West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith isn't used to staring at the turf.
Especially when it's at eye level.
The Texas Longhorns' much-aligned defense answered its critics with an impressive display of power and brute strength for three-and-a-half quarters.
They got to Geno Smith.
But when it mattered most—late in the fourth quarter—the defense was done in by a masterful display of coaching by Dana Holgorsen and the Mountaineers came away with a 48-45 victory in Austin, Texas.
Don't kid yourself. Mack Brown is a helluva coach but the mad scientist Holgorsen schooled the master when it mattered most.
In the fourth quarter.
Granted, the 28-27 score at the half wasn't indicative of the whole story. J.D. Woods dropped a touchdown pass and Andrew Buie stumbled and fell short of the end zone after a reception. West Virginia usually can "make up" for lost opportunities but doing that against a bunch of blue-chippers wearing burnt orange would prove to be much more difficult.
The Longhorns' front four put pressure on Geno Smith all day long. I said pressuring Smith was one of the keys to the game. Smith was sacked three times in the first half.
Prior to this game, Smith had been sacked only four times in his previous four games.
At the half, Mack Brown was doing a great job of keeping Smith somewhat contained, if there is such a thing.
How rattled did Smith get? Midway through the second quarter on a third-and-14 from his own nine-yard line, he fumbled the ball after Alex Okafor jarred the ball loose from his hand, and Jackson Jeffcoat recovered the ball in the end zone for a Texas touchdown.
Still the Longhorns' defense wasn't perfect.
West Virginia running back Andrew Buie weaved and bobbed on a 26-yard screen pass that featured numerous missed tackles by the Texas defenders. Geno Smith then threw a strike to Stedman Bailey for a touchdown four plays later to give the Mountaineers a 34-31 lead with 4:32 left in the third quarter.
But Texas responded with a 12-play drive ending with Joe Bergeron punching it in and the Longhorns reclaimed the lead, 38-34.
It was as if the Longhorns were playing poker with the Mountaineers: the Mountaineers would ante up and the Longhorns would see their score and then raise them. Meanwhile, Geno Smith was pacing the sidelines waiting to get back into the game with Dana Holgorsen holding an ace up his sleeve.
While West Virginia was scoring with speed and finesse, Texas was scoring with smash-mouth football, winning the war in the trenches, making Smith pay if he stayed in the pocket too long.
Will West Virginia play in the BCS title game?
But in the end, all that didn't matter.
Even after a missed pass interference call on Texas' Quandre Diggs—who was draped over J.D. Woods on a critical third down—West Virginia came back and converted on fourth down.
They wouldn't be denied. Holgorsen didn't even break a damn sweat.
Smith would later connect on a laser to Stedman Bailey for another go-ahead touchdown. Back and forth it went, Brown and Holgorsen playing poker. On a crucial 4th-and-13, David Ash's pass was broken up by Pat Miller, and Texas walked off the field empty-handed.
That would be the game-changer.
And then again, maybe it wouldn't be. Late in the fourth quarter, Okafor again knocked the ball out of Geno Smith's hands deep in West Virginia's territory and Texas teammate Chris Whaley recovered it.
Things looked promising for Texas. But quarterback David Ash, on a 3rd-and-8, would have to chase down an errant snap which led to a 4th-and-22. Longhorn kicker Anthony Fera missed the 41-yard field goal attempt.
And it's here where Holgorsen schooled Brown. When it mattered most.
Instead of running a typical two-minute no-huddle offense, the Mountaineers drove down the field in a long, methodical fashion using Andrew Buie to chew up the clock and keep the Longhorns offense off the field.
Wasn't that supposed to be the Longhorns' game plan?
West Virginia produced an eight-play drive in which Buie carried the ball seven of the eight plays and scored a touchdown from five yards out. It was oh-so-not Mountaineer-like yet oh-so-beautiful to watch. Like a poker player holding pocket threes and betting the hand hard. Unexpected. But when everyone folds and he wins the hand, you have to appreciate the beauty of it.
Brilliant. Masterful. And in-your-face football.
Holgorsen turned the tables on Mack Brown's game plan. He coached a brilliant game. He held his poker face. Oh, you clever man. FOXSports color commentator Charles Davis said that "Dana Holgorsen just called the game of his life."
So far, he has. And there's more to come, no doubt.
It was a game for the ages. It left you breathless. True, when Texas is winning, all is good in college football.
But the torch has been passed. And Dana Holgorsen is holding it.