Saturday, September 1, 2012
West Virginia's Big 12 debut: Outstanding
By David Ubben
Since announcing its intentions to join the Big 12 last October, West Virginians have been dreaming of this day. The Mountaineers' Week 1 dreams came true.
Dana Holgorsen's team, giving fans around the Big 12 their first real taste of West Virginia football, was impressive. The Mountaineers knocked off in-state rival Marshall, 69-34, in a game that was never in doubt past the first quarter. For those keeping count, that's 139 points in West Virginia's past two games. New Mexico, the nation's worst scoring offense a year ago, scored 144 in all of 2011.
Plenty of folks across Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas and Iowa hadn't had a chance to really see Geno Smith, Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey play. That changed on Saturday, and the Mountaineers' Big Three was as good as advertised.
West Virginia QB Geno Smith had a stellar season opener with four TDs and completing 89 percent of his passes.
Smith played only sparingly in the fourth quarter, but finished with 340 yards and four touchdowns on 33-of-37 passing, completing a career high 89 percent. All that talk about him beefing up and wising up this offseason? Looks like it paid off. Marshall's no Big 12 team, but it's a long way from FCS competition, too. The Thundering Herd were a seven-win team a year ago, including a bowl game. Smith even added 65 yards rushing on eight carries, highlighted by a 28-yard touchdown scamper that began with a busted running play and ended with Smith in the end zone, untouched.
Heisman watch, indeed.
Austin and Bailey finished with a game-high nine catches each, and Bailey kicked off the game's scoring with an acrobatic 32-yard catch over a defender. Austin showcased his speed on a 70-yard run in the third quarter. Austin had 119 yards of total offense and a score. Bailey had 104, with two scores.
By halftime, the Mountaineers had 200 yards of both passing and rushing to go with 21 first downs and a 34-10 lead.
Just like the Mountaineers drew it up. Starting running back Dustin Garrison didn't suit up as he tries to come back from a torn ACL suffered in pre-Orange Bowl practice, but Holgorsen has to feel pretty comfortable if the sophomore needs to redshirt. Running backs Shawne Alston and Andrew Buie looked more than capable on Saturday, running with power and making one cut before making defenders pay.
Alston finished with 123 yards and two scores on just 16 touches, an average of nearly eight yards a carry.
Now, the task is clear: Do this every week. That's what haunted WVU a year ago. Everyone knew this offense was capable of putting up these kinds of numbers.
Nobody knows if they're capable of doing it every week. The defense was less than impressive for most of the game, despite a defensive touchdown and another fumble return to set up a Paul Millard touchdown pass in the fourth quarter. Marshall consistently strung together extended drives, including a 98-yard march in the first quarter to cut WVU's early lead to just 13-7.
West Virginia has the potential to score 40 every time it takes the field in Big 12 play. The defense can't ask the offense to do that, though. You're asking for trouble if that happens.
Still, those are questions with answers that lie in the far future as the leaves change colors.
Today is opening day, and for West Virginia, it was one to remember.