MORGANTOWN - There were probably a dozen plays in West Virginia's 38-35 loss to Louisville Saturday that could have turned the tide the other way.
They range from Najee Goode's interception return to the 5-yard line that was called back by a penalty to fumbles by Geno Smith and Andrew Buie. The list has to include to two shanked punts by Mike Molinari and a dropped pass in the end zone by Stedman Bailey. It certainly is topped by the blocked Tyler Bitancurt field goal that was returned by Louisville's Andrew Johnson for a touchdown.
But any record of missed opportunities also has to include at least three plays during Louisville's ultimately decisive fourth-quarter possession that all but locked the game away. The failures on the part of the Mountaineers not to make those plays have to be accompanied by praise for the Cardinals who did.
After WVU trimmed its deficit to 31-28 with 9:01 to play, the Mountaineers were still in fine shape. All they needed was a stop by a defense that was playing well and a score by an offense that was finally warming up.
But then Louisville converted two third downs and a fourth down and not only ran off more than seven minutes of clock but scored a touchdown, too.
"We played decent on defense in spurts,'' coach Dana Holgorsen said. "But when we needed a stop we didn't get it.''
On that fateful drive, West Virginia immediately put Louisville in a third-and-7 situation. But freshman quarterback Teddy Bridgewater scrambled out of trouble and hit DeVante Parker, who slipped out of a tackle and made the first down.
Four plays later, though, the Cards faced fourth-and-1 at the WVU 43 and elected to go for it. Tailback Dominique Brown was hit behind the line of scrimmage but somehow spun forward and stretched out to get the first down.
"I thought we had it,'' said defensive lineman Julian Miller. "I plugged my gap and I saw him getting stopped back there. And then when I got up I saw them spotting the ball a yard ahead.''
That still might not have been the end, though. A few plays later Louisville faced third-and-3 at the 24, and a stop would have meant a field goal try and, at worst, a 34-28 deficit for the Mountaineers.
But again Bridgewater calmly stood in the pocket and tossed a little middle pass to Brown for 21 yards to set up an eventual touchdown.
It was not the first time during the game that Bridgewater burned the Mountaineers. He was 12-of-13 in the first half and his only incompletion was a pass he threw away intentionally. He even set up a TD just before the half when he flipped a little under-hand, left-hand shovel pass to Victor Anderson.
"I still don't know how he threw that one,'' said Goode. "But he got it to him.''
Bridgewater completed 21-of-27 passes for 246 yards and a touchdown, but had to overcome four sacks.
Two of them came on back-to-back plays late in the first half by Bruce Irvin, who came into the season with big expectations for his sack numbers but had just 21/2 through the first eight games.
Those two plays are really what got West Virginia's defense going. The Mountaineers had given up a 55-yard run to Brown on Louisville's third play of the game and would surrender a 37-yard completion from Bridgewater to Eli Rogers on the second possession to fall behind 14-7.