I’ll admit it, West Virginia pleasantly surprised me Saturday.
Going into the 2014 Chick-Fil-A Kickoff Game, I believed the Mountaineers would not be able to compete with No. 2 Alabama in nearly every aspect of the game.
Following the game, however, the Mountaineers proved me wrong – for the most part.
The biggest area WVU did not seem to surprise many non-Mountaineer fans across the country was in the outcome of the game.
Though a loss may show up on the Mountaineers’ record column to begin the 2014 season, I’d argue it’s the closest loss you can have while still being able to come away from the season opener with much to be happy about.
Now in their third season in the Big 12 Conference, the Mountaineers have said all fall camp just how much this squad has improved, but something I did not expect out of this squad was for them to truly be able to show all the growth that has been made against the Tide.
“I felt like we are better at every position and after watching this game I feel like we are better at every position,” said head coach Dana Holgorsen. “Now I think everybody has got to rally around this team for the rest of the season.”
Getting the support Holgorsen is looking for shouldn’t be too difficult from the members of his squad. The Mountaineers were able to do something just two teams did against the Crimson Tide in 2013 – put up more than 300 yards on the ‘Bama defense.
The Mountaineers finished the game with 393 total yards, while being led by redshirt senior quarterback Clint Trickett, who connected on 29 of 45 attempts for 365 yards and a touchdown.
But more importantly, Trickett didn’t turn the ball over once. Even after much concern entering Saturday’s game as to how Trickett would respond after coming off shoulder surgery in the spring and coming into the season opener without being hit, Trickett remained calm and did what many didn’t think he could do, give West Virginia a legitimate chance in the game.
“We felt like we could come in and give them a good game and put ourselves in a position to have a chance to win and when that happens, you’ve got to make critical plays in critical situations,” Holgorsen said. “You’ve got to make critical calls in critical situations, and you need to have a little bit more success than we had.”
And that is what ultimately brought this Mountaineer squad down. There were missed opportunities in critical situations throughout the game for the Mountaineers, and there were moments in the second half when you could see a clear difference in West Virginia’s ability compared to ‘Bama’s pro-style ability in just about everything.
Between the WVU defense allowing 538 total yards with all seven of the Tides’ scoring drives consisting of at least six plays and the enormous third down trouble the West Virginia defense had, as Alabama was able to be nine of 16 in third down conversions, the problems were still present for the Mountaineers.
All-in-all, West Virginia made many heads turn Saturday, and all for the right reasons, especially since the Mountaineers were coming off a 4-8 season and entered Saturday’s game as 26.5-point underdogs.
“I told these guys to hold their head up high,” Holgorsen said. “How do we respond? We don’t want pats on the back. We want to be able to go to work, look at the film and get better from it.”