7:00 PM ET, October 6, 2012
Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium, AUSTIN, TX
AUSTIN, Texas (AP) -- What if No. 8 West Virginia and No. 11 Texas played Saturday and decided not to bring their defenses?
At the rate those two have been giving up big plays for touchdowns, would it really matter?
The Mountaineers (4-0, 1-0 Big 12) needed every one of quarterback Geno Smith's eight touchdown passes in last week's 70-63 win over Baylor that left its defense looking as bad as its offense looked spectacular.
"It was terrible," West Virginia safety Darwin Cook said after Baylor scored nine touchdowns. "It gets you down. We don't like giving up points like that, at all, but you just have to get back up and play the next game. We have to get better on defense."
For Smith, however, the victory continued a blistering start in which he's thrown for 1,728 yards and 20 touchdowns without an interception. He's also completed 83.4 percent of his passes, is averaging 10.22 yards per attempt and leads the nation with a 208.4 passer efficiency rating while emerging as a Heisman Trophy frontrunner.
Texas, though, has a quarterback fully capable of exposing a West Virginia defense that was shredded for 700 yards by the Bears. David Ash, who's second behind Smith with a 184.0 passer rating, threw for 304 yards in a 41-36 win at Oklahoma State on Saturday, making him just the fourth quarterback in Texas history to post consecutive 300-yard games.
The Longhorns (4-0, 1-0) have a 45-0 shutout of New Mexico on their resume, but also have a glaring habit of missing tackles and giving up long touchdowns, trouble signs in a matchup against a quarterback of Smith's caliber.
A unit that was supposed to rank among the best in the Big 12 and the country is now talking about inexperience at linebacker and the middle of the defensive line.
That doesn't explain the missed tackles and broken coverages in a secondary filled with game-tested veterans. The Longhorns have surrendered five touchdowns of 44 yards or longer this season. Smith had four touchdown passes of 39 yards or longer against Baylor just in the second half, and his top receivers -- Stedman Bailey and Tavon Austin -- have totaled 298.8 yards per game while scoring 17 TDs.
Texas coach Mack Brown says his team missed 12 tackles during the win in Stillwater, giving up 109 yards and two touchdowns. It wasn't clear if he was including the second play from scrimmage when Cowboys running back Joseph Randle juked Texas safety Kenny Vaccaro on a 69-yard touchdown run.
Vaccaro's whiff could hardly be called a missed tackle because he was nowhere close to laying a hand on Randle.
"It is frustrating to give up so many points and big plays," said Texas cornerback Carrington Byndom, who insists the Texas defense hasn't lost the swagger it started the season with.
"We still know the kind of defense we can play," Byndom said.
Texas ranks just 63rd nationally in total defense. The Mountaineers are No. 106.
Brown says the missed tackles are part of the spread offense era of college football. Offenses are designed to put defenders in one-on-one matchups and one broken tackle can lead to a touchdown.
"It's a problem across the country," Brown said.
He also sounds like he's had enough, suggesting Texas may have some new starters on defense against the Mountaineers.
"If we've got four weeks of a guy missing tackles, we've got to start looking at another guy," Brown said without identifying any specific players.
But he's also sensitive about not tearing down his own players too much. Brown still needs a confident bunch to face Smith and the high-flying circus the Mountaineers call their offense.
Brown emphasized what he liked from his defense last week: an interception to set up an early touchdown and holding Oklahoma State to a late field goal that let Texas drive for the winning score with 29 seconds left.
"Nobody will give our defense credit this week. Everybody will bash them. Let's give them credit for what they did," Brown said.
Smith, meanwhile, urged his defense not to lose confidence. If the Mountaineers have to score 10 touchdowns -- which they've done three times in the last five games dating back to their Orange Bowl victory over Clemson -- again to win, so be it.
"I don't want the defense to hold their heads (down) because it's a team game," Smith said. "Whatever it takes to get a victory is what we'll do."
Top 25 Overview
The biggest Big 12 game of the week matches its most talented offense against its most talented defense. To this point, WVU has lived up to the hype, with two of the nation's best receivers (Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey) helping push Geno Smith to Heisman Trophy front-runner status. Texas' defense? It has been a disappointment as it's dealt with tackling issues. The Longhorns rank just 63rd in total defense and have given up at least 30 points to Oklahoma State and Ole Miss in consecutive weeks.
Will Geno Smith be enough for the Mountaineers to beat the Longhorns?
|Avg Points Allowed||35.0||26.4|
David Ash is completing 75.0 percent of his passes when opponents send five or more pass rushers this season. Ash has thrown a touchdown pass against a blitz in each of his last three games and has not been sacked in 29 dropbacks this season.[+]
David Ash Passing vs Blitz
Geno Smith has targeted either Tavon Austin or Stedman Bailey on 61.5 percent of his passes this season. Smith to Austin and Bailey has accounted for 1,195 passing yards, which is more than 76 FBS teams have total, and 17 touchdowns. West Virginia is the only FBS team with more than 17 pass touchdowns.[+]
Geno Smith Passing By Target
Geno Smith's amazing start to the 2012 season has been fueled in part by his improved downfield passing. Smith has more touchdowns (9) than incompletions (8) on passes thrown 15 yards or more downfield this season and his accuracy has significantly improved.[+]
Geno Smith Passing on Throws of 15+ Yards
ESPN Stats & Information