Finally. After a five-game losing streak, the WVU Mountaineers earned bowl eligibility with a 31-24 win over Iowa State Friday.
It wasn't the sort of victory that would ease fears about WVU's weaknesses. Sam B. Richardson and the Iowa State offense often had its way with West Virginia's porous and often clueless-looking defense, as Richardson threw for 166 yards and three touchdowns and ran for 119 yards more. WVU held on despite a poor performance by its defense on Iowa State's final drive, in which WVU was called for two totally unnecessary penalties, one for face mask and another a personal foul for hands to the face that occurred away from the ball. Finally, Jeff Woody fumbled near the WVU goal line, and Karl Joseph recovered. West Virginia's offense took over after that, and the Mountaineers retained their lead.
Fortunately, WVU's offense was potent despite cold and windy conditions. The Tavon Austin running show didn't work nearly as well as it did last week against Oklahoma, but he did manage a 75-yard touchdown on a touch pass from Geno Smith. (Austin also had an amazing, highlight-worthy punt-return touchdown called back.) And when Austin wasn't quite enough, the burlier Shawne Alston picked up the slack, with 19 rushes for 130 yards and a touchdown. Smith went 22-of-31 for 236 yards and two touchdowns.
Iowa State may have finished with nearly 400 total yards, and it wasn't much of a performance by WVU's defense. But Mountaineers fans can rest easy -- the losing streak is over, and West Virginia will be heading to a bowl. And the Mountaineers' one remaining regular-season game is against Big 12 doormat Kansas, so they'll hopefully be able to head into bowl season 7-5.