1) 2012 Orange Bowl
The South Beach Smackdown is number one. With the nation watching, West Virginia University set the all-time record for most points in a bowl game. This 70-33 win over Clemson gave WVU its third BCS win against champions from current power 5 conferences. West Virginia has won BCS games against SEC champs, Big 12 champs, and now ACC champs.
As usual, everybody in the media predicted Clemson would easily beat the Mountaineers. The opposite proved to be true as the Mountaineers ended up scoring 10 touchdowns. Weeks later, ESPN’s SportsCenter was still making jokes saying, “West Virginia just scored again on Clemson.”
The play of the game was when Darwin Cook stole the ball from Andre Ellington and took it 99 yards for a Mountaineer touchdown.
2) 2012 #11 Texas in Austin, TX
WVU returned to Austin for the first time since beating the Longhorns 7-6 in 1956. This time as a conference foe. WVU was ranked No. 8 in the country and this was the biggest home game of the season for the Longhorns. The 101,851 fans in attendance broke the Darrell K Royal–Texas Memorial Stadium attendance record.
Geno Smith recorded four touchdown passes as the Mountaineers won the game 48-45. This was a great road win against the No. 11 team and WVU gained a lot of respect nationally by beating the Big 12’s biggest brand. The next morning, Austin newspapers headlined, “West Virginia Messes with Texas,” with Tavon Austin on the front page. This win would jump the Mountaineers into the top 5 of the AP Poll for the first time since 2007 when they were as high as No. 2. West Virginia went on to lose the next five games and finished 7-6.
3) 2018 #15 Texas in Austin, TX
The 2018 edition of WVU-Texas was one of the greatest games and finishes in Mountaineer history. WVU was the first Big 12 team penalized for, “Horns Down,” and received multiple flags as a result. The flags were so controversial that leaders of the Big 12 Conference actually implemented a rule change postgame adding, “Horns Down,” as a penalty to the unsportsmanlike conduct policy.
Gus Johnson was on the call as Will Grier threw an unbelievable pass to Gary Jennings with seconds remaining in the game to bring the Mountaineers within 1 point down 41-40. Holgorsen opted to go for two as opposed to forcing overtime. Will Grier made the play with his legs and WVU won 42-41. The win jumped WVU back into the top ten of the AP Poll for the second time in 2018. However, WVU went on to lose three of the last four games finishing 8-4.
4) 2011 Backyard Brawl in Morgantown, WV
Pitt typically isn’t ranked, but there’s always a lot on the line and this was the last Backyard Brawl of the Big East era. WVU needed to win its last three games in order to finish in a three-way tie for the Big East Championship and a trip to a BCS bowl. This game was full of scuffles and flags. Defense and special teams were key in this physical contest. The Mountaineer defense had a whopping 10 sacks and one interception.
In a game that featured 18 punts, West Virginia punter Corey Smith played a critical role in flipping field position throughout the game.
Pitt had a 20-7 lead in the third quarter, but WVU came back and won the game 21-20.
In the postgame press conference, Holgorsen described the atmosphere as, “loud, rowdy, and fun.”
This 2011 Backyard Brawl was the only one coached by Dana Holgorsen, but it wasn’t Dana’s last experience with the Backyard Brawl. In July of 2015, Holgorsen called out Pitt saying, “We’re begging them to play. They chose to play Oklahoma State instead. It makes no sense why it’s not being played.” When asked about Dana’s comments, Panthers head coach Pat Narduzzi responded with an insult saying, “I never beg.” Then, Holgorsen took it to Twitter and fired back saying, “Mountaineers don’t back out of a Brawl! #SweetCaroline…” Those three little dots stand for those three little words Mountaineer fans love to shout. Two months later, the Backyard Brawl was officially scheduled beginning in 2022. Dana headed back to Twitter to have a little more fun saying, “ESPecially Happy About This!” Dana capitalized, “ESP,” in the word, “especially,” indicating those three little words again. WVU remains on a three game winning streak against Pitt and has won 14 of the last 20.
5) 2012 #25 Baylor in Morgantown, WV
WVU’s first game in the Big 12 was a special one. It was a top 25 matchup featuring No. 8 WVU vs No. 25 Baylor. WVU had their first ever, “Stripe the Stadium,” promotion and it was extremely successful. Baylor was making their first trip to Morgantown and still riding high from Robert Griffin III winning the Heisman the season prior. Both offenses were explosive and the quarterbacks had huge days. Geno Smith had 656 passing yards with 8 touchdown passes. Nick Florence had 581 passing yards with five touchdowns and one interception. West Virginia won, what was an exciting game, 70-63 and showed the Big 12 the Mountaineers could compete in their conference.
2014 #4 Baylor in Morgantown, WV
This was the highest ranked team Holgorsen beat in his tenure at West Virginia. The loss to West Virginia was Baylor’s only loss of the regular season and actually kept them out of the College Football Playoff. WVU came into the game unranked. This win put WVU back in the top 25 for the first time since 2012, but the Mountaineers fell out of the top 25 after just three weeks. West Virginia ended the 2014 season losing four of the last five games.