PISCATAWAY, N.J. -- Down by three and faced with a fourth-and-goal from the 1 on a miserable wet, snowy day, first-year West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen didn't hesitate.
The No. 25 Mountaineers were going for the lead and putting the ball and possibly their Big East title hopes in what might be their last year in the conference in the hands of quarterback Geno Smith.
Smith didn't run the play as called, but the junior improvised well enough and made a headfirst dive into the end zone on a scamper around right end as West Virginia rallied for a 41-31 victory over Rutgers on Saturday.
"I just made a decision," Holgorsen said, noting that his defense played so well in the second half in shutting out the Scarlet Knights (5-3, 2-2) that he felt the unit would get the ball back for him even if Smith had been stopped.
Smith, who threw two second-half touchdowns to help West Virginia (6-2, 2-1 Big East) post its 17th straight win over Rutgers, made sure the play worked. It was a play-action design that had worked in other games, but Holgorsen said Smith hesitated making the throw.
"It was just me and the safety and I had to beat him to the goal line," Smith said, who was 20 of 31 for 218 yards, including TDs throws of 19 yards to Stedman Bailey and 20 to Tavon Austin, who had eight catches for 67 yards.
"It's 11 guys out there on the field battling for you and I wanted to be the guy to make that touchdown because my teammates did a great job of taking me out of bad situations for the most part throughout the game."
Austin also scored on an 80-yard run and Shawne Alston scored on runs of 52 and 2 yards for West Virginia, which earlier this week announced its intention to leave the Big East and join the Big 12 next season.
"This is our last year playing in the Big East," linebacker Najee Goode said. "I told the guys we are playing Rutgers for the last time and we have go out, this is what people are going to remember, when they think back who were the last Big East champs was, we want it to be us."
Freshman Gary Nova threw two touchdown passes for the Scarlet Knights and Jawan Jamison scored on runs of 1 and 18 yards for the Scarlet Knights, who were blanked in the second half after putting up a season-high for points in the opening half.
"Credit goes to West Virginia. They found a way to get it done. We didn't," Rutgers coach Greg Schiano said. "We will eventually -- it has been a long road. We will get it. There are good people downstairs in that room -- hurting people, good people. We will go back to work. We will get better."
Nova finished 18 of 46 for 235 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions as the Scarlet Knights lost their second straight.
The game turned on a fake field goal by Rutgers early in the fourth quarter.
Leading 31-28, the Scarlet Knights drove to the West Virginia 11. On fourth-and-7, Schiano decided to fake a 28-yard field goal attempt. Holder Pat Kivlehan had receiver Brandon Coleman open in the end zone for a split second but Darwin Cook hustled back and broke up the pass as it hit Coleman's hands.
"I thought it was (the right play)," Schiano said.
On the ensuing series, Smith led the Mountaineers on an 89-yard touchdown drive, hitting Bailey for 32 yards to get the drive going and Brad Starks for 23 to get a first-and-goal at the 8.
Dustin Garrison gained 3 yards on first down and Alston got 4 on second to put the ball at the 1. Alston was stuffed on a third-down run and then Smith took the snap in the shotgun, looked for a receiver and then took off around right end, diving headfirst for the score and a 34-31 lead. West Virginia missed the extra point.
"He did what a quarterback does," Starks said of Smith. "He led us to victory."
The ensuing kickoff went out of bounds, giving Rutgers the ball at its own 40. However, Nova lost control of the ball on a second down pass attempt and Julian Miller recovered his second fumble of the game at the Rutgers 37.
Three plays later, Smith found Austin along the left sideline and the Mountaineers continued their dominance of Rutgers, a team that the Scarlet Knights won't be sad to see leave the conference.
Before the game paralyzed former Rutgers player Eric LeGrand lead the Scarlet Knights on the field. He was hurt last October in a game against Army and this was his first time back on the sideline for a game.
The contest was played in horrible conditions as a nor'easter caused strong winds and a mixture of rain and blowing snow. Trucks with snow plows cleaned the field every chance they got, but there were times the yard-line numbers were not visible.
Footing was treacherous and the inclement conditions forced many fans to stay at home. As night fell in the second half there seemed to be no more than 5,000 people in the stands, with the biggest contingent being the Rutgers band.
Those who stayed home missed a lot of excitement as the teams turned in big play after big play on both sides of the ball in the first half. It led to six lead changes and Rutgers left the field ahead 31-21.