Brought down to earth
LUBBOCK, Texas - It was pretty much a given, wasn't it, that at some point this season West Virginia's offense wouldn't be able to produce points at the same rate its defense allowed them?
Well, sure. But here's what was totally unexpected: When it happened, it was equal parts the fault of a porous defense and an offense that barely put up a fight.
West Virginia's awful defense was at its rock-bottom worst Saturday, which allowed Texas Tech to score almost at will and hand the No. 5 Mountaineers a stunning defeat. But the offense that had wowed an entire nation didn't show up either, and WVU was buried under a 49-14 score.
The loss, in front of a sun-drenched crowd of 57,328 at Jones AT&T Stadium, snapped a nine-game win streak by the Mountaineers that dated back to last season and will send them on a nosedive both in the national polls and the court of public opinion.
The high-powered offense and the big-time quarterback on display? They both belonged to Texas Tech, which rolled up 676 yards. Quarterback Seth Doege, rendered almost an afterthought in the Big 12 this season, compiled Geno Smith-like numbers - 32 of 42 passing for 499 yards and six touchdowns to four different receivers.
As for Smith, he had by far his worst game of the season and perhaps the last two seasons. He finished 29 for 55 for 275 yards and a touchdown. He extended his streak of passes thrown without an interception to 313, but he consistently overthrew receivers and seemed to have trouble with the swirling winds.
Afterward he shouldered the blame.
"There's no excuse for what happened today,'' Smith said. "I was off. I wasn't hitting my targets. But I have no explanation for it.''
Smith also played the second half without his favorite receiver, Stedman Bailey, who appeared to injure a foot. It was one of several injuries the Mountaineers (5-1, 2-1 Big 12) dealt with, including losing defensive end Will Clarke before the game. Right guard Jeff Braun also played sparingly and cornerback Brodrick Jenkins left in the fourth quarter.
None of that, though, was used as an excuse.
"The bottom line is this: They played better than we did on all three sides of the ball,'' coach Dana Holgorsen said during a short and rather terse press conference. "They played a lot better than we did on all three sides of the ball. They played harder than we did. The effort was harder. They outcoached us. We let the situation get to us.''
It all came after what to a man everyone agreed was a great week of practice. That was the most mystifying part of an afternoon in which a Texas Tech team that was drubbed 41-20 a week ago by Oklahoma on this same field looked like world beaters.
"This was probably the best week of practice we've ever had,'' said cornerback Pat Miller, who was again burned for several of Tech's big plays - 10 of which went for 20 yards or more. "We have to put it all on ourselves. We just didn't play.''
No, but the Red Raiders (5-1, 2-1) certainly did. Doege was unquestionably the catalyst. He orchestrated an offense that averaged 9.4 yards per play, had 30 first downs and punted just once. His 499-yard passing total was a career high.
And he one-upped Smith, the guy who coming into the game was the runaway early leader in the Heisman Trophy. Not that Doege cared much about that.
"I didn't really think about that. I just liked looking up at the scoreboard and seeing that [final score],'' Doege said. "It makes you feel like a kid. I've always wanted to be a part of people rushing the field.''
With the exception of a brief period in the second quarter, this wasn't even competitive. With Doege throwing for 336 yards and four touchdowns in the first half, Texas Tech rolled up a 35-7 lead by the break.
The Red Raiders had gone ahead 14-0 on their first two possessions, the first time West Virginia had trailed by that much since falling behind Pitt 14-0 nearly a year ago. Doege threw touchdown passes of 39 yards to tight end Jace Amaro and 19 yards to Eric Ward. It should have been a tip to what was about to happen when Amaro caught his TD pass with no defender even around him.
But for a brief time it appeared as if this would merely be the same type of back-and-forth that West Virginia played in a 70-63 win over Baylor two weeks ago. West Virginia quickly countered with a touchdown drive and Smith's 7-yard scoring pass to Bailey to make it 14-7. WVU also drove deep into Tech territory twice before running out of downs. From that aspect, the offense was moving and it seemed only a matter of time before it would begin finishing drives, as well.
But beyond those first few opportunities, the Mountaineers got few others. A week after converting five fourth downs against Texas, West Virginia missed that many against Texas Tech, going 2 for 7 on fourth downs. The Mountaineers also punted a season-high four times.
When Doege went on to throw TD passes of 16 yards to Marcus Kennard and 2 yards to Darrin Moore, then running back DaSale Foster just made the WVU defense look slow and silly on a 53-yard touchdown run, it was 35-7 at halftime and it was over.
Doege added two more touchdown passes to Moore in the second half and West Virginia finally got back on the board on a short run by Dustin Garrison with 21/2 minutes to play, but that was after the score had grown to 42-7.
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1.