WVU football: Mountaineers offense get off to fast start in victory
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- West Virginia found itself in fairly foreign territory with an early lead Friday during the team's first trip to Iowa State and frosty Jack Trice Stadium.
They scored first for the first time since visiting Texas Oct. 6. The 3-0 lead at the end of the first quarter was also the first lead WVU had at the start of the second quarter since Texas. Not coincidentally, that was WVU's last victory.
Five losses followed that in which the team was outscored 62-17 in the first quarter. The Mountaineers led Iowa State 10-0 in the second quarter, their largest cushion since going up 24-14 on TCU Nov. 3.
The Mountaineers (6-5, 3-5 Big 12) had good possessions throughout the first half and only punted once against the Iowa State defense that has allowed the most first downs in Big 12 play, but also has the best red zone defense in conference games. WVU could have had more points early, but stalled twice and asked Tyler Bitancurt to make two field goals.
He made the first and missed the second, but afterward teammates said they knew they had something going early in the game. The Mountaineers enjoyed the rare spark.
"The biggest difference I see is when you're down, especially at the quarterback position, it's more about putting it on myself," quarterback Geno Smith said. "You can't go tell a linebacker, 'Go get us seven points,' or tell a safety, 'We need seven points because we're down.' The ball is in my hands and it's my job to do that.
"When you're up, you can whisper in a guy's ear and walk up to guys and let them know, 'We need a stop. We've got a chance to put this away,' just something to motivate them and give them an extra bit of motivation when they go out on that field. Being down, it's really on me and the offense to put points on the board and get the team back in manageable situations."
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WVU'S PASS DEFENSE had its best day in Big 12 play and limited Iowa State quarterback Sam Richardson to 13 completions in 31 attempts and just 162 yards - but also three more touchdown passes, each when a WVU player had a chance to defend the pass.
Only FCS James Madison (112) had fewer passing yards against WVU's last-ranked pass defense. Every other FBS opponent had at least 269 yards.
The Cyclones were nevertheless successful and in the game at the end because of the way they ran the ball against WVU's rush defense. The Mountaineers entered the game ranked No. 29 nationally and were allowing 131.9 yards per game. Iowa State totaled 234 yards. JMU managed 188 and Texas Tech 168 against WVU.
The defense, No. 40 against the run (141.18), also allowed an opponent 100 yards rushing for the first time. Richardson ran 18 times for 119 yards in his first career start.
"He's a good player, a little bit more elusive than we thought he was," WVU Coach Dana Holgorsen said. "Some of that was our inability to pin him in the pocket. He got out on us too much. Some of it was bad containment. Some of it was bad pursuit by our blitzers and he snuck out of there."
Almost none of Richardson's runs were designed for him and he repeatedly felt pressure and ran or went through his reads and fled the pocket. The Mountaineers play host to Kansas (1-10, 0-9) at 2:30 p.m. Saturday (ROOT). One thing the Jayhawks do well is run the ball.
They're No. 19 nationally and No. 2 in the Big 12 (216.64) and have found different ways to run throughout the season. Included lately is quarterback Michael Cummings, who has been capable in read and option plays.
"We can coach off of this," defensive coordinator Joe DeForest said. "I do know we have to do a better job keeping that guy contained."
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CORNERBACK Pat Miller, who was not in the starting lineup for a second straight game, ended up playing a lot and turning in one of his best performances of the season.
He was called for pass interference the first time a ball was thrown his way, but he was needed after starter Ickey Banks went out with an injury. Miller finished with three pass break-ups.
He started the first nine games, but was pulled from some games during the five-game losing streak and was then rumored to have left the team. A fringe website sited an unattributed source saying Miller had quit before the Oklahoma game.
"I don't know where that came from," Miller said. "People talk on the social networks. I don't know how it happened. I was at practice every day. I never missed a day of practice, so I don't know where it came from.
"You can't let outside distractions mess with you. That's not what's important. What's important is the people in the locker room with us. They're going to play. People say what they say, whether it's true or not, and rumors spread fast, but you can't let that distract you."
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SAFETY Darwin Cook was also back in the starting lineup after coming off the sideline the previous two games and not playing the one before that. Cecil Level, who had been playing in Cook's place, did not play. Cook made nine tackles and forced the decisive turnover near his end zone.
He said he had a nerve injury against Maryland Sept. 22 that turned into a right "hip, knee, leg thing" and gave him a limp and trouble moving smoothly. Cook said coaches were upset the limp turned him into a target.
"You could see me limping around on film and coaches don't want to see you limping around," he said. "We didn't know what it was. Nobody knew what it was. But limping on the field looked bad."
Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/wvu.