WVU football: Smith not his usual self in upset
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- If there were questions about Texas Tech's defense and how it entered Saturday's game against West Virginia No. 1 against the pass and No. 2 overall, each was answered every time the Mountaineers endured an incomplete pass, a third-and-long or a failed fourth-down conversion.
And if there were questions about WVU's offense, which was ranked No. 2 in passing yards and No. 5 in scoring, and how far it could go with quarterback Geno Smith working in spite of a rickety defense, all were answered by a group of Red Raiders who were up to their billing in the 49-14 win.
"They did a great job having everybody covered to where (Geno Smith) had to be almost damn near perfect with the ball," WVU quarterbacks coach Jake Spavital said of Texas Tech's defense. "He had one of those days where he wasn't completely on. He had spurts, don't get me wrong, but there were times he needed to make perfect passes and that just didn't happen."
Texas Tech (5-1, 2-1 Big 12) had just lost to Oklahoma after starting 4-0 against a FCS team, a team new to the FBS, an option team and an Iowa State team that changed quarterbacks. Smith was below average by his rarified standards, but still completed 29 of 55 passes for 295 yards and a touchdown.
He had been completing more than 81 percent of his passes for 399 yards per game, but still extended to 313 passes without an interception - 66 shy of the NCAA record.
"We had some tough situations, but I feel like I should have done a better job putting the ball in play and keeping us above the chains," Smith said. "I wasn't hitting my targets, wasn't hitting my reads."
The offense managed one touchdown during the competitive part of the game and went 10-for-21 on third down and 1-for-6 on fourth. The Red Raiders were concerned only with Smith and his pass-catching compatriots.
"Sounds crazy," Texas Tech Coach Tommy Tuberville said, "but we were just going to absolutely just make them beat us throwing the ball."
WVU (5-1, 2-1) obliged and averaged 3.7 yards on 36 rushes and finished with 133 yards a week after Andrew Buie had 207 yards against Texas. That allowed the Red Raiders to place even more attention on Smith.
"Anytime we don't get the run game going, there is pressure on Geno," WVU Coach Dana Holgorsen said. "The run game is developed to alleviate some of the pressure off of him. You can't sit there and put the ball in his hands and say to magically get it done."
The Red Raiders rarely blitzed, but were a little more aggressive than the 8 percent or so WVU had charted on film. They mostly relied on four players up front to bother Smith or contest the run until help arrived. Behind those four, the defensive backs pressed the receivers near the line of scrimmage while linebackers floated around to do whatever they could do to help.
Texas Tech, which allowed 150 yards after contact in last week's loss to Oklahoma, tried to keep everything in front, hoped to make tackles and made sure to never lose track of Tavon Austin or Stedman Bailey.
The defense allowed a 38-yard pass to Austin late in the first quarter and a 20-yard pass to J.D. Woods in the fourth quarter and no other 20-yard plays in between.
WVU saw missed blocks in the running and passing game, easygoing runs by the backs, dropped passes by the normally reliable Bailey and some hurried and erratic moments from Smith, who was often working on his own.
"People have to make plays," WVU offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson said. "Geno's not the only person out there. He throws it, but people have got to catch it. Everyone's got to do their jobs. We don't ask anybody to do anything supernatural. It's an accumulation of people making plays to move the ball down the field."
Dawson said WVU suffered from "an accumulation of a lot of people not doing the right things."
Austin had nine receptions for 114 yards, but ended a six-game streak with at least 10 catches. Bailey had six receptions for 61 yards and his 14th touchdown this season. They had combined to average 21.4 catches, 274.4 yards and 2.6 touchdowns per game.
"We disguised our corners a lot," Tuberville said. "We walked them up. We walked them back. We probably pressed more than what they thought they were going to do. We got on top of it and made them throw the ball deep."
It worked in conjunction with the Texas Tech offense, which scored at will against WVU's retreating defense.
The Mountaineers had trailed 25 minutes and 2 seconds this season, and only against Baylor and Texas, but won both games. They never led against the Red Raiders and were down 14-0 nine minutes into the game - the largest margin since a 14-0 deficit against Pitt Nov. 25, 2011.
Smith followed the 38-yard pass to Austin with the touchdown pass to Bailey, to make it 14-7. However, Texas Tech answered with touchdowns on three consecutive drives to end the half after a WVU turnover on downs and two punts. WVU's defense allowed 202 yards in the first quarter and trailed 35-7 at the half.
"It was a perfect storm," Spavital said. "It puts your play-calling in a different place. You noticed we went for it on fourth down a lot. We sensed they had the momentum a lot and we had to find a spark."
Spavital said WVU used motion to open the Texas Tech defense and then took some shots deep.
Dawson said the Mountaineers never left their game plan and were looking to get something to go right so that might help something else go right. It never happened until WVU went 73 yards in nine plays and 2:56 for their second touchdown with 2:41 left in the game.
"You know as well as I do that doesn't count," Dawson said. "We just never got over the hump, never gave ourselves a reason to have energy. You can really blame it on a lot of things, but the bottom line is you've got to go out there and give your guys a reason to have positive energy. We didn't have hope. We never gave our team a reason to have hope."
Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/wvu.