COLLEGE PARK, Md. - Geno Smith sat in a tent outside West Virginia's locker room Saturday afternoon talking about momentum.
He seemed to have it down pretty well.
"If you play enough football and you're around it enough, you know when momentum is changing,'' the West Virginia quarterback said. "You can feel it. It just happens.''
Trouble is, as easy as it is to identify momentum shifts, it's just as hard to reverse them if you happen to be on the wrong end. West Virginia's offense never really managed it Saturday afternoon.
The Mountaineer defense, though, put a halt to Maryland's momentum just in the nick of time.
Eain Smith's interception of Maryland quarterback Danny O'Brien just as the Terrapins seemed poised to cap a miraculous comeback saved West Virginia's 37-31 victory at Byrd Stadium.
The pick, at the WVU 13-yard line with only 73 seconds to play, managed to accomplish a lot. It kept the No. 18 Mountaineers (3-0) unbeaten heading into next Saturday's much-anticipated home game with No. 3 LSU. It salvaged a victory that West Virginia seemed assured of earning much earlier when it led 34-10. And it was at least a bit of redemption for a defense that played lights-out for much of the first half, but almost lights-off for most of the second.
But it did not erase the fact that these Mountaineers apparently still have a lot of work to do. After struggling to start well the first two games, they fixed that and then labored at the finish.
But at least in the immediate aftermath, coach Dana Holgorsen seemed pleased given that it was a win and, regardless of the circumstances, it came against a pretty good football team on the road.
"The biggest single thing we worked on this week in practice was hitting the field fast and starting with some excitement. We did that,'' Holgorsen said. "The second half, we did it on the first series on offense and the last series on defense and that was enough.
"It's football. It [a shift in momentum] happens. When you play a good football team, that stuff's going to happen.''
What happened to West Virginia on Saturday was stunningly bi-polar.
By late in the first half, the Mountaineers seemed on cruise control. Despite losing the ball twice on fumbles in the first half, they led 24-3 and Smith was on his way to a record-shattering day. Leading 27-10 at halftime, he had already completed 21-of-28 passes for 232 yards. By the end of the first drive of the third quarter, he was 25-of-33 for 297 yards and had just tossed a 34-yard scoring pass to Stedman Bailey to make the score 34-10.
By that point, the WVU defense was solid, too. At one point, O'Brien was 9-of-17 for 38 yards and two interceptions, one of which was returned 37 yards for a touchdown by safety Terence Garvin. After the Bailey score made it 34-10, Maryland drove to the Mountaineer 6, but failed on a fourth-down try and turned the ball over. That was midway through the third quarter, and it seemed like the final nail in the coffin.
"I don't expect anybody to quit,'' said Randy Edsall, the Maryland coach who is now 1-7 all-time against WVU, the first seven of those games while he coached Connecticut. "On a Randy Edsall-coached football team, there are never going to be any quitters.''