Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

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College Sports

September 19, 2012

Eighth-ranked WVU needs to finish strong

For six out of eight quarters, West Virginia University’s football team has been almost perfect.

In quarters 1-3 — against both Marshall and James Madison — the No. 8 Mountaineers (2-0) have outscored opponents 90-25 and racked up 1,102 yards of offense. They’ve averaged 15 points and 183 yards per quarter.

For a team that struggled in the first half at times a year ago, the fast starts have been a pleasing sight.

“We’ve talked about it the prior two weeks,” said WVU head coach Dana Holgorsen. “We’ve done a good job of starting fast.”

The fourth quarter, though, has been a much different story. In the final 15 minutes against the Herd and the Dukes, WVU has scored a total of 21 points and produced just 122 yards of offense — averaging 10.5 points and 61 yards of offense.

The Mountaineers have given up 21 points in the fourth quarter, almost as many as the other quarters combined.

There’s a simple explanation for the difference in production. Against both Marshall and JMU, WVU held a substantial lead heading into the fourth quarter, and they played the final minutes with many of its reserves in the game.

But WVU head coach Holgorsen isn’t buying that excuse.

“A lot of people, even myself, have been guilty of saying, ‘Well, it’s just the young kids in the fourth quarter,’ but we’re not doing a good job of finishing games,” he said. “We gave up the touchdown in the fourth quarter last week (against JMU), and there were six missed tackles. Offensively, for the second game in a row, we didn’t score in the fourth quarter with our young guys.”

Geno Smith threw a touchdown pass to Tavon Austin on the first play of the fourth quarter against the Dukes, before the starters came out of the game. Backup quarterback Paul Millard did throw a 3-yard touchdown pass to K.J. Myers in the fourth quarter against Marshall, but that came after the WVU defense put the Mountaineers at the Herd 3-yard line with an interception return. The second team was never able to drive the field for any points.

“We need to finish people,” said Holgorsen. “We haven’t done a good job of that. We let Marshall keep playing. We let James Madison keep playing and (they scored) late.

“It’s not all just young guys,” he continued. “There are some experienced guys out there, as well, and I don’t care who they are. Their job is to move the ball or tackle people. It’s great to play those guys in situations, but it needs to look better than it has the past two fourth quarters.”

The finish may be on Holgorsen’s mind a little more this week considering the opponent. WVU will host border rival Maryland in a game that will be televised on FX at noon.

Last year against Randy Edsall’s Terps — Holgorsen’s third game as the WVU head coach — the Mountaineers jumped out to a 34-10 lead early in the third quarter in College Park, Md., only to watch that advantage evaporate.

Maryland pulled to within a field goal, 34-31, with a little less that 10 minutes to play, and the Terps had the ball driving for a possible win when Terence Garvin intercepted a Danny O’Brien pass in the red zone to close the door on a Mountaineer win — one that was a little to close for Holgorsen’s comfort.

“We let them keep playing, and they scored a bunch in the second half and almost beat us in the end,” he remembered. “I’m pleased with how we’re starting. I’m pleased with our tempo. But we need to do a better job of starting fast in the second half and do a better job of finishing people off.”

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