MORGANTOWN — The early line for the Sept. 8, 1984, home match-up with Louisville was a brisk 27-point WVU advantage.
That was likely due more to the Cardinals’ 26-23 season-opening upset loss to Murray State than to the Mountaineers’ 30-0 win vs. Ohio. And while the final score fairly well approached the odds, the game itself was anything but a textbook blow-out.
In fact, just about every one of the 55,002 fans at Mountaineer Field that hot Saturday afternoon had much more steam under their collars from WVU’s performance than from the weather, as the team sleepwalked its way to a 30-6 win.
Slow, sluggish and sloppy — those were the descriptors characterizing both teams throughout the game, as 11 turnovers and numerous penalties gummed up the works.
WVU punted on its first series, then watched UL drive deep into scoring position, but dodged a bullet as a field goal attempt missed. WVU tailback John Gay then fumbled on the WVU 22, but the defense held, forcing the Cards to settle for a field goal and a 3-0 lead.
The Mountaineers mounted a decent drive that stalled, but Paul Woodside drilled a 49-yard field goal to tie it up. Coach Don Nehlen, often criticized for his offensive conservativeness, rolled the dice on an onside kick, but lost.
However, sophomore defensive back Travis Curtis intercepted a long pass at the WVU 9 to thwart the threat. An exchange of punts was followed by another failed special teams gamble, this time by Louisville, as a fake field goal running play was stuffed.
Perhaps the turning point of the game came shortly after in the middle of the second quarter, when Woodside boomed a school-record 55-yard field goal that energized the WVU sideline.
A UL fumble led to a quick touchdown drive, Gay plunging in from the 3 to extend the lead to 13-3.
A Cardinals three-and-out and Willie Drewery’s long punt return set up another Woodside field goal from 41 yards out, and yet another Louisville fumble — this one at the UL 11 with just over two minutes left in the half — put WVU in the driver’s seat again. Two plays later, quarterback Kevin White found Wayne Brown for a 9-yard TD pass, bumping the advantage to 23-3.
WVU accepted multiple gifts from the Cardinals in that 10-minute span of the second quarter, converting them into 20 points, and even though Louisville’s Phil Ellis booted a 33-yard field goal as the horn sounded, WVU headed to the locker room with a comfortable 23-6 lead.
Instead of adding on as expected, the next quarter and a half turned out to be an unattractive display of poor football. Multiple turnovers and offensive ineptitude kept the scoreboard unchanged until midway through the final quarter.
Senior defensive back Rich Rodriguez picked off a pass at midfield, and though the ensuing drive went nowhere, a Steve Superick punt pinned the Cards deep in their own end. The WVU defense forced a punt, linebacker Fred Smalls blocked it, and lineman Cam Zopp pounced on it in the end zone for the final score of the game.
It wasn’t pretty, but the win did sneak WVU into the Top 25 rankings.
A narrow loss to Maryland was followed by a three-game losing streak against Virginia, Rutgers and Temple late in the season.
Although they beat Pitt and Penn State, and won the Bluebonnet Bowl against TCU, most fans saw the Mountaineers’ 8-4 season as a potentially great one that got away.