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Another air show and defense to boot

AP Photo
West Virginia's Stedman Bailey gets away from James Madison cornerback Corey Davis.

LANDOVER, Md. - Perhaps the only thing unusual about West Virginia's 42-12 win over James Madison here Saturday is that, well, there wasn't much that was unusual about it.

Geno Smith, Stedman Bailey, Tavon Austin and the offense were again spectacular, and that's all that really mattered.

No, the Mountaineers didn't approach 70 points, as they had done in their previous two games, but it really didn't matter. After all, 569 yards and six touchdowns were more than enough to allow WVU to put on the brakes in the fourth quarter.

Ah, but as an added bonus for the 45,511 who showed up at FedEx Field, the West Virginia defense showed up this time, too. While any real judgments about that defense will have to wait until it is playing stiffer competition, at least this was a start.

"It wasn't as good a game as we can play, certainly, but we're getting closer,'' linebacker Doug Rigg said. "You can see us tipping balls and getting to the quarterback and making tackles. It's better.''

Then again, with an offense like this one, it might not have to be much better.

The bottom line is that Smith and his receivers put on a show - and broke even more school records in the process - as the No. 9 Mountaineers won handily.

Smith completed 34 of 39 passes for 411 yards and five touchdowns, along the way smashing through Marc Bulger's school record of 8,153 career passing yards. He now has 8,191 yards and when he throws two more passes (to break Bulger's mark for career attempts) he will own every major career passing record in school history.

That follows a performance in the opener against Marshall in which Smith completed all but four of his passes and tossed four TDs. So in two games now he has thrown as many touchdowns (nine) as incompletions.

So what can he do to improve even more?

"What did I have, five incompletions?'' Smith asked. "I could have completed those five.''

Well, or maybe he could have spread the wealth a little bit more, but why get picky? On this day he used his two favorite receivers for 24 catches, 286 yards and four scores.

Bailey caught 13 passes for 173 yards and three touchdowns, while Austin caught 11 for 113 yards and a score. Bailey's catches established a school single-game record, breaking the mark of 12 held by several others, including Austin. It was also his ninth 100-yard receiving game, another school mark.

"We were definitely clicking,'' said Austin, who now stands only one behind Bailey and David Saunders with eight 100-yard receiving games. "The coaches always told us the second year of this offense would be a lot different, and it is.''

All of that offense, though - 448 yards passing, 569 yards of total offense despite possessing the ball only 241/2 of the game's 60 minutes - has come to be expected.

The defensive performance, meanwhile, was in rather stark contrast to the opening game against Marshall. That day the Mountaineers gave up 545 yards and six scores in a 69-34 rout. On Saturday, JMU needed great field position just to score the five points the Dukes got through the first three quarters.

The game was essentially over one play into the fourth quarter when Smith threw his fifth touchdown pass of the day, to Austin, to make it 42-5. That's when both sides began substituting freely. JMU scored with 49 seconds to play to account for the final score.

To get an idea of the defensive efficiency of the Mountaineers, the Dukes had 43 yards of total offense in the first quarter, just 56 in the second and another 108 in the third. They would finish with an even 300.

But aside from the late scoring drive by the reserves, James Madison had three scoring opportunities and got only a field goal out of them. Cameron Starke, who spent a semester at WVU as a walk-on out of high school before transferring to JMU, made a 33-yarder late in the first half after a 24-yard WVU punt gave the Dukes a short field.

Twice JMU managed to drive to the WVU 1-yard line, but both times failed to score. On the first, the Mountaineers held on four downs from the 3, and on the second Tyler Anderson intercepted a tipped third-down pass in the end zone.

"That's definitely a confidence booster,'' said linebacker Terence Garvin. "If we've done it once we can do it again.''

The first goal-line stand did ultimately result in JMU points, but not against the West Virginia defense. Shawne Alston was tackled in the end zone on the first play from his own 1 early in the third quarter, making the score 28-5.

That's as close as things would ever get again, though. Smith threw touchdowns to Bailey and Austin on the next two possessions, then retired for the day with the Mountaineers up big.

Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or dphickman1@aol.com or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1.

 


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