By Bob Hertzel
For the Times West Virginian
The shadows that the late afternoon would bring to Milan Puskar Stadium were not yet evident, except on the way West Virginia University’s game with Connecticut was playing out. There was concern everywhere, even on the faces of the students who managed to crawl out of bed and half fill their section of the stadium.
The Mountaineers had yawned their way through another dismal first half of football, escaping somehow with a 10-9 halftime lead even though they could muster only 33 yards on the ground, lost a fumble and had been penalized four times.
Now, though, Connecticut was driving on its first possession with the football at the WVU 13, first and 10. A field goal would give them the Huskies the lead, a touchdown would give them a morale boost that might create a difficult situation for the Mountaineers.
Quarterback Johnny McEntee came under pressure on a pass play, scrambled, was leveled by cornerback Pat Miller, the ball squirting straight into the air, where it was picked off by redshirt freshman Jewone Snow at 5.
All of a sudden everything about the game was going in the other direction, Snow lumbering down the sideline 83 yards to the UConn 12.
A touchdown pass from Geno Smith to Tavon Austin would soon follow and the Mountaineers were off and running toward what would become a rather misleading 43-16 victory, that sent 56,179 fans home happy that WVU was off to a 1-0 start in the Big East.
One play had changed not only the game, but perhaps the course of history, for as uncertain as the conference situation is at present, WVU can’t look like the kind of team that loses to the Connecticuts of the world.
“In college football, those things happen,” said quarterback Geno Smith, who wound up the day with another 450 passing yards, four touchdowns and nary an interception. “That’s something that turned the game. You can tell the momentum changed.
“We started the second half with a three and out and everyone is like, ‘Here we go again.’ Then comes the fumble and he takes it down the field and we had an extra boost of energy to go out there and just play our game.”
Snow was making only his second start at middle linebacker, inserted only because another linebacker, Doug Rigg, had broken a bone in his hand that required surgery. A star prospect with a lineage of greatness from both basketball and football stars at Michigan and Michigan State, Snow had led the Mountaineers in tackles in the first start.
Now he was Jewone on the Spot, so to speak, as he saw Pat Miller make his hit and ball go airborne.
“I just ran to the ball and caught it,” he explained.
As the ball nestled into his arms, he glanced downfield and saw a lane.
“A lineman was coming but one of my teammates blocked him,” he said.
His journey down the sideline was an interesting one, looking nothing like wide receiver Stedman Bailey as he raced 84 yards for a TD later in the game.
“He probably should have lateraled,” defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel said.
He would have none of that.
“No, I just thought of running. If I lateraled the ball I had a chance of turning it over,” he said.
Could he have scored if the field were 10 yards shorter, he was asked.
“How about 40 yards,” he answered.
The interception was an electric moment and WVU took advantage of it, Smith hitting Tavon Austin for a 12-yard TD.
Moments later, on the next offensive play, Smith hooked up with Bailey for 84 yards and the TD, the fifth longest touchdown pass in WVU history, and the route was on.
A safety made it 26-9, then came Smith finding Bradley Starks, who made a spectacular leaping grab in the end zone, ran it to 33-9.
The Mountaineers ran out the scoring as Tyler Bitancurt kicked his second field goal of the game in the fourth quarter and Smith and his high school teammate Bailey teamed up again for 27-yard TD.
All the while, the WVU defense was getting better and better, UConn managing just 93 yards in the second half after gaining nearly twice that in the first half.
“The defense is the best it’s been all year,” Holgorsen said. “That was a heck of a second half. That was a dominating performance from our defense.
West Virginia now has a week off before playing at Syracuse on Oct. 21. With nearly two months left in the season WVU has only two more games at home.
Email Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @bhertzel