WVU football: Offense fires on all cylinders
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- The West Virginia offense that leads the nation in yards per game following the latest supernova had 88 snaps against Baylor on Saturday and was almost error-free.
There were the school-record 807 yards and the 10 touchdowns, the five trips into the red zone and the five touchdowns, the 15 third downs and the 12 conversions and the superlative performances from a quarterback and three receivers.
About the only bad things anyone recalled were Jeff Braun's false start during a drive that ended in a punt, Ivan McCartney's dropped third-down pass before another punt and self-criticism by Geno Smith, despite his throwing for a school-record eight touchdowns and having just six incompletions in 51 attempts.
"In the game of football," second-year WVU Coach Dana Holgorsen said, "perfection is not possible."
The Mountaineers, ranked No. 8 in the Associated Press Poll entering Saturday's game (7 p.m., FOX) at No. 11 Texas, were awfully close with what they did offensively and what it did to Baylor's defense.
"It happens every once in a while and it's good if it happens whenever you need it to happen," WVU offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson said. "Obviously, we needed it to happen."
The Mountaineers did because at the end Smith was most proud of picking up two first downs on the game's final drive and keeping the ball for the final 3:08.
Despite all of West Virginia's accolades, the offense needed to hang on at the end and make two critical plays to rescue a poor defense in the 70-63 victory.
"That's definitely a lot of stress on us," said receiver Tavon Austin, who caught a school-record 14 passes for 215 yards and two touchdowns. "Seventy points is a lot of points to put up every game. Any little thing can go wrong and you can lose a game. A fumble, a turnover can change things. It definitely puts a lot of pressure on you."
WVU (4-0, 1-0 Big 12) might want to prepare for a life that's a little bit like that. Holgorsen and defensive coordinator Joe DeForest watched the Bears put up 700 yards, an all-time high by an opponent, and could only shrug their shoulders and say they tried to warn everyone it could be that way.
"A win's a win," DeForest said after holding off a Bears offense that entered the game ranked No. 2 in total yards, scoring and passing. "We won the game. They had won nine straight games. Am I happy about it? Absolutely not. But you know what? We won. We're 4-0. They're not."
The Mountaineers might also be suited for this lifestyle. Smith leads the nation in total offense, Austin leads the nation in receptions per game, and Stedman Bailey, who set school records for receiving yards (303) and touchdowns (five) on 13 receptions, leads the nation in scoring.
In addition to the very few errors, the Mountaineers also stayed away from turnovers. They have only one this season, an interception that occurred against Marshall when a pass - from the backup quarterback to the backup receiver - was bobbled. It's the lowest turnover total in the nation, matched by Texas A&M and Texas-San Antonio.
"Coach Holgorsen, he preaches that probably the most," Bailey said. "The name of the game is turnovers. As long as we come out and don't put the ball on the ground, it's OK, because that makes probably a drastic change in the game and how it went. That was big. Nobody fumbled. Not many dropped balls. No bad decisions, like Geno throwing interceptions."
Smith hasn't thrown an interception in his past 222 attempts - still a long way away from Russell Wilson's NCAA record of 379 - and the offense with the regulars in the game hasn't turned the ball over in the last 389 snaps, or since late in the South Florida win in December.
Baylor had forced at least one turnover in 16 consecutive games and two or more in eight straight games. That ended against WVU, but nearly did not with one close call on the decisive final series. On second-and-10 at his own 25-yard line, Smith was pressured and threw to the right to J.D. Woods.
"He was open, but as I threw it, a guy flashed in front of my face as (Woods) moved to get open," Smith said. "I put it to the spot where he was, not where he was going. He reached out and snagged it and really saved the game for us."
It was Smith's most misguided throw of the game and could have been costly. Baylor cornerback Joe Williams was in the spot where the ball was headed and he was preparing to catch it at the 35. Woods was moving to his left, but reached back and snared the ball with his right arm and ran for a 13-yard gain and a first down with 2:53 remaining.
Woods finished with career-high totals of 13 receptions and 114 yards and one touchdown.
"That could have turned the game for us," Smith said. "(Williams) was in perfect position to pick it off and run down the sideline."
WVU forced Baylor to call its final timeout after a first-down run, but still needed a conversion on third-and-1 to make sure the Bears wouldn't get the ball again. Running back Dustin Garrison ran 17 yards with 1:33 to go to end it.
"I was hoping it wouldn't come down to that," Bailey said.
Yet it did and the Mountaineers, even with Smith's 656 yards and eight touchdowns passing, survived their introduction to the Big 12, where offenses put constant pressure on the opposing defenses, but where defenses also stress their own offenses.
"Those guys scoring as many points as they did, it put a little pressure on me and Geno and Tavon as vocal leaders on offense to keep guiding the defense and let them know they're doing their best out there," Bailey said. "Whatever the case is, we want to go out and score. It did put pressure on us for us to have 70 points and still not be safe, but it was a shootout and we came out with the win."
Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at email@example.com or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/wvu.