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Mountaineers can't finish

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - For 21/2 quarters Saturday, West Virginia did pretty much everything it needed to do to upset No. 16 Texas Tech.

For the final 11/2 quarters, however, the Mountaineers did nothing they needed to do.

It's not surprising, of course, that those final 20 minutes ruined everything that transpired in the first 40. Nor is it shocking that Mountaineer coach Dana Holgorsen chose to dwell on the ending and not the beginning.

After all, it was the difference in the game.

"They had enough fight and will to make enough plays to win the game,'' Holgorsen said of the Red Raiders. "Obviously we didn't have that. We started feeling pretty good about ourselves in the middle of the third quarter.

"We refused to make a play on offense, defense or special teams in the last quarter and a half. We refused to coach well enough to be able to win the game. And obviously that will get addressed.''

It won't be addressed fast enough to make a difference in this one, of course. The bottom line is that because the Mountaineers allowed Tech to score 21 unanswered points to end the game, they were able to blow a 27-16 lead and lose 37-27 in front of a homecoming crowd of 54,084 at Mountaineer Field.

The loss dropped the Mountaineers (3-4, 1-3 Big 12) below .500 for the first time this season. Texas Tech (7-0, 4-0) extended its winning streak to eight games over two seasons.

And it was pretty much all because West Virginia's offense, which played as well as it has all season while taking that 27-16 lead, reverted to form when it mattered most. The Mountaineers finished the game by gaining 40 yards and one first down on their final five possessions combined.

That was after gaining 397 yards and 22 first downs prior to that.

"For two quarters [the second and third] it started resembling offensive football. That's what it's supposed to look like,'' said Holgorsen, who until Saturday had seen very little of that this season. "But when you end the game with five three-and-outs, I think everybody would agree it's as bad as it can possibly be offensively.''

Call it a grand tease. For those first two and a half quarters, the Mountaineers seemed to have found themselves offensively. Clint Trickett made his third straight start at quarterback and, after one disjointed series to start the game, played exactly the way everyone hoped he would when he transferred from Florida State.

His second and third series ended prematurely because of errors not of his doing - a Charles Sims fumble and penalties by linemen Pat Eger and Mark Glowinski, and then a bizarre decision by Holgorsen to bypass a field goal in order to try a fourth-and-14 play - that ended drives that had reached deep into Texas Tech territory.

But then WVU's next five possessions all resulted in scores. There were field goals of 33 and 30 yards by Josh Lambert, touchdown runs of 38 and 12 yards by Dreamius Smith and Trickett's 4-yard scoring pass to Sims.

Those five scores erased a 13-0 lead Tech had built up at the start. The most significant play, though, was probably by the defense. Darwin Cook and Isaiah Bruce leveled Red Raider freshman quarterback Davis Webb and forced a fumble as Webb was approaching the end zone for a touchdown that would have given Tech a 20-3 lead. Bruce recovered it, and WVU marched 99 yards for a touchdown in the second quarter.

And when Tech's Austin Stewart fumbled the ensuing kickoff, a Lambert field goal made the halftime score 13-all instead of the 20-3 deficit it could have been.

When West Virginia then began the second half with touchdown drives of 74 and 72 yards, things could not have been much better. The Mountaineers had that 27-16 lead and there seemed no way they wouldn't be able to add more points.

And then they didn't.

"We froze up,'' offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson said. "When things got tough, we didn't have guys make plays.''

But Tech certainly did. Behind Webb and tight end Jace Amaro the Red Raiders drove 80, 84 and 69 yards on three of their final five possessions. Kenny Williams' two 1-yard touchdown runs gave the Red Raiders the lead and then Amaro - who finished with nine catches for 136 yards - added another score on a 10-yard reception with 61 seconds to play to provide the final margin.

That West Virginia's offense went completely cold was, of course, not the only factor in Tech's fourth-quarter rally. While WVU's defense played well much of the day, it still allowed 573 yards and 37 points. And it couldn't get off the field on the most crucial third downs of the game. Tech converted nine of 15 third downs.

"When you get somebody down like that, you've got to be like sharks in a tank and finish them,'' defensive coordinator Keith Patterson said. "We didn't finish.''

Trickett, who wasn't even named the starter until game time, wasn't always accurate but he managed to complete 27 of 43 passes for 254 yards and a touchdown. The Mountaineers also got a combined 166 rushing yards from Smith (89) and Sims (77).

Texas Tech started true freshman Webb for the second straight game in relief of injured freshman Baker Mayfield, and Webb was 36 of 50 for 462 yards and a touchdown. The Red Raiders managed to outgain WVU 573-437. In the fourth quarter, when it mattered most, Tech's yardage advantage was 164-29.

Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or dphickman1@aol.com or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1.

 


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