WVU football: WVU tops Terrapins, 31-21
MORGANTOWN -- No. 8 West Virginia's offense didn't have a running game, didn't have great pass protection and didn't have the customary performance by the Heisman Trophy candidate quarterback.
The Mountaineers had Tavon Austin, though, and for Saturday afternoon that was enough.
Austin matched a school record with 13 receptions for 179 yards and scored all three of his team's offensive touchdowns as WVU beat Maryland, 31-21, before 58,504 at Mountaineer Field.
"This was Tavon's best game," Coach Dana Holgorsen said. "He played fast. Thirteen catches and three touchdowns is special. But it was by far his best game. His effort was tremendous. His energy on the sideline was tremendous. He's the one guy we had on offense who played his best game."
Austin's 34-yard touchdown reception in the fourth quarter, set up by safety Darwin Cook's second forced fumble of the game, was his fourth catch on a decisive nine-play, 67-yard drive.
It also came on third-and-15 and tied former receiver Jock Sanders for first place on the school's career receptions list.
"The man on top of me just ran to the sideline," Austin said. "He wasn't even looking at me, so I just cut it up. By the time he looked at me, I was already down the field."
Austin broke the record with his 207th career catch on the next possession, though that was for a 2-yard loss, which was somewhat appropriate on a day when the Mountaineers had 12 of their 68 snaps either lose yardage or go for no gain.
Austin, a Baltimore native who set state high school records for points, touchdowns, rushing yards and total yards, finished his career aganst Maryland with 31 receptions for 407 yards and five touchdowns
The Mountaineers (3-0), who scored 15 offensive touchdowns and averaged 612 yards and 29.5 first downs in the first two games, totaled 363 yards and 19 first downs against Maryland (2-2).
WVU was also scoreless in the third quarter with 14 plays and 44 yards, the first scoreless quarter since the first quarter of last season's regular-season finale at USF.
The Terrapins entered the game ranked No. 6 in pass defense and No. 8 in total defense.
"Give them credit," Holgorsen said. "We played an ACC, BCS team that's getting better and better. A lot of guys on their defense are pretty good players. We just didn't do a very good job. I don't think we played our best game, but we did enough. We didn't have any turnovers. We scored 24 points, which was enough to win."
Quarterback Geno Smith was 30-for-43 for 338 yards and three scores, but was sacked twice and hit a number of other times and found himself on the receiving end of lectures from Holgorsen on the sideline.
"We were behind the chains too often. I took sacks. I didn't make the right checks. I didn't get the ball out of my hands fast enough," Smith said. "We weren't good offensively, especially with the defense coming after us like they did."
Receiver Stedman Bailey, who caught 22 passes for 277 yards and five touchdowns in the first two games, caught six passes for 55 yards and did not score.
The running game, which was ranked No. 2 nationally with 7.4 yards per carry, finished with 25 carries for 25 yards -- the worst output since finishing with negative-10 yards against Syracuse in 1996.
Starting running back Shawne Alston was limited by thigh bruise and barely played. Dustin Garrison, who missed the first two games as he recovered from the torn left ACL he suffered in December, made his 2012 debut. He carried twice for one yard. Andrew Buie led the team with 14 carries for 33 yards.
Maryland receiver Stephon Diggs caught three passes for 113 yards and two scores, including a 56-yard play just 53 seconds after Austin's fourth-quarter score. Quarterback Perry Hills finished 20-for-29 for 305 yards.
The Mountaineers from the first half looked little like the explosive team from the previous three games and actually played without a lead for the first time in a long time. Appropriately enough, it was the defense that got things going on a day the offense would occasionally sputter.
Cook timed a blitz perfectly on a Maryland second down at WVU's 30-yard line. He hit Hills as he dropped back to hand the ball to Brandon Ross. The ball popped out and rolled toward midfield. Linebacker Doug Rigg scooped it up and raced 51 yards for a touchdown.
Defensive coordinator Joe DeForest said he put the blitz into the game plan this week.
"Worked out pretty well," Cook said.
The defense then forced a punt and helped matters by confusing Hills on third-and-5 and drawing a delay of game penalty. The Mountaineers needed two plays to score, moving 34 yards first on a tricky screen pass to Buie when Smith first faked a sweep the other way to Austin. Smith then connected with Austin on a crossing route that went 44 yards for a score on the next play for a 14-0 lead.
The Terrapins replied in five plays and scored when fellow Baltimore native Diggs mimicked Austin with a crossing route that went for a 42-yard touchdown. WVU had the first of two three-and-outs in the first half on the next series and Maryland converted three third downs to tie the score.
After picking up first downs on third-and-5 and third-and-8, Maryland called a timeout on third-and-8 at WVU's 12 and scored on a Hills pass to Marcus Leak. The score was tied and WVU was not leading a game for the first time since early in the second quarter or the Orange Bowl -- or 181 minutes, 9 seconds of game clock.
The Mountaineers then put together what amounts to a marathon drive this season with a 15-play possession that went but 55 yards and lasted 4:45. It was not without incident, though, and on third-and-goal at the Maryland 8, the blitzer ripped off Smith's helmet. That would have been a 15-yard personal foul penalty and a first down at the 4, but WVU had an offensive lineman up field as an ineligible receiver to offset Maryland's penalty.
When the teams replayed the down, Smith was sacked for the first time since the last season's USF game. Tyler Bitancurt kicked a 37-yard field goal to regain the lead.
The teams traded three-and-outs but WVU picked up a first down on a second-and-13 with Smith's 19-yard pass to J.D. Woods and then a touchdown on Smith's 24-yard pass to an uncovered Austin. Maryland drove to the WVU 24, but Brad Craddock missed a 41-yard field goal.
Smith was 14-for-23 at the half for two scores and 203 yards, but had as many incomplete passes as he had the first two games combined. The Terrapins, who were averaging 258.3 yards of offense per game, had 212 at the half and converted on 5 of 9 third-downs, well above their 35-percent success rate the first three games.
Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/wvu.