MORGANTOWN - As it turns out, West Virginia's 41-31 win over Rutgers in the snow and cold Saturday hinged on two fourth-down gambles.
The one by the Mountaineers paid off. The bigger one by the Scarlet Knights did not.
Of course, that's the way it usually goes in a series that perhaps ended on Saturday with West Virginia's 17th consecutive win over Rutgers. Nothing the Scarlet Knights ever do seems to work out against the Mountaineers.
The gamble by Rutgers came on the first series of the fourth quarter with the Knights still leading 31-28. They had driven from their 30 to the WVU 11 in fairly easy fashion, not having faced a third down until the drive stalled.
But instead of going for a field goal that would have put RU up by six points, coach Greg Schiano called for a fake.
"I thought it was [the right call],'' Schiano said afterward.
It may have been, but it didn't work, even though the play was executed almost flawlessly. Holder Patrick Kivlehan took the snap and fired a beautiful pass into the end zone toward Brandon Coleman. It was right in Coleman's hands, too, until safety Darwin Cook, playing the receiver and not the ball, drilled the 6-foot-6, 220-pound redshirt freshman just as the ball arrived.
Coleman dropped it.
"It was an opportunity for us to be successful and I didn't execute,'' said Coleman. "I let the ball come to me. I should have gone and got it.''
"That was good,'' West Virginia defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel said. "I think it gave our guys a little bit of life.''
The Rutgers failure led directly to West Virginia's fourth-down success, not to mention to WVU's win. Taking the ball at the 11, the Mountaineers put together their only real sustained drive of the day. Ten plays and 88 yards later, WVU found itself at the Rutgers 1 needing a field goal to tie with just over six minutes to play.
Coach Dana Holgorsen never really hesitated.
"When you're playing well on defense, we don't get it and they're [Rutgers] backed up inside their 4-yard line,'' Holgorsen later offered. "You can use that to your advantage defensively.''
And offensively. West Virginia went straight to the line and quarterback Geno Smith relayed the play call, a play-action fake and a short dump pass over the middle to slot receiver Tyler Urban. With so much of the Rutgers defense crowded at the line to stop a team from the 1-yard line, it could easily have worked.