WVU needed Smith's record day

Originally Published: September 29, 2012
By Ivan Maisel | ESPN.com

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- When quarterback Geno Smith and the rest of the West Virginia offense stop to think about how they rewrote the school record book in their Big 12 debut, let's hope they remember that they wouldn't have done so without Nick Florence and the Baylor offense.

[+] EnlargeGeno Smith
AP Photo/Christopher JacksonGeno Smith looked more like the eventual Heisman Trophy winner after leading West Virginia's wild win over Baylor.

A generation ago, Affirmed won the 1978 Triple Crown because Alydar pushed him in all three races. Magic had Larry. Jack Nicklaus had Tom Watson. And on Saturday, Smith and the No. 9 Mountaineers put up video game stats because they needed every single one of their 10 touchdowns to beat the No. 25 Bears 70-63.

The West Virginia senior completed 45 of 51 passes for 656 yards and eight touchdowns with no interceptions. Smith passed like a quarterback who stopped at Milan Puskar Stadium on his way to pick up a Heisman Trophy. He passed as if he were the best quarterback in the joint, which is saying something, given that Andrew Luck watched the game with his father, West Virginia athletic director Oliver Luck (the Colts are off Sunday).

"I think I've had better games," Smith said afterward. "Statistically, it's my best game."

West Virginia head coach Dana Holgorsen, who arrived last season and unleashed Smith's talent on an unsuspecting world, worries that Smith's perfectionism will be a detriment. He read Smith's stats aloud to answer a question and asked, "Can you please tell me how you can improve that?"

Smith is reluctant to say any game is his best. "I got a lot of football left in my career," he said. "The limit is the sky."

Smith's performance will overshadow that of Florence, who, having backed up Robert Griffin III for the past three years, is used to it. Florence completed 29 of 47 for 581 yards, five touchdowns and one interception.

Each team had a receiver with a 300-yard game. Smith's childhood friend in Miami, redshirt junior Stedman Bailey, caught 13 passes for 303 yards. It's a good thing he caught five touchdowns, because that's the only category in which he led the game. Teammate Tavon Austin (14-215-2) had more catches and the Bears' Terrance Williams (17-314-2) had more catches and yards.

[+] EnlargeNick Florence
AP Photo/Christopher JacksonNick Florence, who used to back up Robert Griffin III at Baylor, was overshadowed by Geno Smith's performance on Saturday.

It's hard to say how many records the offenses broke. A first sweep through the record book found that West Virginia broke 11 school records and Baylor three. Smith's completion percentage of .8823 broke the NCAA mark for best rate with 50-plus attempts.

Amid all this achievement, however, the game was marred by the passing of the one of the game's all-time greats. That certainly doesn't refer to Smith, whose passing efficiency for the day was 248.5.

It is passing as in the euphemism for death, eternal slumber, buying the farm. Defense, the half of football that wins championships, died on an overcast afternoon in the West Virginia hills at age 142.

It expired on the campus that produced Hall of Fame linebacker Sam Huff, against the opponent that gave us Hall of Fame linebacker Mike Singletary. They could have used Huff and Singletary Saturday, and I say that knowing full well that Huff turns 78 next week and Singletary is 53.

The defenses looked like Poland in World War II, or whoever played Phil Mickelson and Keegan Bradley in the Ryder Cup.

"No, I don't enjoy that win at all," West Virginia boundary safety Darwin Cook said. "I feel like the offense won. The defense lost. But we're a team, so we win as a team."

Baylor scored on a 67-yard pass from Florence to Lanear Sampson on the last play of the half when corner Brodrick Jenkins whiffed on a tackle. Not to be outdone, West Virginia's Bailey caught five touchdown passes of 20 yards or more. He turned a simple wheel route into an 87-yard touchdown because he caught the ball five yards behind the Bears' secondary.

"To say that the defenses didn't play very well," Holgorsen said, "is an understatement."

Despite all the yards and all the touchdowns, Bailey called the game "scary" because West Virginia could never pull away.

"Keep fighting," Baylor head coach Art Briles said. "Keep charging, and keep believing. It certainly wasn't a surrender attitude."

It's up to Texas co-offensive coordinators Bryan Harsin and Major Applewhite, but they might consider not showing the West Virginia defense to the No. 12 Longhorns this week. It would prevent a severe case of overconfidence.

"I've been in this league for 10 years now," Holgorsen said. "It's the culture of the Big 12. Not everyone is like that. It will be different next week. Texas has an unbelievable defense."

It's unknown whether the NCAA keeps records on the length of a game. But this game, completed without overtime, took 3:46 from kickoff to final gun. That has got to be the longest game ever.

To which Baylor defensive coordinator Phil Bennett would probably say, "You can say that again."

Ivan Maisel | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com

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