One for the road
MORGANTOWN - By the time Geno Smith was taken out of his final game at Mountaineer Field early in the fourth quarter Saturday, he'd accomplished pretty much everything he could have hoped for.
Pretty much, but not entirely.
There was, of course, West Virginia's resounding 59-10 rout of a Kansas team (1-11, 0-9 Big 12) that, in its final effort, proved that the previous 10 were no flukes. That the Jayhawks were not even competitive is to put it mildly.
There was Smith's individual performance, which was one for the record books on so many levels. He completed 23 of his 24 pass attempts for 407 yards and three touchdowns. Not a one of his throws hit the ground, the only blemish coming on a first-quarter interception.
"Sure, it could have been better,'' Smith said after tying the NCAA record for completion percentage (95.8) with a minimum of 20 attempts. "I didn't need to throw that interception.''
The fact is Smith and the WVU offense couldn't have played any better. Had the game been close, they would have approached or exceeded all the records they set in a 70-63 win over Baylor at the end of September, which, by the way, was also the last time the Mountaineers won a home game. As it was, the offense produced 647 total yards, had two 100-yard receivers (Stedman Bailey, 11-159, and Tavon Austin, 4-110) and a 100-yard rusher (Andrew Buie, 12-100).
The Mountaineers didn't punt until 99 seconds remained in the game and averaged over nine yards per snap.
Still, by the time Smith was able to sit down and reflect on his performance, one regret stuck out that perhaps only he would think to consider after all that.
"I probably would have gotten Ryan Nehlen into the end zone,'' Smith said when asked what he might have done differently in his last game at Mountaineer Field. "But the one chance he had, Stedman didn't block for him. That's on him.''
Well, indeed, that might have been nice on this senior-centric day. As it was, the one time Smith did get the ball to fellow senior Nehlen, on a wide receiver screen at the Kansas 5-yard line, he had no blocking and was dumped for a yard loss.
But if that's the worst thing that happened - and pretty much it was - well, it's hard to find much fault.
The bottom line is that West Virginia's offense - while certainly aided by an atrocious Kansas defense - looked again like it did in the season's first five games.
The defense - again, aided by a miserable opponent - put forth its best performance, by far. Kansas, which started passing quarterback Dayne Crist and went nowhere and then reverted to the run, had 12 possessions and scored twice. The worst pass defense in the country gave up just seven pass completions and 117 yards and held the Jayhawks to 31/2 yards per rush.
And WVU's special teams - thanks in part to not needing a punt team - made no gaffes for perhaps the first time all season.
"I thought we had a chance to play our best ball game in Game 12 on all three sides of the ball,'' coach Dana Holgorsen said. "And I think we did that.''
What does it all mean? Well, in the grand scheme of things perhaps very little. While the performance is certainly one that will provide a boost of confidence heading into three-plus weeks of bowl preparation, it might have done nothing to improve West Virginia's stock with those bowls.
The Mountaineers (7-5, 4-5) went into the day probably looking at a trip to the Dec. 29 Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium against a Big East opponent. The only other legitimate alternative appears to be the Holiday Bowl two days earlier in San Diego, but that group seems more likely to take Texas Tech, whose record is identical to that of the Mountaineers. While WVU presents perhaps a better TV draw with Smith and Austin, the bowl seems reluctant to pass on a team that, in the head-to-head meeting, trounced WVU 49-14.
"I would think there would be a whole lot of bowls out there that would want the Mountaineers,'' Holgorsen said.
Well, perhaps, but those two seem the most likely and the final decisions will come today.
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at twitter.com/dphickman1.