By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
As West Virginia University cornerback Pat Miller hurried off the football field last Saturday night after making the game’s biggest defensive play to clinch victory over Texas, there were cheers coming from the West Virginia section.
He’d heard such a reaction from the fans before, but this time they were real cheers, not the mocking cheers that rang out that evening against Baylor when he struggled so badly that his home crowd actually gave an ovation to his removal from the game.
Such a moment had to cut deeply into whatever it is that runs his emotions. Football, being the game it is, one that takes so much of your soul with it each week, magnifies both successes and failures and can produce both the highest of highs and the lowest of lows.
Either way, you are vulnerable emotionally to such reactions from fans, thinking far too much of yourself when being memorialized for a good performance and far too little of yourself when being torn down for a bad one.
“It’s a part of the game, you know. I don’t really care about it too much,” Pat Miller said this week as he thought back to the effect the fans’ reaction had on him during the Baylor game.
But the way the words came out, the expression on his face told a different story. It was an expression of hurt and disappointment … disappointment in himself, yes, but also in those who had come on so harshly.
If he was going to get him on track following that incident, cornerbacks coach Daron Roberts knew he had to address it right away.
“I told Pat, ‘This is a very fickle business. People will boo you one minute and cheer you the next, so you have to put together a consecutive string of good performances,’” Roberts said.
In truth, when you give up 63 points, as WVU had against Baylor, Miller was hardly the sole culprit, and Roberts felt he had to address them all.
“I told them offensive coordinators are not going to stop passing the ball because you feel down or you feel you could’ve done better last week,” Roberts said.
He also reminded his cornerbacks to have short memories, just like the people leveling criticism. “Fans, media, they want to remember the last thing that you did, so when you go into Austin and play well, Baylor will be an afterthought.”
Well, life wasn’t a whole lot better for most of the night in Texas. The Longhorns had their way through the air, quarterback David Ash hitting 22 of 29 passes for 269 yards and a touchdown, especially early when they hit a couple of wheel routes.
“They got us on two wheel routes that was just a lack of preparation on my part,” defensive coordinator Joe DeForest admitted. “They hadn’t shown many wheel routes, and we were in a coverage we hadn’t practiced a lot. That was a preparation error on the coaches’ side.”
Miller had been victimized there and any number of other times, but the world wasn’t caving in as it had against Baylor, and then the game came down to one play, a fourth-and-13 pass play that everyone in Royal-Memorial Stadium knew would go to the man in Miller’s territory.
Only this time Miller turned on the after jets. He read the play; he closed ground; he got there just in the nick of time and batted the ball way, leaping in glee toward the sideline, where he was mobbed by happy teammates, many of them the same ones who could only look down when he walked off the field to those cheers against Baylor.
“It was exciting, but I really can’t just go off one play though,” he said when asked about it this week. “It’s just one play that’s one part of the game. You just need to go on to the next play. You can have a good play or a bad play — it’s about moving on and focusing on the next play.
“You just have to always be in the right position. I just happened to be in the right position and was able to make the play.”
It was everything Roberts had told him the week before, the fact that he would be picked upon, that no one would feel sorry for him and that it was up to him to make the play.
That can do nothing but raise his confidence, nothing but raise the confidence of the entire defense.
“You think about what happened to him against Baylor, him coming off the field and them giving him a standing ovation because we were taking him out. I don’t think that’s right. You have an 18-, 19-, 20-year old kid. He had to battle back from that,” DeForest said.
“The fact that he was successful against Texas at a critical time told him he could do it,” the coach continued. “Those kids have to have a lot of confidence and a short memory.”
Email Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow on Twitter@bhertzel.