Norfolk had WVU staggered in first half
MORGANTOWN - That Norfolk State led West Virginia 12-10 at halftime Saturday at Mountaineer Field wasn't a complete shock or, really, all that unusual.
FCS schools often stay with their FBS counterparts for a while before fading. It happens every week, even to the best teams on occasion.
Still, this was different. Before recovering in a big way for a 55-12 rout of the Spartans, West Virginia was hideous.
"It wasn't really frustrating. I'd say it was uncommon,'' WVU quarterback Geno Smith said. "We never expect to go out and just run over a team and get easy touchdowns. But we weren't playing hard.''
The results were shocking for how they happened.
It wasn't as if Norfolk State's first-half lead was the product of a few breaks. In fact, most of the breaks went against the Spartans, chief among them 11 penalties for 80 yards (they would finish with 19 for 177 yards, both records for a WVU opponent, home or away). They also gave up a 64-yard punt return to Tavon Austin; on two of the first three WVU possessions gave the Mountaineers the ball already in scoring position; and on their own first six possession began those drives from an average field position of their own 21-yard line.
Still, the Spartans simply kicked WVU's collective tail for 30 minutes. In taking a 6-0 lead a few plays into the second quarter, NSU outgained the Mountaineers a staggering 179-19, had a nearly 12-minute to four-minute edge in possession time and had denied WVU a first down.
"We didn't think they could run on us, which they couldn't. We have a pretty good defense,'' said NSU coach Pete Adrian, a 1970 WVU graduate. "The thing I'm really proud of is we stopped a West Virginia team [six] times inside the 5-yard line. ... If our kids continue to play like that, we're going to win a lot of football games.''
Indeed, once in the second quarter the Spartans stuffed WVU, not from inside the 5, but at the 1-yard line. West Virginia had a first-and-goal at the 1 and in six plays (including a pass interference penalty) couldn't score and finally settled for perhaps the shortest field goal in modern football history, Tyler Bitancurt's 17-yarder.
"That's flat-out embarrassing,'' said WVU coach Dana Holgorsen. "It's an embarrassment. I don't have an answer for you.
"If you want to say it's scheme, say it's scheme. But it's the same stuff we've run for a long time. But if we can't come off [the ball] and move people it's not good.''
That wasn't the only miserable offensive failure of the half for WVU, though. The Mountaineers got their first possession at the NSU 26 after a failed on-side kick and promptly gained just 8 yards before Bitancurt missed a 35-yarder wide left. WVU then went three-and-out from its own 6 on its second possession and then, after Austin's 64-yard punt return set the Mountaineers up at the NSU 12, it was four-and-out after one incomplete pass and three straight runs gained just 8 yards.
Norfolk State, meanwhile was converting pass plays of 56, 38 and 29 yards and overcoming its own penalties to get four field goals, 39, 39 and 40 yards by Ryan Estep and a 50-yarder from Everett Goldberg. West Virginia did manage to somehow piece together an 81-yard drive and scored on an 18-yard pass from Smith to Devon Brown, but then, as the half came to a close the Mountaineers used a time out to stop the clock before a third-and-12 play, didn't convert and then gave the Spartans a chance to score with a shanked 15-yard punt by Corey Smith and a roughing the passer penalty on Bruce Irvin.
Estep converted his 40-yarder on the last play of the half to give Norfolk State a 12-10 lead.
All of those problems, though, vanished in the second half. On WVU's first five possessions it moved 51, 80, 60, 49 and 48 yards for touchdowns, none of the drives consuming more than six plays or 135 seconds. NSU got just two first downs and 43 total yards in the final two quarters.
It was a far cry from a first half, when at times the crowd of 51,911 actually booed a few times.
"They probably had a few good reasons,'' Holgorsen said. "I'd probably boo, too.''
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org.