West Virginia University Football: Simulated Season Without FGs

Jim Sullivan@jsully711Featured ColumnistApril 4, 2012

West Virginia University Football: Simulated Season Without FGs

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    Over the course of the past season, the Mountaineers had some issues with their kicking game. Junior Tyle Bitancurt finished the season with just a 72.7 percent success rate, ranking him 45th at his position for the year.

    Five of Bitancurt's six misses came at crucial times: one produced a conference loss and two other times nearly cost West Virginia a win. Perhaps it was their lack of confidence in the kicking game that allowed WVU to put up a stunning 70 points on Clemson in the Orange Bowl, effectively leaving the game out of the kicker's hands.

    While West Virginia had, no doubt, a top-notch year with a BCS Bowl victory, one could question that if coach Dana Holgorsen had elected to go for it on every fourth down he was in kicking range, would the Mountaineers have won the Big East outright or fallen short and not even attended Miami in January? 

    Considering West Virginia's solid 50 percent fourth down conversion rate, going 9/18 on the year, I decided to test my theory. Using EA Sport's NCAA Football 2012 on my Xbox 360 for a simulator, I played out, on All-American difficulty, each of West Virginia's games on Dynasty Mode, electing to never kick a field goal for the duration of the season.

    What lies in the next 13 slides are the results of my experiment. The Mountaineers certainly had another successful season, but did they end up where they did last year with a BCS Bowl win or fall short into some secondary offseason road? Did WVU have a shot at the national title this time around? Check out the results to find out.  

Sept. 4th vs. Marshall

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    Actual Result: W 34-13

    My Result: W 56-17 

    The Marshall game went as expected. Geno Smith and the passing attack were as potent as ever, putting up over 400 yards in the air with six touchdowns to boot. It wasn't until the Mountaineers' second string defense came in that the Thundering Herd even scored, edging out their first TD on a long pass and a broken tackle downfield.

    The ground game also looked solid with Alston putting up over 100 yards for two touchdowns. The Mountaineers' in-state rivals were, once again, no problem, dispatching Marshall easily within the four quarters of play.

    Record: 1-0 (0-0) 

Sept. 10th vs. Norfolk State (FCS)

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    Actual Result: W 55-12

    My Result: W 91-10

    Despite the video game's extensive selection of teams, NCAA 2012 doesn't go into the confines of the MEAC to produce Norfolk State. Instead, I used the preloaded FCS East squad as my opponent, playing possibly one of the easiest matchups I've ever had on my 360.

    I actually felt bad for "Norfolk State," as Geno Smith and the air raid produced big-time numbers, gaining over 700 yards in the passing game for 11 of the Mountaineers' 13 touchdowns. The other two TDs came at the hands of Alston, as he pummeled in both from just yards out of the end zone.

    Record: 2-0 (0-0)  

Sept. 17th @ Maryland

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    Actual Result: W 37-31

    My Result: W 49-38 

    Visiting the Terps started the issues that would come up later in the season. Scoring 35 of my 49 points in the first half, Maryland's comeback during the fourth quarter was actually frightening. When a particularly nasty hit landed Geno Smith out for the remainder of the game midway through the third, West Virginia's usually potent offense suddenly ran out of gas.

    Stagnant save for two big-time completions that led to touchdowns, my offense was completely out of sync without Geno Smith. For the rest of the 12 possessions I had following his injury, only two resulted in points with eight being three-and-outs. Maryland's offense revved up, scoring 21 points extremely quickly.

    With only about two minutes left, a superb screen by Alston saved the game for the Mountaineers. He broke free for about a 60 yard gain and TD, effectively ending the threat for the rest of the game as, on my next possession, I was able to run the clock out.

    Record: 3-0 (0-0)  

Sept. 24th vs. (5) LSU

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    Actual Result: L 47-21

    My Result: L 55-42

    Hoping to change the fates here, I realized how utterly important this game was to the Mountaineers' season. Winning it would be the key to moving on to the national title game further down the road, which was, in my opinion, a definite possibility as this point.

    For the entire first half, each team matched the other—touchdown for touchdown—each putting up 28 points before the half. The third quarter was much of the same as WVU entered the final stretch up 42-35. Then, in what turned out to be a horrible defensive breakdown, the Tigers opened the floodgates for their offense.

    While I had two three-and-outs of my own in the fourth, LSU had established two solid drives which had both resulted in touchdowns. Getting the ball back, I resolved to tie up the game and put it into OT when Smith threw an interception on the Mountaineers' side of the field, allowing the Tigers a field goal.

    With time running low, West Virginia had a turnover on downs that led to another LSU field goal. Following another failed possession, the game ended and the Tigers took home the victory. 

    Record: 3-1 (0-0)

Oct. 1st vs. Bowling Green

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    Actual Result: W 55-10

    My Result: W 63-24 

    After losing to LSU at home, I certainly let my anger out on Bowling Green, serving them up nine touchdowns, all of which came through the air. The Mountaineers fired on all cylinders, putting up over 300 yards in the passing game coming through both Geno Smith and backup QB Paul Millard. 

    My defense, however, looked somewhat spent by the time the second half came around, leading to 17 BGU points.

    After putting in my second string defense, another TD came on their final possession. For the most part, WVU wiped the field with the small-time team, adding another win to their record.

    Record: 4-1 (0-0)

Oct. 8th vs. Connecticut

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    Actual Result: W 43-16

    My Result: W 35-31 

    While I knew UConn wasn't going to be an easy win, the Huskies produced on a much higher level than I anticipated. Even with the crowd at my back, WVU struggled through the air to put points on the board, only generating around 150 yards and two TDs through the passing game.

    Fortunately, Alston and the rushing attack came through, as he and the offensive line put up a season-high 184 yards on the ground. Adding the other three touchdowns, it was mainly his production as well as the defense's toughness that finished the game off for WVU.

    Connecticut established a pretty solid passing attack the entire game, putting up all of their points by air raid. Down by seven with just a few minutes left, UConn elected to kick the field goal instead of going for it on fourth down. When I recovered the onside kick, Alston was able to gain three first downs on the ground to end the game, giving the Mountaineers the victory. 

    Record: 5-1 (1-0)

Oct. 21st @ Syracuse

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    Actual Result: L 49-23

    My Result: W 42-27 

    As one of the many people nationwide who was stunned while watching Syracuse rip WVU apart last season, I rationalized that putting up too many points on the Orange wasn't an option. Even with that kept in mind, the one-loss Orange were able to put a scare on me early in the game. 

    Matching me touchdown for touchdown throughout the first half, it was my second half offense that propelled my team to another win in my first conference road game. Geno Smith and the passing attack thrived on the deep threat all throughout the final two quarters, putting up over five completions for 50 yards or more. 

    During the game, however, it was my rushing game that struggled. They failed to convert four fourth-down conversions that were less than a yard each, allowing a turnover on downs inside Syracuse's 30-yard line each time.

    Still, my defense held the Orange to no points in the second half, ending their threat for good as each drive came to a halt within four or five plays.

    Record: 6-1 (2-0) 

Oct. 29th @ Rutgers

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    Actual Result: W 41-31

    My Result: W 42-35

    Heading out to New Jersey to face the Scarlet Knights, I felt confident that I could shut down Rutgers early and secure the win. Instead, my passing game again struggled, allowing RU to stay with the Mountaineers until the game's conclusion.

    This game turned out to be one of Geno Smith's best games all year despite his lack of passing. The first quarter was despicable for him and his receivers. However, Smith found his legs as the game progressed and rushed for over 100 yards and three TDs.

    Alston came through as well, getting injured late in the fourth quarter. The dual-threat of Smith and Alston was the straw that broke the camel's back, as the defense attempted to play both rushing attacks, eventually leaving open the deep pass.

    After establishing a three touchdown lead, Rutgers still almost came back by scoring twice in the fourth quarter, only falling short on a fourth and long on their final possession. In retrospect, it was one of my worst defensive performances.

    Record: 7-1 (3-0) 

Nov. 5th vs. Louisville

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    Actual Result: L 38-35

    My Result: W (OT) 48-45 

    With my rushing attack crippled by the loss of Alston to injury, the Cardinals' visit to Morgantown carried much anticipation. In the last two games, my defense had allowed too many points, and I worried that my passing game wouldn't be enough to crush Louisville like I wanted.

    I surged to a 21-point lead early on with three strong drives led by Geno Smith's arm. The Cardinals' running game found their footing late in the second quarter, however, leading them to cut my lead to just seven with a half to go.

    Poor defensive play in the third and fourth quarters led to Louisville leading by seven with just a minute and a half to go, 42-35. Under Geno Smith's dual-threat ability, I was able to put up a TD with just 20 seconds remaining, forcing an overtime.

    I won the toss and elected to go on defense first. A stout couple of plays on the goal line gave Louisville a field goal and my team a shot at the win. Under strict directions to not kick any field goals, I would be forced to go for it on fourth down twice in OT, converting on each. A slant pattern on third and goal gave WVU the go-ahead score and the win, allowing my squad a big-time victory.

    Record: 8-1 (4-0) 

Nov. 12th @ (25) Cincinnati

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    Actual Result: W 24-21

    My Result: L 31-28

    At this point, my one-loss record had WVU in the Top Ten and fighting for a shot at the national title. Taking on the ranked Bearcats at Cincinnati would be a perfect opportunity to pull out a big win and secure a spot in the midst of the BCS conversation.

    Unfortunately, Cincy had other plans as a stunning hit knocked Geno Smith from the game just minutes after it had begun. Alston, while back from his injured leave, was of no help to backup QB Paul Millard, gaining under 50 yards on the game. Millard produced more than was expected in the first half, but the offensive line allowed too many sacks throughout the second half for him to be as potent. 

    Meanwhile, the Cincinnati offense had no problem with my defensive schemes. They seemingly pulled big play after big play out of nowhere, securing a solid lead early and holding it throughout.

    With the return of Smith in the fourth, the WVU offense had a shot at a comeback, yet a misplaced throw in the fourth led to a turnover that basically ended the game.

    The Bearcats' victory ended any shot at the Mountaineers reaching the title game, but with only one loss in the Big East, I remained hopeful of reaching a BCS Bowl.

    Record: 8-2 (4-1) 

Nov. 25th vs. (16) Pitt

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    Actual Result: W 21-20

    My Result: L (OT) 24-21

    The Backyard Brawl turned out to be easily one of the best games I've ever had the pleasure of playing on my 360. While it ended in a loss, the purely defensive battle was enjoyable, covering the span of the entire game as both offenses more than struggled to put up points.

    Coming into the rivalry, I recognized its importance on a much deeper scale than hatred. With each team only owning one conference loss, the likelihood was that the winner would take home the conference title and end up in the BCS Bowl game.

    As I said before, it was a defensive deadlock with both teams putting up three touchdowns by the game's final possession during which Pitt drove down the field and, with seconds remaining, missed the winning field goal from 52 yards. This luck allowed me to go forth into overtime with some confidence.

    Losing the toss this time, Pitt, of course, elected to be on defense first. Sticking to my "no field goals" policy, I failed on a fourth-and-short conversion, giving the ball to the Panthers with the game still tied. Pitt ran three running plays which were all stopped quickly. This led to another field, which they nailed to pull off the rivalry win.  

    Record: 8-3 (4-2)

Dec. 1st @ USF

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    Actual Result: W 30-27

    My Result: W 35-17

    Heading into the final matchup with USF with no shot at the Big East title, I knew its only purpose was to basically allow WVU a better than decent bowl. The Bulls were unable to gain a bowl spot this season as they were 4-7 going into the matchup.

    The Mountaineers controlled the game for its entirety, jumping out to a solid lead early on. Smith played fantastic, putting up over 300 yards in the air and another 100 on the ground. Alston also added 50-plus yards, helping to end the regular season with a big win.

    Securing the Big East's second place spot, the Mountaineers were heading off to the Champs Sports Bowl. Ironically, WVU held the same record as they did in actuality, yet were left out of BCS contention due to the superior play of Pitt. 

    Record: 9-3 (5-2) 

Champs Sports Bowl: West Virginia vs. North Carolina

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    Actual Result: Orange Bowl vs. Clemson W 70-33

    My Result: W 56-31

    Facing off against the ACC's No. 3 squad UNC, West Virginia blew up in Champs Sports Bowl. Throwing up 42 points in the first half alone, Geno Smith and the offense were able to coast for the entire second half while the defense held off the Tar Heels. 

    Taking out my frustration of losing the Big East title and a shot at a BCS Bowl, scoring 56 points was the perfect way to relieve my anger. Both Alston and Smith performed admirably, generating tons of offense over the course of the game.

    Still maintaining my constant "no field goals" policy, the Mountaineers had no problems scoring without their kicking game to back them up. The North Carolina offense was mostly stagnant until the fourth quarter, scoring a majority of their points in the final quarter against the WVU second string.

    To conclude the season, West Virginia actually finished with the same record but in a different place due to the small nature of the Big East Conference. Not having the chance to play in a BCS Bowl frustrated me, but the superb job done by the Mountaineer offense headed by Geno Smith and Shawne Alston was impressive to say the least.

    Final Record: 10-3 (5-2)