Full WVU effort nice break from conference news
MORGANTOWN - As has been the case of late, and especially this Homecoming week, much of the buzz in Touchdown City has been about conference realignment and not about the upcoming game.
Before Bowling Green and WVU took the field Saturday, the latest rumor was Louisville, Cincinnati, TCU and the Mountaineers might be headed to the Big 12. West Virginia officials have been extraordinarily quiet, perhaps signaling something is indeed in the wind. Also, one very high- ranking official was mum before the game, but smiled and said, "Hey, at least you can say we're on radar screens."
So apparently the Mountaineers are indeed. WVU president Jim Clements is headed to Washington today for a Big East meeting of his peers. We'll see what emerges from that.
And . . . oh, that Homecoming game?
West Virginia realigned Bowling Green like the school was a car at Meineke. The Mountaineers did exactly as expected, and they looked very good doing so.
WVU exposed the Falcons, who entered the game with a 3-1 record, but with victories over Idaho, Morgan State and Miami, Ohio.
The Mountaineers also surged back atop the Big East, at least in regard to national respect. They will undoubtedly pass South Florida, which had been unbeaten and ranked higher but got blown out by Pittsburgh 44-17, in the polls.
The Panthers are now 1-0 in Big East play, but 3-2 overall. If one fashioned a league power ranking at this point, it would be 1. WVU, 2. Pitt, 3. South Florida, 4. Cincinnati.
But back to that Homecoming game. (Again.) Before a paltry (yet understandable, considering the weather, opponent and post-LSU schedule slot) crowd of 46,603 at Milan Puskar Stadium, the Mountaineers quickly shoved aside any thoughts of the contest being a trap game.
Credit the WVU coaches. Not only were the players sharp, they stayed that way throughout the day. With 10:17 remaining in the fourth quarter, for instance, and holding a 48-10 lead, Bowling Green was threatening. But Julian Miller hit Falcon quarterback Matt Schilz and stripped the ball. Schilz picked it back up - before being clocked by Bruce Irvin, who forced another fumble. Mountaineer ball.
There were turnarounds, which also go back to being mentally acute. WVU had only one sack heading into the game, you still can't call the defense the "Sack Exchange." But there were a couple recorded Saturday.
There was the turnaround in turnovers. The Mountaineers fumbled the ball on the wet day, but retained possession. Entering the contest, WVU had three interceptions and no fumble recoveries. Opponents, meanwhile, had three picks and four fumble recoveries. Against Bowling Green, the Mountaineers had three picks and two fumble recoveries.
"Turnovers, the stat that matters most," said WVU coach Dana Holgorsen. "Everybody knows that. You have to create them."
It was a complete performance for West Virginia - with two exceptions. The kickoff return unit was hit for 258 yards. Punter Corey Smith continued to struggle, shanking another for 14 yards, his second of that distance in two games.
But if one considers the big picture, it was gallery worthy for the victors.
Offensively, Dustin Garrison not only burst through as the leader of the heretofore pack of freshmen running backs, he took it to the house. The freshman from Pearland, Texas, put on one of the most memorable performances ever for a Mountaineer tailback, regardless of class. He was threatening the 2004 record of Kay-Jay Harris and tied beloved state native Kerry Marbury with 291 yards on 32 carries.
The rushing game came alive.
"It's big," Holgorsen said. "Last week, against LSU, we did a pretty good job of it. We have to get [the opposition] to play honest."
More than anything, however, it provided a spark WVU needed heading into the aforementioned Big East play, which begins next week at Puskar Stadium against Connecticut. It provided a head rush, if you will. The Mountaineer offensive line had pass-protected well against LSU, but Garrison's headway had to help lift the line's confidence.
"We addressed finishing blocks after the first two series," Holgorsen said. "After that, they did."
Quarterback Geno Smith wasn't at his sharpest, but still threw for 238 yards and three touchdowns. The trio of receivers - Tavon Austin, Stedman Bailey and Ivan McCartney - exploited the Bowling Green secondary.
"When you can run the ball," Holgorsen said, "they put more people in the box. You get one-on-one matchups on the outside."
Defensively, WVU held the Falcons to 10 points and 5-of-15 third-down conversions.
"We clearly played solid there," said the coach, "other than the first two series."
"We played OK," said first-time starter Jewone Snow, a linebacker. "But we've got to keep getting better with Big East play coming up. Got to keep getting better and better."
On Saturday night, though, WVU's players and coaches could sleep knowing their jobs were well accomplished.
The Mountaineers looked like a team worthy of being in the Top 25.
More than that, though, they looked like a Holgorsen team. Or, at least, a Holgorsen offense. His prolific offenses at places like Oklahoma State, Houston and Texas Tech had nothing on Saturday's WVU performance. Fifty-five points. A pretty sight for poll voter eyes.
And Holgorsen knew. He agreed it was the most satisfying performance since hitting Morgantown.
"Yeah, without a doubt," he said. "It's a work in progress. A lot of people get aggravated to keep hearing that, but it just takes snaps. Five games into it, we're happy with where we're at."
We now return you to your regularly scheduled conference realignment news.
Reach Mitch Vingle at 304-348-4827, firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at twitter.com/MitchVingle.