West Virginia overcame a 10-point halftime deficit to continue its dominance over Rutgers, beating the Scarlet Knights 41-31 to remain in the hunt for the Big East title.
The difference in the second half for the No. 25 Mountaineers (6-2, 2-1): the defense shut out Rutgers, and forced several critical turnovers. Plus, a huge play on special teams helped turn the tide. Leading 31-28 early in the fourth quarter, Rutgers coach Greg Schiano decided to fake a field goal attempt. Holder Patrick Kivlehan floated a pass for Brandon Coleman in the end zone. Darwin Cook stepped in at the last minute to break up the pass, and the Scarlet Knights (5-3, 2-2) settled for no points.
West Virginia took the lead on the ensuing drive when Dana Holgorsen decided to got for it on fourth-and-goal. Geno Smith scored his first career rushing touchdown from 1 yard out, and the Mountaineers never trailed again. They added to their lead after Gary Nova fumbled on the next possession. Julian Miller had his second fumble recovery of the day, and Tavon Austin scored on a 20-yard touchdown pass to seal the win.
The Mountaineers ended the game with 20 unanswered points, in what has got to be a heartbreaking loss for Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights have lost 17 straight to West Virginia, and failed to take advantage of an opportunity to break that streak. Consider how well Rutgers has done in turnover margin this season. But in two straight losses, the Scarlet Knights have seven combined turnovers and are minus-5 in turnover margin.
Nova could never get into a good rhythm in the snow, going 18-of-46 for 235 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions. Nova has thrown five interceptions in the last two games.
The Rutgers run game was pretty effective -- but West Virginia did a much better job on the ground. The Mountaineers were able to utilize bruising back Shawne Alston perfectly in a game that needed a big guy to carry the load in the inclement weather.
Alston finished with 14 carries for a career-high 109 yards and two touchdowns. But they were also effective in flipping the ball to the speedy Austin out of the backfield. He had two carries for 96 yards -- including an 80-yard touchdown run.