West Virginia

1973 - 78 Mountaineers
(Authentic Reproduction)




Bowden went with a new uniform look for '73, using the unique WVU/State decal on each side of the helmet but he transferred them to a shell of Old Gold, the official school color and eschewed the white helmet that had become the standard since Carlen's arrival in 1966. Jeff Merrow anchored the defense. A good offensive line led by lineman Dave Van Halanger (who later was Bowden's long-time strength and conditioning coach at Florida State before moving to Georgia with Mark Richt) made the offensive line gel while receiver Danny Buggs made a number of All American teams, pushing his career receiving average to over twenty-three yards per reception and Marsh Mills was effective on the other side of the line. Mike Hubbard, 225 pound younger brother of the Raider's FB Marv, proved to be effective as a runner or blocker as was Dwayne Woods and Artie Owens, but inconsistency at QB limited the offense as did RB Kerry Marbury's defection to the CFL and the Mountaineers finished a disappointing 6-5. 
If the 6-5 record of '73 was a disappointment to Coach Bowden and the rabid Mountaineer fans, then 1974 was a disaster at 4-7. With All American WR Danny Buggs suffering with a thigh injury much of the year and the accomplished Marsh Mills the prime receiver, the quarterback position remained a bit unsettled as frosh Dan Kendra started late games and finished the season at number one, moving junior Ben Williams and senior Chuck Fiorante to back-ups and former starter Kirk Williams out completely. Van Halenger used his weight-trained strength to garner All East recognition, leading an offensive line that helped the Mountaineer backs gain almost 2500 yards. 1130 of those yards were produced by Artie Owens, a senior who stepped in for the injured Dwayne Woods. The defense wasn't bad but broke down at inopportune times. Jeff Merrow again starred on the line before having a very solid nine-year career with the Falcons, receiving good support from Ken Culbertson and Steve Dunlap. Bowden was most unhappy with the comments and actions of some fans that upset his family and called for his firing, as he had delivered four winning seasons in five years.  In 1975, Bowden had the team back on track, finishing the regular season at 8-3 and then defeating North Carolina State 13-10 in a rematch of the 1972 Peach Bowl. QB Danny Williams lost the starting job to Dan Kendra but later made the Mountaineer family very proud by becoming a Rhodes Scholar winner. Kendra made the most out of the graduation loss of Buggs, who went on to have a less-than-anticipated pro career with the Giants, Redskins, and in the CFL, throwing now to the coach's son Tommy Bowden among others. Artie Owens again supplied the rushing power before heading to the Chargers and a five year NFL career as their number four draft choice, with Heywood Smith, Dwayne Woods, and FB Ron Lee sharing the running spotlight. LB Ken Culbertson and tackle Chuck Smith led a revived defense that had a young Tom Pridemore in the secondary. As an Alabama native, Bowden's goal was to be the head coach at either Alabama or Auburn. The consistency demonstrated over his six-year tenure at WVU and the offensive innovation he became known for brought him an offer to take over the program at Florida State, a step he felt would take him closer to his ultimate dream job. Thus, the baton was passed.    
Maintaining the same gold shell and unique State Of West Virginia logo that Bowden utilized since 1973, offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti was named as West Virginia's head coach for 1976. Cignetti's four-year record of 17-27 was considered the low point of WVU football as he bridged the gap between coaching greats Bobby Bowden and Don Nehlen but he was an excellent coach who later made a lasting mark at his alma mater, Indiana University Of Pennsylvania. Cignetti came to WVU as Bobby Bowden's offensive coordinator having served in the same capacity at Princeton and was named head coach prior to the 1976 season.  With Bowden going to Florida State, Cignetti was seen as a brilliant offensive tactician and a natural for the job. 1976 began with the graduation loss of thirteen starters as Cignetti entered his first season. Behind the leadership of QB Dan Kendra (whose son played for Bowden at Florida State in the late 1990's), the receiving of Tommy Bowden (future Tulane and Clemson head coach) and Steve Lewis, and rushing of senior Dwayne Woods, Walter Easley, and FB Paul Lumley, the offense was serviceable if inconsistent. The 5-6 mark of 1976 was followed by another undistinguished 5-6 year in '77, made worse by losing five of their last six games. At 4-1, the Mountaineers seemed to be bowl-bound but the absence of eleven injured players, including key receiver Steve Lewis, prior to the October 15th Boston College game set the stage for the late season free-fall. Kendra set school records throwing to Bowden and  soph Cedric Thomas but the nation's number one running back recruit and Parade Magazine High School Player Of The Year Robert "The Great" Alexander made limited contributions due to a knee injury. The defense, often as inconsistent as the offense, was headed by middle guard Joe Jelich and DB and return man Tom Pridemore who garnered fifteen career interceptions and later starred with the Falcons for eight years. 1978 was marked by a collapse of the defense, especially in the final two games where they gave up a combined 102 points, numerous injuries, and a 2-9 record. Freshman Oliver Luck usually split time with Dutch Hoffman at QB and had Steve Lewis back from his '77 injury to throw to, but Alexander was being viewed as a bust in part because so much had been expected from him. Fulton Walker was the leading rusher and had little help. Jelich again played intensely but with little talent around him other than leading tackler and All East LB Jeff Macerelli, and senior Chuck Braswell. 

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