MORGANTOWN - That Norfolk State led West Virginia 12-10 at halftime Saturday at Mountaineer Field wasn't a complete shock or, really, all that unusual.
FCS schools often stay with their FBS counterparts for a while before fading. It happens every week, even to the best teams on occasion.
Still, this was different. Before recovering in a big way for a 55-12 rout of the Spartans, West Virginia was hideous.
"It wasn't really frustrating. I'd say it was uncommon,'' WVU quarterback Geno Smith said. "We never expect to go out and just run over a team and get easy touchdowns. But we weren't playing hard.''
The results were shocking for how they happened.
It wasn't as if Norfolk State's first-half lead was the product of a few breaks. In fact, most of the breaks went against the Spartans, chief among them 11 penalties for 80 yards (they would finish with 19 for 177 yards, both records for a WVU opponent, home or away). They also gave up a 64-yard punt return to Tavon Austin; on two of the first three WVU possessions gave the Mountaineers the ball already in scoring position; and on their own first six possession began those drives from an average field position of their own 21-yard line.
Still, the Spartans simply kicked WVU's collective tail for 30 minutes. In taking a 6-0 lead a few plays into the second quarter, NSU outgained the Mountaineers a staggering 179-19, had a nearly 12-minute to four-minute edge in possession time and had denied WVU a first down.
"We didn't think they could run on us, which they couldn't. We have a pretty good defense,'' said NSU coach Pete Adrian, a 1970 WVU graduate. "The thing I'm really proud of is we stopped a West Virginia team [six] times inside the 5-yard line. ... If our kids continue to play like that, we're going to win a lot of football games.''
Indeed, once in the second quarter the Spartans stuffed WVU, not from inside the 5, but at the 1-yard line. West Virginia had a first-and-goal at the 1 and in six plays (including a pass interference penalty) couldn't score and finally settled for perhaps the shortest field goal in modern football history, Tyler Bitancurt's 17-yarder.
"That's flat-out embarrassing,'' said WVU coach Dana Holgorsen. "It's an embarrassment. I don't have an answer for you.