ever at Milan Puskar Stadium. The most spectacular Mountaineer performance ever.

He was as entertaining as Muse, Nirvana and Queen all bundled.

Austin cemented an All-America spot, if he didn't jump into the Heisman Trophy conversation.

But, like Lee, his team lost. Again.

What a shame for a man, a 5-foot-9 man, who played as if possessed. Not since state native Chuck Howley, who won the Super Bowl MVP for Dallas on a losing team, has such an injustice occurred.

In his first game as the primary runner since high school, Austin had 344 yards and surpassed the 2004 Mountaineer rushing record of 337 set by Kay-Jay Harris against East Carolina.

Want spectacular?

Austin's game was but 6 yards short of being the best of all-time. The NCAA record for all-purpose yards was 578 yards. Austin finished Saturday - against Oklahoma, keep in mind - with 572.

WVU's previous high? Garrett Ford Sr.'s 356 set against Pitt in 1965.

And Austin did it in style.

In the first half, he gained 80 yards on 11 carries, averaging 7.3 yards. He caught four passes for 82 yards. He had five kick returns for 97 yards.

But that was just a warmup.

Right after the half, he buzzed 74 yards down the left sideline for a score.

On third down at the OU 4, he took the handoff and, two moves later, found himself in the end zone.

Once, he high-stepped, as if to slow down to trip up the defenders, on a 56-yard run to the 23. Highlights, hello.

Then there was his left-to-right 54-yard rush that, coupled with two OU penalties, put WVU ahead 43-38.

Yet the Mountaineers fell in a thriller 50-49 before 50,238. Because of their defense. Again.

Sometimes you wonder if the opposing offensive coaches talk much as a couple heading out on a date.

"What do you want to do?"

"I don't know. What do you want to do?"

Because it doesn't matter. Whatever the choice, it's going to be fun.

Sooners coach Bob Stoops knew. When he won the coin flip, he probably flipped signaling to take the ball.

He was happy to. Finally, finally it was his team's turn to roll up offensive numbers.

Early, the Sooners were having a blast on third downs. Third-and-15? Toss it to Kenny Stills for 16. On the first drive, OU converted three third downs and scored on the fourth.

Then, midway in the second quarter, when the host Mountaineers were feeling good about themselves, tied at 10, Oklahoma started taking advantage on any downs.

The big plays started popping like champagne corks on New Year's Eve. On first-and-10 from their own 24, the Sooners had receiver Jalen Saunders cross the field and sit. He caught the Landry Jones pass and zipped 76 yards. The drive: two plays, 76 yards, 18 seconds.

On second-and-22, Jones threw a screen pass to tailback Damien Williams. Plus 35 yards.

On and on it went. Williams, on a first-and-10, found an opening up the middle and, probably to his surprise, found no Mountaineers after the first wave. A 48-yard score.

After one half, WVU had allowed 369 yards of offense. At the end it was 662.

Give WVU's offense credit for this one. Geno Smith had 320 yards passing. Coach Dana Holgorsen made a nice move putting Austin in the backfield. Stedman Bailey had 205 yards receiving.

But this game will be remembered for that 5-foot-9 dynamo, Austin.

Lee? He has 1,605 receiving yards to Austin's 1,050. But Austin entered the game No. 1 in receptions per game, while Lee was second.

And now, while Lee has 111 rushing yards in 11 games, Austin has 461 in 10 games. On Saturday, the Mountaineer added 146 yards on kick returns.

Lee had 158 yards on nine catches and one touchdown for USC. He had one rush for minus-3 yards. The Bruins lost.

Unfortunately for Austin, so did the Mountaineers.

His game, however, will always be remembered in West Virginia's hills.

Reach Mitch Vingle at 304-348-4827, mitchvingle@wvgazette.com or follow him at twitter.com/MitchVingle.

 


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