Good start to new year
The new year's weekend was good to West Virginia University's men's athletic teams. Coach John Beilein's young basketball team continued their surprising start with a statement win over ninth ranked Connecticut. The win leaves the Mountaineers with an 11-1 record overall and a 1-0 record in Big East play.
On New Year's Day the WVU football team overcame some sloppy defensive play in the first half, and an 18 point second half deficit, to beat Georgia Tech in the Gator Bowl 38-35. That score is identical to the 38-35 score the Mountaineers beat Georgia with in last year's Sugar Bowl.
For much of the Gator Bowl West Virginia was being taken to task by Tech's All American receiver Calvin Johnson. Johnson got loose for a couple touchdown passes when WVU defenders slipped on the turf, but even when he was covered the huge wideout came up with the ball.
Meanwhile Steve Slaton, WVU's All American running back, took himself out of the game after three carries due to a deep thigh bruise he sustained in practice two weeks ago. Slaton's status was much discussed in the days leading up to the game with the prognosis being a game time decision.
Slaton started and looked to be less than 100 percent, but still effective as a runner and certainly as a decoy. Still, the super sophomore felt he had no acceleration and the team would be better served with someone else in the backfield, so he took himself out of the game.
After taking a quick 7-0 lead, WVU was picked apart in the air and on the ground by the Yellowjackets who took a 28-17 lead into halftime. Going into the game, a 17 point half by the Mountaineers would have had most fans thinking in a positive manner, but there were many concerns in this case with the team being down by 11.
Those concerns were enhanced when Tech recovered an onside kick to open the second half and marched in for a touchdown to go ahead 35-17. It was at that point West Virginia quarterback Pat White, and a more aggressive defense, took over with his feet and arm and rallied WVU past Georgia Tech for WVU's second consecutive bowl win.
Perhaps even more impressive to WVU fans is the start of Beilein's basketball team. Not much was expected this season from the basketball team since five of WVU's top six players from last year did not return to this year's team.
Because of the inexperience Beilein created an early season schedule which wasn't particularly difficult so his young team could develop a little before the challenge of Big East play. Well, the Mountaineers ran off to a 10-1 start against that portion of the schedule and dominated most teams in the process.
Suddenly there were whispers that maybe WVU is better than anybody thought they would be. Saturday's 10 point win over UCONN was great for the team, but must be tempered with the realization that this UCONN team is even younger than the Mountaineers, and perhaps slightly overrated at this point in the season.
The Huskies are still very talented and that game shows that WVU, under Beilein's amazing guidance, will be a headache for visiting Big East teams once again.