Austin, Bailey elevated their game’ against LSU
MORGANTOWN - There were plenty of eye-opening moments for West Virginia Saturday night when the Mountaineers hosted now-No. 1 LSU.
Some were moments WVU would like to forget, like turning the ball over four times, struggling mightily on special teams and losing by four touchdowns.
And then there was West Virginia's offensive performance.
Quarterback Geno Smith gets much of the credit for the Mountaineers' 533 total yards against one of the country's best defenses. He shattered school records for passes, completions and yards.
But the biggest revelation might have had to do with at least a couple of West Virginia's receivers.
Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey had already put up some gaudy numbers this season. But they'd not done it against the likes of LSU cornerbacks Tyrann Mathieu and Morris Claiborne.
"Those two guys stood out. They elevated their game,'' West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen said Monday. "They were toe-to-toe with LSU's top two defensive players, Mathieu and Claiborne. They went toe-to-toe with those guys and they didn't back down.
"It was fun to watch. I've got a lot of respect for LSU and what kind of team they've got and the kind of athletic ability they've got. To see Stedman and Tavon step up and make as many plays or more than they did was exciting to see.''
How good were LSU's cornerbacks? Well, Claiborne was the Walter Camp national defensive player of the week after the Tigers beat Mississippi State. Mathieu won the same award for his performance against West Virginia, which included an interception in the backfield and a forced fumble in the open field.
But there was also a flip side to that. Playing primarily against those two corners, Austin had 11 catches for 187 yards. Bailey caught eight passes for 115 yards.
And these weren't average cornerbacks being burned in a pass-happy system. They were two of the best.
Perhaps it's time to consider Austin and Bailey in that category, too. Not that Smith didn't already.
"I said that all week - Stedman, Ivan [McCartney], Tavon, all these guys come from great schools and they've been battle-tested,'' Smith said. "I can speak for Stedman and Ivan [who played at Miramar High School near Miami with Smith] because we played the best talent everywhere. The guys who are so-called shutdown corners nowadays, we torched them in high school.
"It's not a thing where if a team comes out and mans us up we're going to be intimidated. We're not going to shy away from anyone.''
Suffice it to say that in Bowling Green this weekend West Virginia will not see the same quality of athletes on defense that the Mountaineers saw Saturday. The teams match 3-1 records in a 3:30 p.m. game at Mountaineer Field.
What Austin and Bailey did against LSU was sometimes amazing. Bailey caught a short sideline comeback pass in the first half and left Claiborne in his wake when he put a move on him and ran untouched into the end zone.
Austin, meanwhile, simply ran past everyone and caught a 72-yard deep ball from Smith.
To put those and a few other plays into context, LSU played Oregon in the season opener and did not allow the Ducks a single play of more than 18 yards. The Tigers had not allowed a 30-yard play to anyone all season.
Still, Holgorsen is far from ready to declare his team's offense a completed project. McCartney had six catches for 59 yards and freshman tailback Dustin Garrison had four catches and 46 yards rushing.
But to be truly successful, Holgorsen wants more.
"We're going to need a couple more guys to step up,'' Holgorsen said. "Ivan McCartney did a couple of things but needs to continue to get better and Dustin Garrison did some things and needs to keep getting better.''
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org.