But Rutgers did score three other times in the half - once on a 45-yard pass to Mark Harrison behind Tandy, another after cornerback Pat Miller was twice called for pass interference and a third on the only real scoring drive of the day. That 74-yard, 11-play march was capped by Jawan Jamison's 18-yard run on a fourth-and-1 play to make it 31-21.
But after that, nothing. The Knights had a chance to kick a field goal early in the fourth quarter while up 31-28, but they faked it and tried a pass into the end zone that Darwin Cook broke up. West Virginia then drove 78 yards in 11 plays and took the lead for good on Smith's improvised 1-yard run on fourth-and-goal with 6:18 to play.
"That was good,'' Holgorsen said of Cook's crucial breakup in the end zone on that fake field goal. "I think it gave our guys a little bit of life.''
West Virginia's offense actually had little spurts of life all day. It was just difficult to tell when they might come.
Smith completed 20-of-31 passes for just 219 yards in the snow, but the Mountaineers got plenty of big plays. Shawne Alston, using his size and speed on the slick turf, gained 110 yards and scored twice, while Tavon Austin scored on and 80-yard run and a 20-yard screen pass. Stedman Bailey again did his part with a spectacular end zone catch for a score. But that came early in the third quarter to make it 31-28 and it would be more than halfway through the fourth before the Mountaineers were able to strike again.
They finally put it away a few plays after Smith's touchdown when Nova did exactly what Smith had done earlier in the game and dropped the ball in the pocket without being touched. It was Miller's second fumble recovery of the game. West Virginia also got two interceptions from Brodrick Jenkins, who started in place of Pat Miller but was quickly replaced. Jenkins made both his thefts as a nickel back and WVU won the turnover battle 4-1 against a Rutgers team that was fifth in the country in turnover margin.
The bottom line, though, was that West Virginia's defense did that about face. By halftime it had given up 80 points in the previous six quarters and was beginning to look like it couldn't stop anyone. And then all of a sudden it once again seemed like the same group that just two weeks ago was ranked No. 16 in the country in total yards.
"I think we responded better than we did last week,'' Smith said, talking about everyone and not just the offense. "We grew up a lot today.''
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or dphickm...@aol.com.