It has been awhile since we’ve seen Geno Smith smile — probably since Oct. 6 when he was enjoying a West Virginia win in Austin against Texas.
After the Mountaineers ended a five-game losing skid and finally became bowl eligible by holding off Iowa State in Ames 31-24 on Friday, Smith was able to crack a smile as he was shaking hands with the Cyclones.
It’s a far cry from the lofty preseason predictions, but WVU really needed this win as the Mountaineers have struggled in their first year in the Big 12. The struggles have mainly been on defense, but even that unit had some moments against ISU.
The biggest play came late in the fourth quarter with Iowa State on the WVU 7. Turning to their trusted back, Jeff Woody coughed up the football on a big hit from Darwin Cook. West Virginia’s offense kept the ball on the ground and ran off the final 3:55.
The loss was a tough pill for Iowa State, who played well behind freshman quarterback Sam Richardson. On a windy day at Jack Trice Stadium, Richardson found success running the ball.
The Cyclones are enjoying another solid season under likeable coach Paul Rhodes, but like every year they seem to lose a game that could make a good season great. Now WVU has a chance to get to 7-5 and probably earn a spot in the San Diego Holiday Bowl.
If it all works out, the Mountaineers could get to eight victories — a far cry from those national championship predictions, but actually a realistic finish.
Of course, the Mountaineers must win the season finale against Kansas — the Big 12 cellar dweller. It seems like a no-brainer, but no one would have ever predicted the five-game losing streak that included winnable games with TCU, Oklahoma State and Oklahoma.
The easiest way to say it is WVU is too undisciplined on both sides of the ball.
Even in Friday’s game, the Mountaineers tried to give it away. WVU was penalized for more than 100 yards, including stupid personal fouls that kept the defense on the field longer. As bad as the Mountaineers have played this season, giving a team an additional 100 yards is not going to translate well.
WVU defense looked better, but still collapsed at key times, including a late first-half drive by Iowa State that allowed the Cyclones to go into the half down 17-14.
The Mountaineers were aided by the return of Shawne Alston at running back, another solid performance by Tavon Austin (including the game-winning touchdown) and the improving play of freshman safety Karl Joseph.
With all of the big games on the weekend slate, you’d be hard pressed to find the average college football fan watching this one or even talking about this one after it was over.
But it’s safe to say Smith and the rest of the Mountaineers are happy to tell anyone who will listen what it was like to get that sixth win.