It's been a crazy season for the West Virginia Mountaineers.
Expectations were low, and they got even lower when it took a fourth-quarter rally to beat William & Mary in the season opener. Those expectations hit rock bottom when the Mountaineers got blown out, 37-0, by Maryland in Baltimore a few weeks later.
But a 4-6 record aside, what West Virginia has done in the weeks since that pitiful loss has shown some positives for the future of the program. And even though WVU suffered another setback Saturday night to Texas, a lot of what Mountaineers fans saw in the 47-40 overtime defeat is promising.
Kevin White's stats aren't too impressive this season: 30 catches for 471 yards and three touchdowns in nine games played.
Watch what happens when a West Virginia quarterback heaves the ball in his general direction, though, and you'll be impressed.
White, a junior who is a transfer from Lackawanna (Pa.) Junior College, is just starting to hit his stride as a force to be reckoned with on the West Virginia offense. Saturday night under the lights at Milan Puskar Stadium, White leaped above and carved through the Longhorns secondary—including for one catch early in the fourth quarter that had Mountaineers fans, including former star wide receiver Stedman Bailey, on their feet.
That's a grown man catch right there By Kevin White!— STEDMAN BAILEY (@iamSB3) November 10, 2013
Unfortunately for White, quarterback Paul Millard had a difficult time staying out from under Texas linemen (more on that later). When he did, he sometimes had accuracy concerns that kept him from getting the ball into White's hands.
White did end up with five catches for 89 yards. With some work to bolster his consistency and perhaps better rapport with a quarterback, White could be readying himself for a monster season in 2014.
On Charles Sims, @Holgorsendana said “I challenge you to find anyone in the country that does more for his football team’’— Dave Hickman (@dphickman1) November 4, 2013
This certainly was the case Saturday night. Sims was a threat on the ground and through the air for the Mountaineers, touching the ball a total of 29 times for 135 yards. He made his way into the end zone three times himself, and he made the key block on Dreamius Smith's fourth-quarter touchdown run.
Another newbie to WVU this season, Sims is a transfer from Houston. And as a senior, this is his one time to shine in Morgantown. And Saturday night, despite the loss, shine he did.
White showed some NFL-quality footwork on several plays Saturday night, perhaps most notably when West Virginia was backed to its own 9-yard line early in the third quarter. A slick juke move by Sims led him to daylight and a 33-yard gain down the left sideline.
Sims is currently rated by CBSSports.com as the fifth-best running back in the 2014 NFL draft. There are plenty of teams in the National Football League that could do much worse with a second- or third-round pick than Charles Sims.
On the surface, it's ugly. The Mountaineer D had 47 points dropped on it.
But when you break it down, it was—dare I say it?—an admirable performance.
WVU quarterback Paul Millard turned the ball over twice inside his own 10-yard line and once at the 27-yard line. Clint Trickett, on the play he was injured, also turned it over at the team's own 26-yard line. The defense held Texas to field goals three of those four times, only allowing a touchdown on the 27-yard drive.
That's impressive. That's turning right around after having been on the field, coming back out with your own goalposts over your shoulders and forcing three-and-outs three out of four times.
Texas QB Case McCoy did find his stride late in the third and early in the fourth quarters, leading three touchdown drives. But the Mountaineer defense continued to stand strong, highlighted by a hold to a field goal on the Longhorns' final drive of regulation to force overtime.
While giving up 47 points certainly isn't a resume-builder, holds were made that allowed the Mountaineers to stick in it until the end. It was a far cry from the 2012 season, when touchdowns poured through the WVU defense at every opportunity. The defense was far from perfect, but it showed heart.
Darwin Cook will be gone next year, but Isaiah Bruce and other defensive leaders will hope to carry this momentum into 2014.
For the first two-and-a-half quarters of the game Saturday night, the Mountaineers quarterbacking left a lot to be desired.
Trickett fumbled the ball twice, and he was knocked from the game on the second when he was landed upon by Texas' Desmond Jackson. Millard entered in relief and was a train wreck, fumbling twice on sacks deep in his own territory and throwing an interception on a tipped ball that was returned inside WVU's own 10-yard line. The four total turnovers led to 16 Texas points: the first 16 the Longhorns scored.
In total, the Mountaineers quarterbacking duo combined for five turnovers and were sacked seven times. And in addition to the three fumbles recovered by Texas, they combined to fumble three more times on the night.
While Millard warmed up in the second half, the problems he faced earlier in the game were troubling.
Millard, a junior, will be remain in 2014, along with Trickett and current freshman Ford Childress. It will remain to be seen who will take a step forward and be a leader the team can rely upon, consistently, moving forward.
The Mountaineer running up and down the sideline. The "Pride of West Virginia" band and the color guard doing their thing. The deafening roar of the crowd.
West Virginia is a state that loves its college football team, win or lose.
Saturday night's striking imagery at Milan Puskar Stadium came from a "Stripe the Stadium" event that had fans wearing blue or gold depending upon what section they were in. It makes for a stunning look for a ravenous crowd.
Rather than try to explain the atmosphere of Saturday's game in any more words, here are some pictures shared on Twitter.
Can we all just agree that every game should be Stripe the Stadium? pic.twitter.com/uI9TJ6bhmH— Andrew Saab (@OhKemoSaabie) November 10, 2013