LANDOVER, MD – When staring across the field to the opponent’s sideline at FedExField, West Virginia head coach Dana Holgorsen was not only looking at the team he was looking to beat on Saturday. It was also a gaze at his own footballing ancestry and roots.
After today’s contest, I’m not sure Holgorsen will be planning too many more genealogy sessions with the Cougars anytime soon. The Mountaineers almost blew a 16-point fourth quarter deficit, using an interception from cornerback Maurice Fleming at the goal line with a minute remaining to cement a 35-32 victory over the BYU Cougars in a non-conference matchup at FedFexField.
The expectation going into the game was that the offenses would rule the day, and that’s exactly what happened: the Cougars and Mountaineers combined for 1,002 total yards, with both offenses able to move the ball at will into the opponent’s side of the 50. West Virginia thought they had the game in hand early in the fourth quarter. Starting from its own 1-yard line after a well-executed BYU coffin corner punt near the end of the third quarter, the Mountaineers embarked on a 12-play, 99-yard scoring drive which was capped off by a nine-yard pass from quarterback Skyler Howard to receiver Daikiel Shorts to give the Mountaineers a 35-19 lead with 11:27 remaining.
At that point, Holgorsen was probably more on-edge than at any other time in the game.
“I said, ‘We can get excited about being up 16 points if we want, but by no means is this thing over,” said Holgorsen in the post game press conference.
He was right, and then some. BYU, in a span of 3:24, was able to score touchdowns on its next two drives, with the latter score from a Taysom Hill 18-yard pass to Moroni Laulu-Pututau cutting West Virginia’s lead down to 35-32 with just under minutes remaining.
BYU wasn’t able to take the lead on its final two possessions, both of them ending on turnovers, including the interception by Fleming off of a deflection with 1:01 remaining to seal the victory in a game that brought back memories of where Holgorsen’s offensive philosophy comes from.
As a player, Holgorsen attended Iowa Wesleyan University, playing under head coach Hal Mumme and offensive coordinator Mike Leach at the time. According to Holgorsen, both Mumme and Leach were heavily influenced by the West Coast Offense that legendary former BYU head coach LaVell Edwards ran when he was in charge in Provo. In the lead-up to the game today, Holgorsen admitted that some of the concepts in his playbook trace “back to the BYU days.”
Holgorsen’s current system that he has at West Virginia hasn’t been too shabby after the first three games, with Skyler Howard, coming off a five-touchdown performance against Youngstown State two weeks ago, completing 31 of 40 passes today for 332 yards and that fourth-quarter TD pass. Running back Rushel Shell III had two first-half touchdowns to augment the Mountaineer passing attack.
While West Virginia’s offense came into the game ranked seventh in the FBS in total yards, BYU’s was 105th, resulting in a groundswell of dissent coming from some BYU supporters who want to see Tanner Mangum at quarterback instead of starter Taysom Hill, who has missed parts of the last two seasons with injuries. Despite the loss, BYU’s offense had its best game of the year, rolling up 521 yards of total offense today, with Hill throwing for 241 yards and two touchdowns as well as running for 101 yards. Senior running back Jamaal Williams was the Cougars’ best performer of offense, with his physical running style helping him to churn out 169 yards on 24 carries with two touchdowns.
Hill wasn’t without mistakes however, as his three interceptions proved costly for the Cougars. Along with his two interceptions in the fourth quarter, he threw an interception to cornerback Rasul Douglas in the second quarter, one which Douglas was able to take back 54 yards for a touchdown to give West Virginia a 21-10 lead late in the first half. BYU was also hurt by eight penalties in the contest, totaling 51 yards.