WVU football: Defense picks up play, picks off comeback
COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- West Virginia built and nearly lost a 24-point lead in the second half Saturday, but a defense that allowed three straight touchdowns mustered one stop for a 37-31 victory against Maryland Saturday.
The 18th-ranked Mountaineers, once ahead 34-10 early in the third quarter, were up just 34-31 in the fourth. A 14-play drive covered 65 yards and ended with a 21-yard field goal and took 5:41 away from the surging Terrapins. Maryland converted a fourth-and-1 from its 35-yard line on its final drive, which ended when Eain Smith intercepted a pass at the WVU 13.
"It's hard to win and it's real hard to win on the road," said Coach Dana Holgorsen, who is the first coach to start his career with three straight wins at WVU since Bobby Bowden in 1970. "We had all the momentum in the first half and for them to have every ounce of momentum that exists in the entire stadium and for us to be able to finish with a field goal on offense and the turnover on defense says a lot about this team."
A crowd of 53,627 watched the Terrapins lose just the fifth non-conference home game since 1998, but the third to WVU. It was the fifth largest crowd in Byrd Stadium history and the best since 2005.
WVU (3-0) was led once again by quarterback Geno Smith, who completed 36 of 49 passes for a career-high 389 yards and one touchdown.
"He was pretty good for about 21/2 quarters," Holgorsen said. "The second half of the third quarter and the first half of the fourth quarter, he wasn't great. He missed some throws he has to make and he didn't."
Three receivers had 100 yards for what is believed to be the first time in school history. Tavon Austin, playing with a heavy wrap on his right pinky, caught a career-high 11 passes for 122 yards, Stedman Bailey eight for 113 and Ivan McCartney eight for 102. The yardage totals were all career highs
Austin, a native of Baltimore and a prep star at Dunbar High, played before many friends and family one week after hurting the pinky and having some sort of a procedure done at the beginning of the week. He was not made available for interviews after the game.
Maryland (1-1) had 477 yards of offense, the most WVU has allowed since Connecticut, coached by Terrapins Coach Randy Edsall, finished with 501 in 2009. Danny O'Brien was 34-for-52 for 289 yards and a touchdown, but also three interceptions. Running back Davin Meggett had 114 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries.
The Mountaineers finished with 480 yards of offense and 27 first downs, but also the first three turnovers of the season. They play host to No. 3 LSU (3-0) Sept. 24. The Tigers will be the highest-ranked opponent to play at Mountaineer Field since WVU lost to No. 3 Virginia Tech 34-17 in 2005.
WVU started the second half with a quick touchdown drive that covered 78 yards in just seven plays and 3:19. Smith found Bailey alone in the end zone for a 34-yard touchdown for a 34-10 lead.
The Terrapins answered with a touchdown and missed a two-point conversion, but got closer quickly - and almost immediately. Austin returned the kickoff, but was taken out by teammate Willie Milhouse. Austin lost the ball and Maryland's Mario Rowson scooped it up and ran it in for a touchdown.
The officials ruled Austin was down and confirmed it by replay, but Smith threw an interception when McCartney bobbled a pass on the sideline and Dexter McDougle grabbed it and got his feet down in bounds. It was Smith's first interception of the season.
The Terrapins scored again on a short touchdown run by D.J. Adams and the extra point made it 34-23. WVU had to punt for the second time in the quarter after not punting at all in the first half and Adams punctuated another touchdown drive with another short run before the two-point conversion by Davin Meggett made it 34-31.
Smith completed his first seven passes on the next drive, one to Bailey, who made a defender miss and gained 21 yards on third-and-4, and then one to Ryan Nehlen for 13 yards and the first catch of his career on third-and-8. Tyler Bitancurt's field goal clinched WVU's sixth straight win in the series.
"If we didn't have very good leadership on offense, we would caved at the end," Holgorsen said.
WVU entered the game as the only FBS team that hadn't committed or forced a turnover, but took care of that quickly. Running back Andrew Buie lost a fumble on WVU's first drive. Vernard Roberts replaced Buie on the next drive and scored on a 9-yard run before safety Terence Garvin intercepted a pass from Maryland's Danny O'Brien and returned in 37 yards for a 14-3 lead.
It was Garvin's first career interception and the team's first defensive touchdown since 2009.
A 35-yard field goal by Bitancurt and a 10-yard run by Buie made it 24-3, but the Terrapins answered with the season's first touchdown against the WVU defense. O'Brien rolled right and threw to toward the right side in the end zone where only Kevin Dorsey could catch it. The Mountaineers pushed and used the remaining 2:26 in the half to take a 27-10 halftime lead on Birancurt's 34-yard kick.
"The biggest single thing we tried to get across this week was to hit the field with some excitement and start the game fast," Holgorsen said. "I felt like we had a really good week of practice and we started the first half well. I felt like we won all three sides of the ball.
The second half, other than the first drive on offense and the last drive on defense, I thought they out-played us on all three sides of the ball. The good news is we still had enough in us to win."